The Portland Trail Blazers finished the 2021 calendar year with a game against their traditional nemeses, the Los Angeles Lakers. Blazers-Lakers evokes memories of Bill Walton versus Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Clyde Drexler facing off against Magic Johnson. In this case, it was LeBron James versus a box of wet cotton candy. The injury- and COVID-wracked Blazers couldn’t field anyone who could look LeBron in the eye, let alone stop him. James scored 43 and the Lakers won 139-106, sending Portland out of 2021 with a boot print on the back of their collective shorts.
Ben McLemore scored 28 for Portland in defeat, shooting 6-14 on three-pointers. Damian Lillard scored 18 on 5-15 shooting. Meanwhile the Lakers shot 54.8% from the field as a team, 45.0% from the arc.
Yeah, it was that kind of night.
LeBron started the game by hitting a three, then bulling inside for a layup. That pretty much served notice how this evening was going to go. He always looks great, of course, but against this Blazers lineup, he also looked HUGE...just a wholly different physical specimen than anybody Portland could put on the floor. The Blazers were forced to work around him as they played offense, swarming him ineffectively when they defended. If they left him single-covered, he scored. If they sent extra men, he passed into absurdly easy attempts for teammates. Coach Scott Brooks was forced to call an, “Oh gosh, guys, really???” timeout with just 2 minutes, 15 seconds elapsed and Portland down 4-12 on the scoreboard. It didn’t help. Turnovers and trotting left the Blazers behind 6-19 when Brooks called a, “No...really, I mean it!” timeout a minute and a half later. Portland was getting no good shots, no rebounds, and almost no stops. Ben McLemore hit a few threes mid-period to keep the blowout from looking THAT bad. Oh, who are we kidding? It looked really bad anyway. The Lakers got two layups for every shot the Blazers hit.
L.A.’s second unit got a little lazy and let the Blazers drain a couple more J’s as the period wound down. As a result, McLemore got 16 in the frame. But LeBron had 15 and the Lakers led 43-28 after one.
The best way to characterize the Lakers’ approach in the second period was, “Unconcerned.” They lofted threes as if they were in practice and ran back every Portland miss as if it were a drill. At least they weren’t getting layups every second possession. That was something. Even with their scoring slowing a bit, L.A. still had 50 before the 7:00 mark hit. LeBron eased up a bit, but went for his shot every time the Lakers got halfway threatened. He hit pretty much everything he took. The Blazers kept trying to come back with threes, but the Lakers shot 50% beyond the arc themselves, making it impossible to catch up. Also making it impossible: LeBron scoring 27. The Lakers led 69-54 at the half.
LeBron could have broken Wilt Chamberlain’s record tonight had he wanted to. If the Lakers had gone to him every possession, 100 was within reach. Instead, he thundered home a couple of drives and fed teammates. It served notice that the Blazers were NOT coming back. L.A. reached the dreaded 100 point mark before the period was through and led 101-77 at the horn.
It’s 10:22 PM on New Year’s Eve as I write this. I’m in my basement, covering a Blazers-Lakers game. I have more chance of finding the love of my life before midnight hits on New Year’s than the Blazers do of coming back in this one. If you’re still reading, I admire your perseverance! There will be better days for the franchise. Happy 2022!
Stay tuned for a little bit of extended analysis of the game. coming soon!
The Blazers will start 2022 with a home game against the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night at 7:00 PM, Pacific.