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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Los Angeles Lakers Game 1 Preview

In a season full of challenges, the toughest one yet will be finding a way to beat the Lakers in a seven-game series.

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Lakers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Los Angeles Lakers (Series: 0-0)

Tuesday, August 18 - 6:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Rodney Hood (out), Trevor Ariza (opted out), Caleb Swanigan (opted out), Zach Collins (out), Nassir Little (out)
Lakers injuries: Rajon Rondo (doubtful), Avery Bradley (opted out)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, TNT (or check out Fubo for your streaming needs)
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Silver Screen and Roll

The Portland Trail Blazers have run the gauntlet and come out alive, capturing their seventh consecutive playoff appearance. After moving up to the eighth spot in the West following the Seeding Games, they defeated the Memphis Grizzlies in the Play-In matchup by a score of 126-122. Their reward? A best-of-seven series against LeBron James and the top-seeded Lakers.

The Los Angeles Lakers have for their part slouched their way through the Seeding Games. After starting out the Bubble with a 103-101 win over cross-stadium rival the Los Angeles Clippers, the Lakers finished with a record of 3-5 and lots of questions hanging over their heads. You would be foolish to think that the Lakers are there just for the taking, but it seems likely that the Lakers will need to up their game if they want to play in the next round.

What to watch for

  • Damian Lamonte Ollie Lillard Sr. Call from Captain Obvious on line O. Gallons of ink have been spent writing about how good Damian Lillard has been. Let’s just stick to one point. Lillard has shown an uncanny ability to constantly find ways to get better. Right now, the thing Lillard is doing much better than he has ever done in his career is dealing with traps and blitzes. In the past we’ve seen teams send two defenders at Damian, forcing the ball out of his hands and taking him out of his game. In the Bubble, teams have been attempting that strategy at an unprecedented rate. For the first time in his career, Lillard has been consistently up to the task. He’s not only avoided turnovers, staying near his season average of turnovers despite the increased attention, but he’s finding different and effective ways to break the blitz. “Logo Lillard” is one option when teams are a bit slow to pick him up, while another option he has effectively used is blowing by the slower defender before he knows what hit him, essentially using one defender to pick the other one. The Blazers have also found success with Dame playing off the ball, utilizing various away-from-the-ball picking schemes to spring him free. Lillard’s assists have also increased, hitting double figures four times in nine games. Not bad for a guy with a lifetime average of 6.5 per game.
  • Free throws. The Blazers shot 84.2% in the Bubble, second best among participating teams. The Lakers shot 72.4%, fourth worst. Portland shot a higher percentage from the stripe than their opponents in 8 out of 9 games in Orlando so far, the only exception being during the loss to the Clippers. Looking at the box scores, Portland would probably be completing exit interviews right now if they hadn’t come through with the freebies. Free throws could certainly be a huge factor for the Blazers, but only if they can get to the line at a similar clip as the Lakers. This aspect could be a problem. So far in the Bubble, the Lakers have shot 4.2 more free throws per game than the Blazers.
  • Make your open shots. The Blazers have been middling in the Bubble at hitting the open bucket, shooting 44.7% from the field and 41.4% from deep when the closest defender is at least six feet away. By contrast, the Lakers have been terrible, shooting only 36.2% from the field and 32.4% from three when wide open. If this trend continues the Lakers may be in deep trouble, pun intended. The Blazers feel they can shoot better than they have so far in the Bubble, while the Lakers don’t have any choice if they want to win. The Blazers should get plenty of open looks due to Damian Lillard’s gravity, while the Lakers should get plenty of open looks because, well, they are playing the Blazers. If Portland can hit their open shots at a meaningfully better rate than Los Angeles hits theirs, it should be a good night for the guys from the Rose City.

What they’re saying

Lionel Hollins is not in the Bubble due to health concerns, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t doing his job, reports Tania Ganguli of the Los Angels Times:

Last month the NBA determined that Hollins, one of Vogel’s top assistants, was not permitted to travel to Orlando for health reasons. So for the past five weeks, Hollins has coached over texts and video conferences. His days, not filled with going to and from practice, are busy instead with coaching his son, negotiating with his granddaughter and watching film at the kitchen table.

This is a hugely important season for Anthony Davis, and Christian Rivas of Silver Screen and Roll says that he is ready to step up:

This season, Davis has helped lead the Los Angeles Lakers climb back to the top of the Western Conference for the first time in a decade and the expectations for both him and the team are as high as they’ve ever been. Davis knows that this year will be different than any other time he’s been in the playoffs, and he’s looking forward to the challenge.

Let’s end with Charles Curtis of USA Today’s For the Win. He says that the Blazers are going to win the series. Read the article to find out how:

But after almost getting there by saying the Los Angeles Lakers should be afraid of the Blazers, let’s just go there: the Blazers are going to beat the Lakers in their first-round series.