SERIES SCHEDULE (all times PT)
Game 1: at Lakers, Tues., Aug. 18, 6 p.m., TNT
Game 2: at Lakers, Thurs., Aug. 20, 6 p.m., ESPN
Game 3: at Trail Blazers, Sat., Aug. 22, 5:30 p.m., ABC
Game 4: at Trail Blazers, Mon., Aug. 24, 6 p.m., TNT
x-Game 5: TBD at Lakers, Wed., Aug. 26, TBD time, TBD network
x-Game 6: Lakers at TBD, Fri., Aug. 28, TBD time, TBD network
x-Game 7: TBD at Lakers, Sun., Aug. 30, TBD time, TBD network
HEAD-TO-HEAD (this season)
Lakers won the regular season series, 2-1
Dec. 6: Lakers 136, Trail Blazers 113, at Moda Center
Dec. 28: Lakers 128, Trail Blazers 120, at Moda Center
Jan. 31: Trail Blazers 127, Lakers 119, at Staples Center
TALE OF THE TAPE
Trail Blazers (NBA rank) … category … Lakers (NBA rank)
35-39 … Season Record … 52-19
115.0 (sixth) … PPG … 113.4 (11th)
116.1 (26th) … Opp. PPG … 107.6 (fourth)
46.3 (fourteenth) … FG Pct. … 48 (first)
37.7 (third) … 3pt Pct. … 34.9 (21st)
80.4 (third) … FT Pct. … 72.9 (28th)
45.3 (12th) … Rebounds … 45.7 (ninth)
20.6 (30th) … Assists … 25.4 (10th)
6.3 (28th) … Steals … 8.6 (fifth)
6.1 (second) … Blocked shots … 6.6 (first)
12.8 (third) … Turnovers … 15.2 (22nd)
There’s no hotter guard in the league than Damian Lillard, who scored 154 points over a three-game stretch, all must-wins, to force the Blazers into the play-in. C.J. McCollum has a fractured vertebra in his back but scored 29 in the elimination game against Memphis looking spry. The Lakers truly miss Avery Bradley here: Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope not only have started out the bubble season cold, but they’ve looked like they’re still getting on the same page defensively at times. While Portland will struggle to defend the perimeter, their stars generally score enough to tilt the odds.
The Blazers are as healthy as they’ve been here: Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic to the fold to become a potent front court scoring threat. Carmelo Anthony also adds a wildcard scorer from the perimeter. But none of these players can truly defend: LeBron James and Anthony Davis both offer match-up problems with no clear answer, and the leaky inside has been a key reason why the Blazers are the third-least efficient defense of the restart, allowing 116.2 points per 100 possessions. It’s hard to see how they defend a James-Davis pick-and-roll for starters.
Gary Trent Jr. has played a stalwart sixth man role on both sides of the ball, helping boost the long range shooting and break up opposing plays. Kyle Kuzma has experienced a similar bubble boost, hitting a game-winning shot against Denver and showing up more consistently on defense. But the overall depth seems to swing for the Lakers: Dwight Howard has been more of a defensive key than Hassan Whiteside, who posts gaudy numbers but rarely is on winning lineups, and Alex Caruso and Dion Waiters provide some swing-makers for the Lakers. One of the key points of the Blazers’ run was how many minutes starters had to play to win nail-biters.
The third shot at head coaching was the charm for Terry Stotts, who quietly has become one of the longest tenured coaches in the NBA with a .556 winning percentage in Portland. But he’s had a harder time breaking through in the postseason, going to the Western Conference Finals for the first time just last year (and being swept by the Warriors). Frank Vogel has been to the Eastern Conference Finals twice, but with a grinding style that’s very different from what his Lakers team runs now, last in 2014. He has a 31-30 record to Stott’s 20-36 in the postseason.
The Blazers have come across as one of the most well-blended teams to their top player: Lillard has willed the team to a play-in spot from a three-game deficit at the beginning of the restart. He’s prone to getting hot offensively and pulling up even from the halfcourt logo. It also hurts the Lakers that they don’t have homecourt advantage in this series, as they were 23-8 at Staples Center. But no one has more playoff experience than James — literally the NBA record-holder with 10,049 postseason minutes. And Davis also might possess a psychological grip over the Blazers after sweeping them with New Orleans in 2018.
The Lakers might be more vulnerable than they would have been in March, but they still have arguably the two best players in the series, and a deeper overall bench than the Blazers, who can really only count on seven players. As potent as their offense has been, their defense has been abysmal in the restart. Lillard has put up monstrous performances, but his team has rarely had a sizeable lead. Expect the Lakers to shake off some of their early issues and find more of an offensive groove against a team that can’t defend and might be running low on gas after an emotional journey just to make the playoffs. Lillard and McCollum, however, are explosive enough scorers to make it interesting. Lakers in five.