After releasing some demons Friday night against the Clippers, the Portland Trail Blazers were back to work Sunday when they visited the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center. While this Lakers squad may not be quite as imposing as the team it shares a building with, Portland was anxious to continue building on recent success following a 7-game losing streak which included more than a few heartbreakers. Noah Vonleh again got the start at power forward in place for the injured Meyers Leonard, but didn't have much of an impact on the game, going scoreless in 17 minutes.
The Blazers were led by a red-hot Damian Lillard (30 points, 6 rebounds, career-high 13 assists), Mason Plumlee's second straight double-double (17 points, 11 rebounds) and CJ McCollum (19 points, 5 assists). The Lakers were led by Jordan Clarkson (19 points, 4 rebounds) and Kobe Bryant (18 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists).
Both teams went to its stars early; Bryant bullied his way in the post to ten quick points, while Lillard answered back with 12 of his own. Roy Hibbert and his sizable presence bothered Portland's half-court offense, but the Blazers responded by pushing the pace and forcing chances in transition. Maurice Harkless caught the L.A. backcourt sleeping on more than one occasion and was rewarded with a couple cherry-pick dunks. Ed Davis showed energy against his former team, finishing on a couple of nice pick-and-rolls and further embodying his "unsung enforcer" role. At this point, somebody might as well slap a label on him that reads "instant hustle in a can" because his scrappy play is becoming a defining attribute of the second unit. McCollum flipped a broken play upside-down to steal a last-second layup before the buzzer to push the lead to nine.
End of First: Portland, 32 Los Angeles 23
The Lakers began to spread the ball around more and quickly closed the gap - Clarkson started to get it rolling, hitting a pair of three-pointers before Lou Williams' three tied the game less than halfway through the period. Harkless continued to be very aggressive, using his quick first-step to beat his man on a cut and receive a wide-open pass under the hoop. Lillard did an excellent job drawing L.A.'s defensive attention and using that to create easy opportunities for teammates, racking up eight assists to go along with his 14 points in the first half. The Blazers as a whole did very well sharing the ball, heading to the locker room with 16 assists on 24 field goals.
Halftime: Portland 56, Los Angeles 52
With neither side showing much of a commitment towards defense, the fireworks continued onward. Kobe remained cold, but Clarkson was there to pick up the slack. The young guard was impressive, scoring in a variety of ways and operating as the main focal point of the Lakers' attack. After a quiet first half, McCollum began to heat up, connecting on back-to-back threes to push the Blazers' lead to seven at 70-63. Both teams seemed content to settle for its first or second available shot early in the clock, which lent its hand to sloppy and at times disorganized play. Portland came out the beneficiary of the chaos, holding a ten-point lead into the final period.
End of Third: Portland 84, Los Angeles 74
L.A. hung close as the Blazers failed to deliver a knockout blow. As the Lakers began to double-team Lillard and McCollum, it was up to Davis and Plumlee to operate as pressure-release-valve to just barely keep the offense chugging along and the Lakers at bay. Williams, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year kept L.A. within reach as Portland's non-guards struggled to score. Brandon Bass' driving dunk cut the lead down to just three before Plumlee's slam and Allen Crabbe's transition layup - both off of Lillard's career-high 12th and 13th assists - stretched the advantage back to seven at 97-90. That was as close as it would get - Portland hung on to put L.A. away and escape with their second straight win.
The Blazers return to the Moda Center Tuesday to host Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls, with tip-off set for 7 p.m. Stay tuned to Blazer's Edge tonight, for extended analysis of this game from Dave Deckard.
-- Ryan Rosback | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter