Thanks to the always-candid Danny Green, we know that the Lakers see the Portland Trail Blazers as the biggest threat of all of their potential first-round opponents. And over the last few months, we’ve learned that the Lakers aren’t the only ones who view them that way.
The Lakers have not technically locked up the top seed in the West, but will with their next win (or the next Clippers loss, whatever comes first), guaranteeing that they would play Portland, the Memphis Grizzlies, the New Orleans Pelicans or one of the other lower-seeded teams battling it out for the final postseason slot in the West.
If that team is the Blazers, there are those within the league that think they can knock off the purple and gold (via New York Times reporter and pride of Cal State Fullerton Marc Stein’s excellent weekly newsletter, emphasis mine):
I spoke to representatives from two teams, from would-be sleepers in each conference, and received completely different forecasts about the impact of having just three weeks of full-speed practices before stuffing eight games into a 16-day window before the playoffs.
One said that the compact comeback could be a true equalizer. Example: Some league insiders see Portland as a threat to upset the Lakers in a first-round series after welcoming back its previously ailing frontcourt pair of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins. The other executive, by contrast, described the eight seeding games all teams must play before the postseason as a lengthy runway that will afford the Lakers, the Bucks and the Clippers time to regain their March form.
Those insiders are obviously not the league consensus, but the fact that some people in the NBA honestly believe this to the point of espousing it is interesting, albeit not particularly persuasive. Yes, the Blazers have welcomed back two huge contributors, and yes, Damian Lillard is capable of going off in a series against L.A. (as he showed when dropping 48 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds in their memorable January victory over the Lakers in the first game the team played following the death of Kobe Bryant).
All that noted, the Blazers also lost their first two games this season against the Lakers by a combined 31 points, are only 1-1 in the bubble so far, have no guarantees that they will even make it to a play-in game against the eighth seed or win it if they get there, and — after Trevor Ariza decided to sit out — have literally no one to defend LeBron James should they meet the Lakers in a playoff series. If we’re predicting outcomes, the Lakers beating them handily is a lot more backed up by evidence than the idea that the Blazers could upset L.A.
But I get it. Everyone has to pick a playoff dark horse at this time of year that we all pretend is a threat until they get destroyed, and the Blazers’ returning players and star-power in Lillard make them a fun team to theoretically believe in. It’s just still hard for me to have watched the Lakers all year and predict that series going longer than five games, much less end in a Lakers defeat. If the Blazers can even figure out how to make the playoffs, maybe we’ll find out what all the buzz is about.