The Los Angeles Lakers put on a clinic against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night, winning going away in the fourth period, earning a 107-95 victory. LeBron James led his team with 35 points, 5 rebounds, and 9 assists, becoming the main thorn in Portland’s side... and eye... and hypothalamus.
If you missed the game, you can find a quarter-by-quarter rundown of the action here. Once you’ve digested that, here are several other factors affecting the outcome.
Where’s the Offense?
The Lakers feasted on offense in the lane and at the arc tonight. They were an efficiency expert’s dream. That highlighted the lack of same for the Blazers. Portland’s poor three-point shooting is well-chronicled. Their ability to pass to the interior is suspect too. That leaves them driving into traffic, battling for offensive rebounds, or—increasingly commonly—taking mid-range shots no closer than the outer edges of the lane. Some players excel at them. Deandre Ayton lives there. But those shots don’t draw fouls, don’t get the extra tick that threes do, and don’t always hit. Portland’s “two points at a time maybe” offense can’t keep up with the dunks and threes that opponents generate. Not only is that story not changing, it can’t change unless the entire offense does. Fighting an NBA opponent is hard enough. Fighting math too is impossible.
Deandre Ayton had a fantastic night with 17 points on 8-14 shooting plus 12 rebounds, 7 offensive. Ayton was particularly potent in the midrange, looking fluid and confident. He scores so well from there, I wonder if the Blazers shouldn’t use him more like veteran LaMarcus Aldridge than a young center. Pick and pop opportunities might be easier for Portland’s point guards to convert. Ayton could also post a wee bit extended. Maybe someday the answer to the Mystery of the Not-Quite Elite Center will be to make him a power forward?
Yin and Yang
The Blazers once again looked decent on the offensive glass, netting 19 offensive rebounds for 22 second-chance points against a fairly sizable Lakers frontcourt. One wonders about the cost, though. L.A. got 26 fast break points tonight. Some come off of turnovers, but rebounds for fast breaks came in spurts for the Lakers, as two of them ran against a single Portland guard. The other guard was often buried in the lane, having tried unsuccessfully for the board.
The Blazers can’t rebound without all hands on deck. Maybe the more important deck to patrol lies at the defensive end? I love the offensive rebounding hustle, but getting outrun is worse than not getting second shots.
Shaedon Sharpe scored 17 points on 7-17 shooting against the Lakers. He ahd 9 rebounds but just 2 assists.
The young guard’s struggles are not entirely his fault. Opponents have figured out that keeping a defender in Sharpe’s grill at all times is the easiest way to keep explosiveness out of Portland’s offensive attack. L.A. switched immediately on all attempts to free Sharpe with screens. They met him with extra defenders when he tried to drive. Basically they controlled their opponent by neutralizing the right hand, absorbing any other punches or kicks without flinching.
The extra defense also led to 10 turnovers from Sharpe. Yikes, but also not entirely unexpected given the circumstances: a young player playing hybrid guard against a defense keyed in to stop him.
With personnel so depleted, it’s hard to see how the Blazers will get around this. Jerami Grant and Deandre Ayton can score, but neither is going to turn around a game with their offense. Opponents will take 20-something from Grant and 15+ from Ayton, then walk away with the win. As long as Sharpe isn’t scoring 25, nobody’s going to be scared.
Come From Behind
Blazers games have now fallen into a semi-predictable pattern: get down by a significant margin, battle back almost all the way with the second unit, then get hosed. Portland makes magnificent plays, sometimes even sustaining them for runs. It’s hard to watch all that effort expended just to get even again, not even sniffing at a real lead. It’s not going to work most nights.
The Blazers have to find a way to stay even, at least, in that first quarter if they ever hope to win games on the regular. All the second-half comebacks in the world don’t mean much if they’re coming against teams in cruise control and they don’t result in victory anyway.
We’ve said it before, but it’s got to be repeated: Portland’s interior defense is gruesome. The Lakers scored 50 in the paint. They would have added a dozen more, minimum had the fourth period been contested. There’s no way the Blazers can generate that many. Nor does Portland have the ability to string threes together to counterbalance the opponent’s lane parade at a 150% rate. Every easy bucket the Blazers give up equals two hard-fought possessions to overcome: a shot to make up for it and another to get ahead. Giving up that many in the lane makes solving the scoreboard an impossible task.
This is the other constant mantra of the season. The Blazers committed 19 tonight. Enough said.
I love Portland’s In-Season Tournament court. As long as you only look down the middle, that is. The Rip City lettering at midcourt and the trophies in the lane are fantastic! The red stretches at either side of the floor don’t work, though.
A good court will look nice with lots of different uniform colors. Red just doesn’t. Next year, maybe they can keep some of the plaid motif but abandon the harsh primary color? Watching yellow against red all night gave me a headache.
The Blazers welcome the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Moda Center on Sunday night with a 6:00 PM start time.