Lakers fall short to Portland 107-105
A troubled Lakers team headed into Portland, for a West Coast matchup last night. L.A. has a ton of internal problems and seem to be imploding right now. The trade deadline is today, and the Lakers are likely looking to make some changes. The Lakers can’t finish in the fourth quarter, they show inconsistent effort on both sides of the ball on a night-to-night basis, and their coach is on the hot seat. Russell Westbrook is also struggling mentally, and cannot shoot right now. His demeanor in press conferences further reflects trouble, as he recently complained about not being in the fourth quarter (even though he had two consecutive turnovers earlier in the third). Vogel responded, giving him zero minutes tonight. Portland is fresh off making moves of their own, as they try to build around the absent Damian Lillard. Joe Cronin managed to acquire an injured Joe Ingles (along with Elijah Hughes and a second round pick), for Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Tomas Satoransky. Before that, they moved Norman Powell for Robert Covington in a questionable move. With a reshuffled lineup including a lot of inexperienced players, the troubled Lakers had an opportunity to get a confidence-boosting win against a depleted Blazers lineup.
Los Angeles actually looked pretty good in the first half. People are going to forget this because of how the game ended, but they played with a sense of aggression and urgency up until crunch time that is rare for them. LeBron initiated most of the ball movement, and he terrorized any Blazer guarding him. LeBron also dominated down low, utilizing his spin-to-drive move constantly, and finishing menacing and-ones. LeBron was throwing dimes to Trevor Ariza in the far corner, and Malik Monk was pulling off weak-hand assists. Their ball movement was much better than usual early on and shot drastically better from three-point range all night. They also came out with energy consistently defensively, led by their anchor Anthony Davis. In the second quarter, they continued to get other people involved like Austin Reaves off of fake screens, and Wayne Ellington on the wing. LeBron had a sideways, left-handed and one, resuming his dominance in the paint. At one point they had 8 more threes, compared to Portland’s zero. Talen Horton-Tucker gave the Lakers a powerful surge off the bench in the second quarter and Wayne Ellington was getting steals, as well as grabbing a monstrous offensive rebound. Everything was clicking for L.A. While the Lakers found their groove early on, the Blazers slowly started to develop a defensive identity of their own. Up until about 9 minutes left in the third, when Anfernee Simmons began to hit shots, the Lakers had all the momentum. When it was all said and done, King James had 30-7-7, Davis had 17-7-6, and THT and Stanley Johnson combined for 25.
As the lazy turnovers piled up and Anfernee Simmons continued to knock shots down, the Blazers began to etch into Los Angeles’s lead. Even when the Lakers were playing well, they had turnovers like THT’s inbound that were lazy. Portland had 20 more points off turnovers, and they were able to capitalize off of the Laker’s sloppy play off of the fastbreak. The turnovers killed Los Angeles tonight, as well as their free throw shooting. On top of that, Anfernee Simmons decided to go ballistic in the third quarter and in the clutch, which was the perfect recipe to turn things around for the Dame-less Trailblazers. Even though he struggled to find his rhythm early on, Simmons heated up when it mattered most. He knocked down the biggest shots in the game late, including a confidence-oozing three pointer under three minutes and also had a crucial block late, denying Malik Monk. Simmons had a fantastic second-half performance and he was able to help will his team over the Lakers. Ultimately, L.A. lost the game 105-107. Jusuf Nurkic recorded a double-double (19 points, 12 rebounds), and Justice Winslow filled up the statsheet (with 11 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists). Portland also shot nearly double what L.A. did from the line (81-46) which helped separate them in tonight’s win. Without the turnovers forced, Anfernee Simmons’s performance in the second half, and their free throw shooting, Portland wouldn’t have been in this game last night.
In front of their home crowd, the Blazers sent the Lakers home with a loss on Trade Deadline Eve. They have three days off to recover and recoup before a battle with the Knicks at home as well. Tonight’s win is an incredible bounce-back for the Blazers, after they were wiped off the floor by Orlando, who has the worst record in the league. As for the Lakers, they head into a trade deadline today with a ton of uncertainty. Vogel’s team is now four games behind .500, and they have lost two straight. A matchup against the Warriors Saturday will not help them at all either.