For the Los Angeles Lakers, the 2020 NBA Playoffs start off with a bang as they face the red-hot Portland Trail Blazers in the first round.
Head coach Frank Vogel knows the matchup, by far the most exciting of all first-round series, will not be a typical postseason duel between the top and bottom seeds in the Western Conference.
The Trail Blazers impressed in the Orlando bubble with their high-powered offense which made up for the defensive shortcomings and resulted in many shootouts, often decided by a tight finish. Five-time All-Star Damian Lillard was the main architect behind Portland’s 6-2 run and the successful play-in tournament victory over the Memphis Grizzlies to secure the No. 8 seed.
Lillard averaged 37.6 points over the eight seeding games, receiving the Bubble MVP award for his magnificent display. However, he stayed grounded following the deciding victory over Memphis and said he was expecting a tough battle with the Lakers who have “the best player in the world” on the roster.
And Vogel has reciprocated Lillard’s praise for L.A., calling him “the hottest player in the league” and lauding Portland’s hustle.
“They played at an elite level during this stretch in the bubble, at least offensively,” Vogel added. “We’ve got a ton of respect for Dame, CJ, and Nurkic, but really for their whole team and culture. They’ve got a system that’s been together for a number of years, they have the continuity piece. Just a ton of respect with what they’re bringing to the table.”
In addition to Lillard, Vogel noted the Trail Blazers’ overall strengths, saying, “They’ve got great 3-point shooting, great size inside and a great coach.”
Despite the degree of difficulty with the showdown, Lakers players remain undeterred and consider the matchup a great opportunity to get in the playoff rhythm ahead of future rounds. “It’s not a worst-case scenario,” Kyle Kuzma said recently.
And Markieff Morris added: “I think by having that first-round opponent who is going to be tough, preparing us for the playoffs, I think we need that early on.”
Vogel: Lakers getting serious ahead of playoffs
In the early seeding games, the Lakers often seemed lethargic and struggled with shooting efficiency and inconsistency on both ends of the court. For the majority of the NBA restart, they were the bubble’s worst offense and finished its pre-playoff stage with a disappointing 3-5 record.
But Vogel, who repeatedly highlighted the team seen the seeding games on par with the three scrimmages as a run-in to the playoffs, witnessed players already getting in the postseason mindset. “I think I saw it in practice for the first time,” he said.
“We had an off day [Friday] and we got into some things that are really based more on us than any potential opponent we would see. The seriousness, the focus on tightening up some of our habits and discipline was there in film and practice.”
Have you subscribed to our YouTube channel? It’s the best way to watch player interviews, exclusive coverage from events, participate in live shows, and more!