The Lakers came out of the gate running, and nearly ran the Blazers off the court in the first quarter. The Blazers took the Lakers’ first punch and fired back one of their own. Toumani Camara threw down a dunk off an offensive rebound to bring the Blazers within a point at 30-29 toward the end of the first quarter. Sadly, this is the closest the Blazers would make the score the rest of the way. DeAngelo Russell had one of those games, leading the Lakers with 34 points.
Whenever LeBron James and Anthony Davis can get help like that, it’s usually a long night for the opposing team. Portland hustled and stayed within striking distance, but the Lakers were just too much for the young Blazers squad, which at one point in the fourth quarter had five rookies on the court at one time. The silver lining in this game is that with the Lakers win, they continue to stay above the Golden State Warriors in the standings. With Portland holding the Golden State draft pick, that is a good thing.
If you missed the game, you can find our quarter-by-quarter breakdown here. After you’ve read that, here are the details that defined the contest.
Another Starting Lineup
Chauncey Billups went with another starting lineup tonight against the Lakers. He has not been shy with his different combinations. Similarly, Darvin Ham for the Lakers has used several different starting lineups as well. The difference between both coaches is behind the “why” in regards to so many different starting units. The Blazers are trying to showcase tradable assets while getting young guys more minutes. Coach Billups is also trying to establish chemistry with his young team. Coach Ham is just trying to figure out a winning combination. He knows LeBron James and Anthony Davis are set, but what pieces around them will unlock the next level for the Lakers.
Jabari Walker is the newest addition to the starting lineup for the Blazers. He started against Phoenix, Brooklyn and Indiana this week with good results, so Billups inserted him again tonight. Walker did not disappoint, contributing 12 points and 7 rebounds. The stats won’t jump off the page, but it was the way he played and his awareness that impressed. Walker also isn’t afraid to mix it up with the other team. Giving him a starting nod increases his confidence and gives him experience against the other teams’ better players. The Blazers have a second-round gem in Walker. The team needs to continue giving him minutes in order to accelerate his development.
Grant Oh Grant
If you are in search of an NBA bucket, look no further than Jerami Grant. If you need an assist, rebound, steal, or block, feel free to look anywhere else. Grant’s offensive abilities were on full display tonight against the Lakers. Grant opened the game up with a 20-foot jumper at the 10:05 mark of the first quarter. Throughout the rest of the game he showcased his ability to draw fouls, shoot long range jumpers, navigate around the rim, and even connect on a lefty sky hook over the arms of Davis.
Grant really has all the tools needed to be a top offensive player in this league. The question for the Blazers is, how long do they keep him? Does Grant fit the long-term plan for the Blazers and this young team? He has a big contract, but it’s a tradable one. He could be the missing piece for a contending team. However, Grant fills a need for the Blazers and would continue being a scoring machine for the team next year as well. The trade deadline is getting close. Decision time is looming for the Blazers.
Areas to Improve
The Lakers are not a young team with fresh legs, but they are a smart team. To quote a scripture from the Bible, “the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old.” The gray hairs in LeBron’s beard are evident, but his ability to read a soft defense is as strong as ever. The Lakers used their ability to screen and pass to get running on the fast break and convert easy baskets. The Blazers seemingly never back on defense, as the Lakers outscored the Blazers 35-8 in fast break points, and that only tells half the story. Portland committed over seven fouls preventing the Lakers from scoring in transition as well.
It wasn’t just in transition where the Blazers were beat. LeBron and the Lakers took one look at Portland’s 2-3 zone and laughed. Over and over again the Blazers were late on rotations or caught looking at the ball while Davis and other Lakers beat them on back doors and cuts to the rim. The Blazers are at the halfway point of the season, and it is time to start identifying these areas of weakness and focus on getting better.
Doup Reath and Toumani Camara continue to impress for the Blazers and tonight’s game was no exception. Reath came off the bench, but because Deandre Ayton got into early foul trouble, Reath ended up playing more minutes than expected. More importantly, he answered the call in his matchup with Davis, playing very well against the Lakers center. Davis has been playing at an MVP level all season and also as a top-5 candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. Reath still converted on multiple layups against Davis and effectively drifted out to the three-point line to bring Davis away from the paint. Reath finished with 16 points on 6-9 shooting.
Camara on the other hand has settled into his role coming off the bench. Instead of sulking that he isn’t starting, he continues to bring energy and defensive tenacity when he enters the game. With 3:20 left in the third quarter, Camara showcased his ability to wreak havoc. During that sequence, Camara grabbed a defensive rebound then tossed a lazy pass that gets stolen. Does he keep his head down? Absolutely not. Camara quickly got into defensive position and took a charge on Jarred Vanderbilt. I hope to see Camara’s minutes increase during the second half of the season.
The Second Coach
Malcom Brogdon is quickly becoming one of my favorite players and essential to the Trail Blazers rebuilding year. Tonight, Brogdon carried the young Blazers for most of the game. His 23 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, and 1 block all led the team or tied for the team lead. He was simply spectacular on the offensive end of the court.
Brogdon also understands he has to coach the team while he’s on the floor. He can point out mistakes and corrections much quicker than Billups and the other coaches. Brogdon can also show his teammates instead of just telling them. Actions speak louder than words, and Brogdon’s actions speak very loudly on most nights for the Blazers. It’s tough to tell what the Blazers should do with their veteran point guard. Would it be better for Brogdon to hang around this team all season, then trade him during the Summer? Brogdon has had a history of injuries so perhaps trading him sooner, while his stock his high is the correct course of action. See Robert Williams III… Whatever happens and however the season plays out, I am glad Joe Cronin, Portland’s General Manager, took a swing on Brogdon.
The Trail Blazers’ next game comes on the road against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday, with tipoff scheduled for a little after 5 p.m. PST.