The Portland Trail Blazers found themselves on the wrong end of a 136-113 drubbing at the hands of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Los Angeles Lakers tonight. Both L.A. superstars topped 30 points in a game that wasn’t close at any point. In the space of two hours Portland lost Rodney Hood to an Achilles tear, Head Coach Terry Stotts to an ejection, and any pretense at being able to challenge the NBA’s best teams, even on their home court.
The Lakers began the game as so many of Portland’s opponents have this season, trying to take control of the paint. They moved Hassan Whiteside to the side, then went freely to the rim. Rodney Hood trying to guard LeBron James provided all the mismatch L.A. needed. If LeBron wasn’t going inside himself, he drew defenders out and passed to JaVale McGee deep inside. If alley-oops were nickles, the Lakers would have eclipsed Portland’s payroll in the first quarter alone. Hassan Whiteside kept the Blazers afloat inside while Carmelo Anthony hit mid-rangers. Disaster struck as the period came to a close as Hood went down with a torn Achilles tendon in his left leg. Then Skal Labissiere took an elbow to the jaw and left the court bleeding from the mouth. The Blazers scored an impressive 34 in the period but gave up 39 to the Lakers.
The Blazers tried to solve their dilemma by packing the paint on defense in the second quarter, but James and Rajon Rondo struck from deep to quell that scheme. Within three minutes, L.A. led 50-39 and the Blazers were floundering. Portland flirted with a 20-point deficit but picked up the pace mid-quarter, converting layups against their bigger, slower counterparts. The home team tried hard, but the reality of Anthony Tolliver and Mario Hezonja facing the Lakers’ frontcourt was more than effort and the occasional brilliant CJ McCollum jump shot or Damian Lillard drive could overcome. Even the return of Labissiere wasn’t enough. The Lakers led 77-62 at the half.
Lillard came out firing in the third, trying to load the team on his back. When the Blazers threatened to close, LeBron made the load far too heavy. James scored inside with Whiteside right in his face, then hit a pair of threes over Hezonja. He wasn’t going to be stopped or let the game go. The Lakers had 100 points by the 4:00 mark of the third. Head Coach Terry Stotts got ejected for arguing calls late in the period. That provided the cruddy punctuation on a crappy night.
Don’t even ask.
The Hood injury is obviously the story of the night. Losing him for (presumably) the season outweighs anything that happened in this game. Still, I won’t insult your intelligence by pretending that the contest was close, or was going to be close, with or without Hood on the floor. The Lakers walked with confidence, ran plays with experience, and defended with coordination. The Blazers looked pale beside them. The difference between the two franchises was as stark as it was a season ago when Portland was on top and the Lakers were trolling bottom. What a difference a year makes.
The defensive aspect was particularly telling tonight. Watching the Lakers cover space and react to each other on that end of the floor was eye-opening. They’re a polished, committed defensive team. The Blazers have a couple decent individual defenders but wouldn’t know a snappy rotation if it hit them straight in the pinwheel.
Add in the fact that opponents simply need to double-team Lillard above the arc to throw Portland into disarray nowadays and the game was all but decided before it tipped.
That’s all that needs to be said. Prayers for Rodney, thank goodness Oklahoma City is up next.
The Blazers and Thunder play at 5:00, Pacific on Sunday.