The Los Angeles Lakers know very well they are facing a formidable opponent in the Portland Trail Blazers to begin the playoffs. Similarly, they are aware the key to success in the first-round series will be to keep Portland’s All-Star backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum at bay as much as possible.
The Trail Blazers owned the best offense during the seeding part of the NBA restart. That allowed them to catch the Memphis Grizzlies in the standings and defeat them in the play-in tournament to secure the Western Conference’s No. 8 seed.
Behind their 6-2 run were Lillard and McCollum, who played more than 40 minutes a game as the only players in the Orlando bubble. Lillard claimed the bubble MVP Award after averaging 37.6 points per game, with Lakers head coach Frank Vogel labeling the five-time All-Star “the hottest player in the league.”
The challenge of slowing Lillard and McCollum will fall to the likes Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso and Danny Green. However, Caruso, who has been heavily responsible for the impressive Lakers defense this season, noted that will require a collective effort.
“They can do so much, going left, going right, shooting over the top, playing in the midrange, really good foul shooters. It’s definitely a team effort,” Caruso said. “We’re not going to tell anybody on our team, ‘One-on-one, go guard that guy 94 feet and hold him to 20 points.’
“I don’t think that’s very realistic.”
Caruso added Lakers guards have to keep disrupting Lillard and McCollum’s rhythm to avoid the game becoming a shootout, which is how Portland succeeded in the seeding games. And LeBron James agreed it will take the whole lineup to put the clamps on the Blazers backcourt.
“You’ve got the two eyes that’s guarding the ball, and the other eight throughout every possession, because they’re that dangerous,” the Lakers All-Star said.
Bradley: Lakers will be fine without me
The Lakers will surely miss Avery Bradley in the series with Portland and, if they advance, in later playoff rounds. The guard was Vogel’s primary perimeter defender and would have surely led the efforts to stop Lillard and McCollum in the first-round showdown.
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