The Portland Trail Blazers started slowly but finished with an inspired effort beat the Los Angeles Lakers 95-92 Saturday, extending a NBA-best 14-game win streak against the club. For three quarters it appeared that neither team wanted much to do with the game before Portland seemingly flipped a switch and simply outworked the Lakers down the stretch to eek out of the Staples Center with a victory.
If Santa were deciding his list based off of tonight’s performance, not many Blazers would be happy with what they’d find under the tree Christmas morning. But there were a few performances worthy of making the Nice List:
- Shabazz is the man. Shabazz Napier was given the starting nod in place of Damian Lillard and he delivered with 21 points and five assists. He looked at times to be the most comfortable player on the floor and its only reliable outside shooter. With Lillard in street clothes, Los Angeles (expectedly) tried to gang up on CJ McCollum which left Napier free to roam the court and work his magic.
- Moe on a mission. Maurice Harkless looked like a man transformed in his second game since returning to the playing rotation, working for a game high 22 points, six boards and two blocks. He did so almost exclusively nearby the basket where he was able to out-hustle the Lakers’ front line and score on several 50/50 possessions, including a win preserving and-1 layup in the final minute:
How much do you bench? The Blazer starters struggled mightily on offense - McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic in particular combined to shoot a paltry 9-34 from the floor - but it was the second unit that picked up most of the slack. Along with Harkless, Zach Collins had one of his best games in a Portland uniform, playing in crunch time and scoring 11 points along with six rebounds and three assists.
- You’ve got to make your free throws. For the most part, the officials let guys play tonight but Portland was poor at capitalizing the few times it did manage to get to the line, making only 7 of 14 attempts.
The Blazers get a short holiday break and won’t play until Thursday when they will host the Philadelphia 76ers at 7:30 p.m. in a nationally televised contest on TNT.