RECAP: Los Angeles Lakers vs Portland Trail Blazers

Pranav Ramasubramanian | October 20th, 2018

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The Los Angeles Lakers were ready to start the regular season, while the Portland Trail Blazers were ready to let last year’s playoff failures go and start fresh. It was the season opener for both teams with high ambitions. The way this game played out was very entertaining and high octane.

Quick observations

The Lakers can cut to the rim very well and look for them to really build on their success in the paint. The Trail Blazers were fundamentally sound, despite their 17 turnovers, playing very settled and taking what the defense gave them. The Lakers are already building good chemistry. I mean just hear LeBron James mic’d up:

The road games are the tough ones, so don’t expect the Lakers to be pulling those out early; every team in the West will give the Lakers their best game after hearing all the praise about LeBron all summer long. Luke Walton did what he could rotation-wise, but it just seemed that the Lakers couldn’t click because they simply were not used to playing with a big star like LeBron. The Trail Blazers’ team stayed intact for the most part, meaning they were very comfortable at home. The Lakers need to find a way to make threes as they were cold from three on Thursday, going just 7/30, and that just doesn’t win games in this league.

What the Blazers did right

They attacked the Lakers small-ball lineup and got easy baskets with Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic. The latter finished with 16 points and 9 rebounds, with most of his shots at the rim. The three-point shooting helped and they got their bench guys very involved to get out of their funk early as Nik Stauskas scored 16 in the 2nd quarter on threes and easy, open jumpers. If this one game is any proof, it looks as if the Blazers can win games even without Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum shooting the ball particularly well. In this game, Lillard finished with 28 and McCollum with 21 as the duo scored key baskets down the stretch to put the game away, so even though their shooting was bad they could rely on the bench, who had 55 points to provide a real boost in this game.

The defense in the post was not great as the Lakers did burn them for 70 points, but they did get crucial blocks and steals, revealing that they can play defense when required to win a game. The Blazers will need that in the packed West. Portland seemed to have good consistency last night, which will be the something to build on. The Blazers know how to close out the Lakers and they did that yet again last night as they notched their 16th straight against them.

What the Lakers did wrong

LeBron James did all he could in his Laker debut with 26 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists with some really highlight reel plays, but it didn’t seem like he was interested in handling the ball too much or taking scoring burdens upon himself as he was too passive.

The small-ball lineup just didn’t work as the Lakers kept getting burnt for easy shots by Nurkic and couldn’t really keep pace with the Blazers’ speed on offense not putting forth much of an effort defensively. The Lakers’ ball-handling was sloppy as they committed too many turnovers by just throwing the ball either out of bounds or to the Blazer players. They also wasted too many possessions with bad shots getting blocked at the rim and really being uncertain with what to do on offense. When LeBron hit the bench everything fell apart for the Lakers in the first half, as they dug themselves a hole until James helped them climb back. The Lakers must figure out answers for who will carry them offensively when LeBron sits for a breather. Even though Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, and Brandon Ingram put in decent showings, they need to do more of it early in the game. The guards have to figure out how to fit in the offense with regards to their scoring, and thus should get more looks in upcoming games. LeBron James has never won a debut for his new team as he falls to 0-4, so the Lakers shouldn’t be too worried.

Player of the Game

I mean really who else other than Nik Stauskas? The 25-year-old signed on to Portland as a free agent to provide a scoring punch and he did just that on Thursday. He came in and hit four threes in the second quarter, giving the Blazers some big momentum and an 11-point lead in a crucial juncture when both teams were fighting for control of the game, which helped Portland thrive offensively without McCollum or Lillard on the floor. He outscored the Lakers in threes with four while the Lakers had none in the first half. Stauskas did all his damage in a span of five minutes on the floor and even hit a crucial three in the fourth to put the Blazers up seven in the fourth quarter when they were countering a Lakers run.

Stauskas also gave CJ and Dame time to recover from a bad first half to come back and settle in and take over the game. If he can do that all season look out. Stauskas finished with five threes, just two below the entire Lakers team, and finished with 24, which is tied for his career high, as he ruined LeBron’s debut.

The West is really competitive but, in reality, everything after the Rockets and Warriors is up for grabs as the Blazer stole a crucial win that will help them later on in the playoff standings. The Lakers have to be given credit for sticking in there, but these teams see each other two more times in the next 14 games, so expect to see the Lakers try to improve by then. In the end, the Blazers got the 128-119 win against LeBron’s new squad and advance to 1-0 winning their home opener, while the Lakers fall to 0-1.

Next game for both teams

Lakers: Today vs Rockets 7:30 pm CT

Blazers: Today vs Spurs 7:00 pm CT

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