The Portland Trail Blazers 16-game winning streak against the Los Angeles Lakers came to an end after Saturday’s contest. A horrific 3-point shooting night, and a poor showing from the bench eventually snapped the streak, as the Blazers fell by a score of 114-110. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum both put up 30 points, but the Blazers’ reserves couldn’t get going. This led to a double-digit deficit for Portland in the second half. The Blazers roared back, but just like most of their 3-pointers tonight, the comeback fell short. Portland finished the game shooting a paltry 6-35 from deep.
Chief vs The King
Any team that plays the Lakers has to answer the question: How are you going to guard the greatest player on the planet, LeBron James? Portland made it simple and handed the assignment to Al-Farouq Aminu. The Lakers ran isolation plays for LeBron on the block against Aminu multiple times, and the Blazers sent minimal help. Aminu went toe-to-toe with the bigger James off screens and handoffs, and was able to successfully get his hand on a few balls that led to run outs and easy buckets.
Aminu matched James minute for minute in the first half. The Lakers were -10 with the two sharing the court. Highlighted by two massive blocks and two steals, Aminu gave the three-time MVP all he could handle defensively. LeBron finished 4-10 at the half.
The Lakers countered in the second half with ball screens to force a switch. LeBron still finished the game as a -20.
The Bench Slips
The Blazers’ bench has been an asset for them this season, but that was certainly not the case tonight. Portland’s reserves were outscored 51-26. They also finished with 9 turnovers in 98 total minutes, compared to 5 turnovers in 153 total minutes from the starters. The second unit just didn't get it done tonight. The turnovers, the shooting from all three levels, and the porous defense were too much for the starting unit to overcome. Rajon Rondo had a monster game for the Lakers’ bench. Rondo recorded 17 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals. The Blazers reserves failed to answer his production.
My Kingdom For A Three
It is tough to imagine that a pedestrian 23 percent 3-point percentage would have led the Blazers to victory, but that would have been the case tonight. If the Blazers would have performed better early, they could have put the game away. If they could have hit late, the fourth quarter comeback would have been a triumphant one. But it’s a make-or-miss league, and missing 83 percent of your 3-pointers, is usually going to end in a loss. Many of the looks were good, but they just didn’t fall.
Lillard struggled from deep tonight, hitting two of eight, and he also struggled to score at the rim whenever JaVale McGee was on the court. Despite those speed bumps, Dame still did everything he could to bring the Blazers’ back. He finished with 30 points on 23 shots, and completed the contest without a turnover.
CJ McCollum has had a slow start to the season, but he looked more like himself tonight. He hit two threes in the first quarter, and finished by scoring 10 of Portlands’ last 13 points. Similar to Lillard, McCollum scored 30 points on 24 shots. The backcourt provided a solid effort by getting to their usual spots and converting. Portland’s backcourt played well enough to beat a good team—they just didn’t get the help needed.
Jake Layman usually plays limited minutes with the starters, but today he got some run with the second unit. Layman finished with 6 points, 7 rebounds (3 offensive), and 2 steals. A couple monster put-back dunks prove that his greatest contributions come in the form of his athleticism. Tonight, he gave Portland good minutes.
Nik Stauskas was much quieter against the Lakers today than he was on opening night. He finished with only three points on Saturday. Struggles aside, it is clear that Zach Collins and Stauskas are building chemistry. Stauskas has frequently targeted the second-year big man, which led to two assists against the Lakers.
Collins provided a few highlight-worthy plays off pick-and-roll sets, and in isolation in the post. He made Ivica Zubac looks silly in the post with an up-and-under play. Collins’ desire to possess the ball in big moments is encouraging, but he still has some work to do when facing bigger opponents.
The McGee Maze
The Blazers’ bench really struggled against the Lakers. Portland’s starters spent the evening gaining leads, and then recovering from deficits. Adding to those problems was JaVale McGee’s superb performance on both sides of the ball. Defensively, he had six blocks, and altered shots throughout the night. Lillard and McCollum had to change their plan of attack knowing that McGee was lurking in the paint. Offensively, Jusuf Nurkic couldn’t decide if he should help on players driving down the lane, or if he should stay put on McGee. When Nurkic helped, it immediately initiated a dunk for McGee. Later in the game, Nurkic stuck to McGee, but that led to favorable shots for the Lakers. In the end, Portland failed to solve the problems caused by McGee’s presence.
The Blazers will gain an extra hour of rest (don’t forget to set your clocks back) before facing the Timberwolves on Sunday.