The Los Angeles Lakers are just one game away from securing their spot in the Western Conference semifinals after an impressive Game 4 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. But LeBron James has warned his teammates the hardest part of the first-round series still lies ahead.
The Lakers have bounced back after a disappointing 100-93 loss in Game 1 and claimed three straight wins, showing significant improvements in their intensity and shooting efficiency. On Monday, L.A. started off with a 15-0 run and held a 38-point lead over Portland in the third quarter, leaving them with no hopes for a comeback.
But James noted the Lakers should be wary of the Blazers nevertheless, claiming teams facing elimination are particularly tough to beat. “It’s the hardest game because you know the team that you’re playing is desperate,” he said.
“They’re going to give you everything they’ve got because they know they can be sent home. I come in with the same desperate mindset. I feel the same way: if we don’t win I feel like we get sent home. That’s always been my psyche, my mindset going into a closeout game.
“I haven’t always been victorious, but I have that mindset. Hopefully, we can do just that on Wednesday.”
Portland’s task has gotten even more difficult as the team announced Damian Lillard will miss Game 5 due to a right knee sprain. The five-time All-Star joined Zach Collins and Rodney Hood in being sidelined. Meanwhile, CJ McCollum has been playing for the majority of the NBA restart with a fractured back.
Trevor Ariza watched Game 4 wearing Kobe jersey
Former Laker Trevor Ariza is another of Portland’s absentees in the bubble. The 35-year-old veteran has been cheering on his teammates from home after opting out due to family reasons.
Ariza watched the emotional Game 4 hoping the Blazers would upset L.A. on Kobe Bryant Day and tie the series. But in a bold gesture, he was wearing Bryant’s No. 8 Lakers jersey as a tribute to the late five-time NBA champion who died in a helicopter crash in January.
Bryant and Ariza won the 2009 NBA title together in the latter’s second — and last — season at Staples Center.
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