The Blazers’ current losing streak extended to three games after the Lakers exited the Moda Center with a 128-120 victory. Saturday’s action unfolded in the shadow of Skal Labissière’s knee injury that occurred in the early portion of the first quarter. Despite his exit, the Blazers battled the first-place Lakers to the final whistle. Ultimately, LeBron James’ masterful double-double proved to be the difference (21 points, 16 assists).
Here is a look back at Saturday’s result as we wait for news on Labissière’s injury.
The Blazers’ plans to combat the Lakers’ abundance of size came to an abrupt end when Skal Labissière exited early in the first quarter with a left knee injury. Unsurprisingly, the Lakers focused on attacking the paint. Size was not the only thing working in Los Angeles’ favor. Anthony Davis, LeBron James and JaVale McGee all did a superb job of sealing off their defenders in pursuit of favorable opportunities. The Lakers finished the first quarter with a 24-12 advantage in the points in the paint column.
Regardless of the size disparity, the Blazers kept pace thanks to a 14-point outburst from Damian Lillard. On top of Lillard’s exploits, Portland’s proficient shooting from distance provided a cushion when Los Angeles completed a 10-0 run late in the frame. The Lakers finished the first quarter with a slight 34-32 lead.
Kyle Kuzma took a shot to the face in the opening quarter, but that setback did not slow him down. The former Utah standout had his shot clicking from inside and outside the arc. Kuzma added 11 points to his total in the second quarter—pushing the Lakers’ lead to 13 at one point.
The Blazers’ offense managed to make up for the lack of resistance their defense provided. Carmelo Anthony and Anthony Tolliver were effective in pick-and-pop situations. Moving toward the basket, Whiteside was a constant threat as a roll man. Thanks to fluid passing throughout the offense, Tolliver and Whiteside combined for 16 points in the quarter. The Blazers headed to the locker room trailing 71-64.
Following a turnstile-like defensive performance in the second quarter, the Blazers turned to an aggressive approach. It wasn’t perfect, but Portland’s swarming defense introduced chaos. Leading the way for the Blazers: Kent Bazemore’s relentless pursuit of steals and blocks. That increased defensive effort combined with solid three-point shooting from Lillard and CJ McCollum to give the Blazers a slim 86-85 lead just after the midpoint of the quarter.
Portland’s attack lost steam down the stretch, providing Rajon Rondo with an opportunity to to dictate the action. The Lakers successfully held off the Blazers’ inspired quarter, securing a 103-95 lead in the process.
Like the second quarter, Tolliver got the Blazers rolling with two three-pointers. Undermanned and facing a size disadvantage, Portland managed to keep pace with Los Angeles with high-energy plays on both ends. Unfortunately for the Blazers, they could never do enough to stay within a single possession of the Lakers. Like clockwork, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was consistently effective from the corner. Along with KCP, LeBron was more assertive on offense in the fourth quarter. KCP finished with a stellar 3-4 shooting performance from beyond the arc and LeBron chipped in four assists down the stretch.
Unable to string together stops that combined with consistent offense, the Lakers secured a 128-120 victory.
- The Blazers showed heart throughout the contest. Bazemore played like his hair was on fire on defense. His play went beyond reckless stat hunting and kept the Lakers off balance in the second half.
- Melo’s veteran touch was on full display against the Lakers. It wasn’t always effective, but the 35-year-old forward provided points at crucial moments. As a facilitator, Melo was quick to move the ball along the perimeter and he hit Whiteside with a gorgeous entry pass in the second half. Aside from the box score, Melo’s frustration over a non-call on a clear foul on Simons should boost the youngster’s confidence.
- In two short bursts, Tolliver produced his best game as a member of the Blazers. He lived up to his floor spacer label and went 4-of-5 from distance for 12 points.
- Simons picked up where he left off against the Jazz. Buoyed by his ability to beat defenders off the dribble, Simons notched 14 points. Outside of his scoring, he made another positive impact on the rebounding battle. Following a 10 rebound effort against the Jazz, he corralled six more against the Lakers.
The focus here is on the health of Labissière. At this moment, there is no need to hit multiple points about a struggling defense or inconsistent offense. Labissière has been a beacon of hope throughout the first third of the season. Hopefully that trend can continue following his early exit against the Lakers.
The Blazers return to action on Monday to host the Suns.