The Portland Trail Blazers may have been missing Damian Lillard when they faced the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night, but the scales were even as the Lakers played without All-World forward LeBron James. The absence of stars was evident. The Lakers spent most of the night committing turnovers. The Blazers missed nearly every shot they threw up. The duel of awfulness kept the game close, but L.A. ultimately prevailed 99-94.
Portland ended up shooting 35-98, 35.7% from the field, 14-42, 33.3% from the three-point arc. Norman Powell led the team with 30 points. Anthony Davis scored 30 for the Lakers, which was expected. Carmelo Anthony pouring in 24 was less so. L.A. committed 16 turnovers, leading to 24 Portland points, a serious source of offense on a night when nothing else was working,
The Lakers’ plan was plain from the outset of the game: attack inside using Anthony Davis as a weapon or a neon-bright decoy. Getting Jusuf Nurkic to switch on the perimeter—leaving Nurk outside on a driver/shooter while the much smaller Robert Covington tried to defend the rim—was part of the package. L.A. alternated inside attempts with kick-out threes. They didn’t shoot that well, but Portland’s shooting was as cold as a Slushee up your nose. (The Blazers would not hit a single jumper in the period.) Within just over five minutes elapsed, the Lakers had a 16-8 lead. Carmelo Anthony made life difficult for his former club, hitting a pair of threes. Davis also had a couple blocks. The Lakers had the rhythm and a nose for the blowout at that point. They went fast and shared the ball eagerly. L.A. led 28-16 after one.
The Lakers started the second period with three straight turnovers, begging the Blazers to catch up to them, but Portland still couldn’t hit a shot to save their lives. Portland’s second unit continued to crowd L.A. in a way the starters couldn’t manage, but scoring zero points makes catching up difficult no matter how good the defense is. Norman Powell hit a three and Dennis Smith, Jr. got fouled on another to generate something for Portland. Or it would have, if Smith, Jr. had hit more than one. That’s the kind of half it was. Los Angeles continued to turn it over, but Portland couldn’t hit enough to take advantage of the opponent’s awkwardness.
Finally, as the starters returned, the Blazers began to cook. Nurkic hit a couple. That appeared to take the lid off. Anfernee Simons struck, and suddenly Portland was back within 1. Stroking threes really helped. The Lakers failing to push their attack inside as they had at the opening of the game, settling for weak perimeter probing, helped even more. Simons picking up a third foul dimmed the end of the half somewhat, but it’s nothing that 8-13 three-point shooting in the period couldn’t cure. A buzzer-beater by Norman Powell helped the Blazers survive a shaky half, trailing just 53-54 at intermission.
After a 1-9 first half. CJ McCollum hit his first shot of the second, giving Portland hope and a lead at the same time. When he struck again on the next possession, it was on.
Providing “it” was a drunken tortoise race.
Despite the promise of the start of the third, the offense for both teams returned to its prior state, as painful as watching Gordon Ramsay eat at a Jack in the Box. The Lakers committed multiple turnovers. The Blazers bricked shots. Take a hot air balloon, fill it with Jell-o, and drop it out of an airplane. That, “SPLAT!” you just heard perfectly reflects the quality of play. Nurkic was making smart decisions, as was Powell. Robert Covington dished like a pro. Other than those three—and them intermittently—the Blazers were a huge cup of, “Ugh.”
Portland’s saving grace was that, because of L.A. miscues, they got WAY more shots on goal than the Lakers did. Ugly shots still count when they fall. The Blazers were pretty bad—Ben McLemore airballed a three, for Pete’s sake—but the Lakers were worse. Portland led 75-72 after three.
Cast against type. the Lakers came out in the fourth period on fire, scoring on their first six possessions. Even worse, their turnover disease from the first three periods appeared to be contagious. The Blazers caught it, anyway. With L.A. scoring as Portland nursed a lone McCollum three, Los Angeles retook the lead.
Both teams played ground-and-pound into the lane for the next few minutes, with the occasional three lightening the load. Though neither one could gain an edge, the onus was on the Blazers to change the vector; Anthony Davis was sure to win any head-to-head battle at the rim.
In the end, Portland just couldn’t. One mid-quarter sequence featured a Portland turnover followed by an L.A. turnover, followed by another Portland turnover, followed by a non-shooting foul on Covington, followed by an offensive foul on Davis, followed by Davis running into Nurkic’s chin away from the ball. Nowhere in there do you see any points. When you’re behind, as the Blazers were, you kinda need points to win.
Powell rode to the rescue, hitting a pair of outlet three-pointers in halfcourt sets. But Davis also scored on the other end as the Lakers baited Nurkic inside, allowing AD to hit open mid-range jumpers. Davis also swept up offensive rebounds when his teammates missed, which was often. That was enough to secure the game for the Lakers, even with L.A. (predictably) missing tons of free throws as the quarter closed. It’s like they were begging Portland to take it, and the Blazers just couldn’t.
Stay tuned for extended analysis, coming soon!
Portland returns home for a rematch with the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night. The game starts at 7:00 PM, Pacific.