The NBA is experimenting with a new twist on the first round of the 2020 Playoffs due to the unusual circumstances surrounding the games.
Most teams will not be affected, but the No. 1 seeded Los Angeles Lakers, as well as teams like Damian Lillard’s Portland Trail Blazers, will see differences from a normal first round. If the playoffs began today, the Lakers would take on the No. 8 seeded Memphis Grizzlies.
However, under the new format, the Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, San Antonio Spurs, Sacramento Kings and even the Phoenix Suns, will have a better shot at making the playoffs. Those five teams on the outside looking in will have eight games to close the gap on the Grizzlies.
If a team finishes that stretch as the No. 9 seed and within four games of the Grizzlies, they’ll have a chance to surpass them in a play-in tournament, an idea that Lillard was all for at the beginning of this process.
Should the Trail Blazers be the team the winds up as the No. 8 seed, Lillard believes they could beat the Lakers in a seven-game series, according to Lisa Robinson of Vanity Fair:
When the season shut down, the Trail Blazers were in ninth place; if you move up to eighth, you could play the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. You want that?
Of course. I think we could beat them.
Now, of course Lillard is going to say this. As the leader, he has to project confidence that his team can beat anybody. If Lillard doesn’t believe that, then nobody else will.
And most likely, the Trail Blazers would not be capable of beating the Lakers in a seven-game series. The two teams have played three times this year, with the Lakers holding a 2-1 advantage.
The lone loss came in the Lakers’ first game after Kobe Bryant’s death, a night where the score was secondary to the moment.
However, if Lillard genuinely believes his team can beat the Lakers, it’s probably because of how well he plays against them. In those three matchups this season, Lillard has averaged 36 points, 9 assists and 5.7 rebounds a game.
Lillard is a one man show capable of beating anyone on any given night. But to beat the Lakers, he’d need to average over 40 points a game for an entire series. And while Lillard is absolutely capable, to expect that in a playoff intensity series is a whole different discussion.