John Hollinger of the Athletic examines each playoff scenario in the Western Conference, and in the case of the Portland Trail Blazers versus the Los Angeles Lakers, he chose the Lakers in five. Hollinger makes his case, noting that the Blazers have little to offer on the defensive end, and their extended schedule prior to facing the Lakers is doing no favors.
Finding the energy to defend will continue to be a challenge. Portland comes in gassed after going pedal to the medal for nine straight games – Lillard and CJ McCollum both *averaged* over 40 minutes a game in the nine games the Blazers played to reach this point. Nurkic averaged 34 after 16 months of inactivity and played 41 minutes on Saturday; he was awesome, but also looked like he might collapse on the court at times. Carmelo Anthony is 36; only three players in the bubble played more minutes than he did, and two of them were on this team.
Hollinger notes that if the Blazers can’t crank up the defense, they will be left in the dust by the Lakers.
Portland, of course, got here with Lillard going bananas-crazy offensively, and that will be its method of making this series competitive. But the story has to begin on the other end. If Portland keeps giving up 1.2 points per possession, this thing will be over quickly.
He suggests that starting Gary Trent Jr. may provide a benefit to the Blazers on both ends of the court.
The Blazers have played significantly better at both ends with Trent on the court in the bubble. These are small samples, yes, but the results are so extreme it’s staggering. Portland outscores teams by 10.1 points per 100 possessions when Trent plays, but is a staggering -14.8 when he sits.
But regardless of the impact of Gary Trent Jr., the question remains of whether anyone on the Blazers can defend against LeBron James.
Okay, who are we kidding – nobody on the Blazers can guard LeBron. The Lakers also have Anthony Davis on their team, sources tell The Athletic, and he will punish any Portland defender who dares switch on him. James is the best player in the league at hunting mismatches, and surely will try to get Lillard and McCollum pinned on Davis in switches.
Hollinger acknowledges that Damian Lillard is still very, very dangerous against this Los Angeles Lakers squad, and Portland has to hope he still has more to give. You can read the entire piece here (paywall).