The Portland Trail Blazers scrapped their way into the playoffs after beating the Memphis Grizzlies in the first-ever play-in tournament.
Their reward: A first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers.
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- Game 1 - Tuesday, Aug. 18 at 9:00 p.m.
- Game 2 - Thursday, Aug. 20 at 9:00 p.m.
- Game 3 - Saturday, Aug. 22 at 8:30 p.m.
- Game 4 - Monday, Aug. 24 at 9:00 p.m.
- Game 5 (if necessary) - TBD
- Game 6 (if necessary) - TBD
- Game 7 (if necessary) - TBD
Result: Lakers won 2-1
Best game: Feb. 1, 2020 - Trail Blazers 127, Lakers 119
Best performance: Damian Lillard (1 February 2020) - 48 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds
The first meeting of the season saw the Lakers run away with a convincing 136-113 win, with Anthony Davis and LeBron James combining for 70 points. Davis led the charge with 39 points, while James added 31 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds.
That spin move comes at you fast 😵 pic.twitter.com/Y5PTf9fDDq- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) December 7, 2019
Just three weeks later, the Lakers made it two wins from two against the Blazers, behind 24 points off the bench from Kyle Kuzma as he helped the Lakers reserves outscore the Blazers bench 72-39.
James dished out a game-high 16 assists to go with 21 points as the Lakers snapped a four-game skid with the win. Davis added 20 points and nine rebounds.
Their third and final meeting of the regular season came in February....and this game belonged to Damian Lillard.
At STAPLES Center, Lillard went off for 48 points, 10 assists, and nine rebounds to lead the Blazers to their lone win over the Lakers in what was an emotional game, following the death of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant.
Key Storyline: Can Damian Lillard carry the Blazers to an upset?
This is not your typical 1 vs. 8 matchup, with the Lakers' reward for finishing with the no.1 seed, a date with the most in-form player in the NBA and a team back to full strength after an injury-plagued season.
Lillard was nothing short of spectacular through the eight seeding games, willing Portland to a 6-2 record, before beating the Memphis Grizzlies in the play-in tournament, with averages of 37.6 points and 9.6 assists per game on 49.7% shooting from the field and 43.6% from the 3-point line.
Make no mistake, the Lakers aren't the no.1 seed in the West by accident. After going 52-19, behind Anthony Davis' monstrous interior presence and playmaking and scoring of LeBron James, the Blazers are going to have their work cut out for them.
"They're the No. 1 seed in the West for a reason," Lillard said after their win over Memphis. "They've got the best player in the world on their team. But at the same time, we didn't fight as hard as we thought in the bubble to just say, 'All right, we're the eighth seed' and just go out here and get beat up on.
The Lakers will go into battle without Avery Bradley, their best perimeter defender, so slowing down Lillard becomes an even more difficult task, with a combination of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green, and Alex Caruso likely to see minutes guarding Lillard.
Blazers in the clutch (5-point games in the last 5 minutes) in the bubble- StatMuse (@statmuse) August 14, 2020
36 points (1st in NBA)
5 threes (tied 1st)
4-4 on threes (1st)
5 threes (tied 1st)
55.6 3P% pic.twitter.com/Os5jlnfkbx
If the Blazers can keep themselves close to the Lakers late in games, is there a player you would rather have in the clutch than Damian Lillard right now?
Three players to watch:
The Blazers defence has been less than convincing in Orlando and while the Lakers have struggled to score the ball, Portland's best chance of victory is overwhelming the Lakers with their high-octane offence.
Through eight seeding games, the Blazers shot 47.8% from the field and 41.4% from three and will need McCollum to be at his best, alongside Lillard if the Blazers are a chance of causing an upset.
CJ PUTTING THE TEAM ON HIS (FRACTURED) BACK pic.twitter.com/FXVsAxzOGj- Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) August 15, 2020
McCollum was superb in the play-in game vs. Memphis scoring 29 points, including some big buckets down the stretch, despite carrying a back injury. His health will be a big concern for the Blazers.
We know what to expect from LeBron James and Anthony Davis in the post-season, but Kyle Kuzma is poised to be the x-factor for the Lakers in his playoff debut.
"In order for us to win a championship, he has to be our third-best player," James said of Kuzma after he hit the game-winner against the Denver Nuggets in their seeding game.
"If I'm struggling or if A.D. is struggling he has to be our second-best player on any given night. We can't win a championship if Kuz doesn't play well."
Kuzma has shown he can be a productive scorer off the bench, with the Lakers going 12-3 this season when he scored 17+ points and with his improvement on the defensive end, he could well be the difference-maker in the series.
The battle of the bigs
Anthony Davis might be the best big man in basketball, with his versatility on both sides of the floor a matchup nightmare. The good news for the Blazers is that centre Jusuf Nurkic is not only back healthy, he's balling as well.
Against the Grizzlies, Nurkic recorded 22 points, 21 rebounds, and six assists and his presence in the paint will be much-needed alongside Hassan Whiteside as they battle Davis, Dwight Howard, JaVale McGee, and Markieff Morris.
If shots aren't falling, the pick-and-roll, the offensive glass and defence at the rim, will become all the more important for both sides.
LeBron James and Damian Lillard are the marquee attractions in this series, but the big men may just have their say in the end.
Picks and Predictions
Benyam Kidane: Lakers in six
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