The Portland Trail Blazers came into the Moda Center on Friday night looking for a bounce-back win against the Los Angeles Lakers after a series of five straight losses. Looking for something and getting it are two different things. The young Blazers ended up tilting against the windmill of LeBron James. The Mount Rushmore veteran not only broke their lances, he stole their horse on top of it. James ended up with 35 points, 5 rebounds, and 9 assists, leading the Lakers to a 107-95 victory.
The Trail Blazers were led by Jerami Grant with 24 points on 8-20 shooting, 4-9 from the arc. All five Portland starters scored in double figures but the Blazers bench produced only 12 points total.
The loss dropped the Blazers to 3-9 on the season, 1-2 in Group Play qualifying for the NBA In-Season Tournament. The Lakers stand at 3-0 in Group A, meaning Portland is out of the running.
Deandre Ayton got the game rolling with a couple of mid-range shots, one of which hit. But pulling the Lakers’ bigs out of the middle seemed like a good idea. That was on offense, though. L.A. had no problem getting the ball in the lane on their end, either converting short shots or kicking out for deadly threes. Three triples early put L.A. up 11-4 with three minutes expired in the game. Unless something changed, Portland’s mid-range attempts weren’t going to make up for the Lakers’ chip shots and bombs, no matter how high of a percentage the Blazers shot.
Ayton continued to cook as the quarter unfolded, scoring 6 of Portland’s first 8 points. He looked smooth and secure. So did the Lakers, though. Midway through the period, they started converting Portland misses into running points. That was bad news for the Blazers, who trailed 11-20 at the first timeout with 6:41 remaining.
Portland continued plugging away, grabbing offensive rebounds and scoring at the rim, balancing out their jump shot attack, but they also started turning over the ball more. That led to even more easy shots for Los Angeles. As has been typical this season, the opponent point total approached 30 well before the expiration of the first-quarter clock.
Portland’s defense looked far better against the Lakers’ second unit than against the starters. Ayton continued to score, finishing the period with 8. Shaedon Sharpe also put a huge layup over Anthony Davis with 2:00 remaining for his 1000th point as a Trail Blazer, the youngest player in franchise history to reach that mark. All of it amounted to a 30-23 Lakers lead after one.
Jerami Grant stepped up at the start of the second, hitting a short jumper and a three. The Blazers pulled close for about half a nanosecond. But LeBron James and Christian Wood put a stop to that, scoring 5 buckets between them within 10 feet. As usual, Portland’s interior defense was defense in name only. With 6:00 remaining, Los Angeles led by 8, 46-34.
Jabari Walker and Ayton got busy in the second part of the second period, trying their best to close off the lane defensively, also to move Portland’s scoring back to the interior. To nobody’s surprise. LeBron and AD were better. The Lakers pushed the lead back to double digits by heading inside with even more success than before. Add in even more break-aways, and it’s a recipe for straight UGH. The Blazers made a mini-run at the end of the period, but the Lakers still led 60-50 at the half.
The Blazers made their obligatory second-half rally at the start of the third period. Skylar Mays and Jerami Grant each hit a pair of threes. Those 12 points alone outshone the 9 that the Lakers scored in the first 5:00 of the period. Mays’ second three closed it to 1, 68-67 with 7:46 remaining.
Scoring remained flat for the next couple of minutes. Both teams missed, fumbled, and got shots blocked. That wasn’t bad for Portland, though. It’s hard to undo a run when nobody is scoring.
A LeBron three with 5:28 remaining served notice that the Lakers still knew what they were doing. A couple possessions later James missed a layup, Davis got a rebound but missed the putback, then L.A. got it again and kicked out to LeBron for another three. Those were the breaks that the Blazers could not afford.
Despite offensive rebounds and second-chance opportunities, Portland’s scoring remained flat. They scored only 8 points in the final 7:45 of the period. The Lakers led 82-75 after three.
LeBron James did the LeBron thing at the start of the fourth, dishing assists to Christian Wood and Taurean Prince, hitting a three-pointer himself between successful shots from his teammates. That put the Lakers up 12 before two minutes had passed in the fourth. After that, James started showboating a little with his passes. It was like watching a runner a half-mile ahead in a marathon suddenly start a finishing kick at the 20-mile mark. The cheeky confidence indicated that nobody was catching him. Nor did anyone. Head Coach Chauncey Billups brought in the deep bench before the quarter grew too old. Might as well get them some run. This game wasn’t going to be contested.
Stay tuned for extended analysis, coming up soon!
The Blazers welcome the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Moda Center on Sunday night with a 6:00 PM start time.