After a late collapse against the eighth-seeded Blazers put the top-seeded Lakers a game down in their opening-round playoff series, they couldn’t afford another loss as they headed into Game 2 on Thursday night. In a dominating 111-88 victory, twelve Lakers scored, with five in double figures.
Anthony Davis led the charge with 31 points in 29 minutes. The mostly double-digit lead that Los Angeles enjoyed most of the night enabled Lebron James to be on the bench for 21 minutes. It appeared that the opening game jitters that bothered the Lakers and the energy that propelled the Blazers had both disappeared by the time the two teams tipped off.
The Blazers had won five of their final six games to get into the playoffs. Then, they used that momentum to stun the Lakers in Game 1. But the porous defense and inconsistent offense that had plagued them before the March pause returned Thursday night, and the Lakers made them pay.
Los Angeles came into the game as 6.5-point favorites but easily beat that spread. The early line for Saturday’s Game 3 has the Lakers favored by seven points, with the over/under at 225.
For the season, the Blazers are averaging almost 115 points a game, so the Lakers have done a good job defensively, as expected from the third-best defense in the league. The Blazers stole Game 1, but that will difficult to replicate on a neutral floor if the Lakers continue to hold Portland well below their season scoring average.
In the first two games, the Lakers held Portland to 40% shooting. The big difference in the outcomes can be attributed to the awful offensive performance by the Lakers in Game 1, where they shot 35% from the floor, including just shy of 16% from 3-point range.
Does Portland Have a Chance?
Many experts felt that Portland had a chance in this series, and they looked somewhat justified after Game 1. But in a seven-game series, it will be tough for Damian Lillard to carry this team on his back against a strong and deep Lakers lineup.
Despite the atrocious shooting performance by the Lakers and Lillard putting up 34 in Game 1, the Lakers still were in control late and let the game get away from them. Close scrutiny of the analytics would make it difficult to predict a Portland win, not to mention the fact that teams led by Lebron James have never lost a first-round playoff series.
What has to happen for Portland to avoid three more games like the last one? First, they have to shoot better by getting out into transition after defensive stops. For that to happen, they need to play strong defense, something they aren’t capable of for long stretches.
Even during their bubble stretch run, they gave up at least 115 points in their last six games. Second, they have to find a way to contend with the size of the Lakers. Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee, and Dwight Howard pose tremendous problems for the Blazers. When those three are healthy, it’s a 48-minute battle inside, one which the Lakers generally win.
Third, they’re probably going to have to get a little lucky, as they did in Game 1 when Los Angeles all but gave them the game. Despite being the top seed, the Lakers can go into periods of dysfunction, and the Blazers need that to happen with great frequency to have a chance.
As we’ve seen in the past, once Lebron’s teams get rolling in the playoffs, they can be very hard to beat. I don’t see this team as being much different, except that almost all of its playoff experience is being acquired in real-time. Despite their favored status, I could see the Blazers wrestling another win away from the Lakers, but not the series.
Take the Blazers on Saturday.