The Los Angeles Lakers hoped their series with the Portland Trail Blazers would have been done and dusted by now after a dominant 135-115 Game 4 win on Monday night. But that impressive victory on Kobe Bryant Day now feels like centuries ago as sports were set aside yet again by racial injustice and police brutality earlier this week.
The NBA’s bubble in Orlando came as close to bursting as it could get on Wednesday. Lakers All-Star LeBron James was reportedly ready to abandon his championship pursuit, after the Milwaukee Bucks went on a historic strike to demand justice for Jacob Blake.
But after rounds of incessant talks between the players, coaches and league officials, the extraordinary 2020 NBA Playoffs return this weekend with the Lakers hoping to send the Blazers home and secure their spot in the Western Conference semifinals.
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel is expected to field the same starting lineup after confirming Anthony Davis, who suffered back spasms in Game 4’s third quarter, would be available to play. However, Rajon Rondo remains inactive.
Rondo is yet to make an appearance in the Orlando despite having been cleared to play after recovering from surgery on his fractured right thumb. Vogel did say Rondo took a “positive step” forward by practicing Friday.
Dion Waiters is playing after being considered a game-time decision due to a migraine.
The three-day break caught L.A. straight off their best performance of the bubble. They started Game 4 with a 15-0 run and led by as many as 38 points, showing glimpses of their pre-hiatus form.
The Lakers have been the bubble’s best defense since the start of the playoffs, constraining Portland’s fierce offense to the coldest in Orlando. James and Anthony Davis have set their mindset to a playoff mode and impressed on both ends of the court resulting in three consecutive victories over the Blazers since a Game 1 loss.
But L.A.’s spectacular surge has been a team effort with Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope stepping in to halt the dangerous Blazers backcourt, holding Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to 21.0 and 19.7 points per game, respectively.
And both Lakers guards have finally found their shooting rhythm and started sinking 3s with a familiar ease, converting 50% of their attempts from behind the arc since Game 2.
Everything eventually started clicking for James and his Lakers after they fell to Portland in the series opener. And the three-time MVP was ready to come out and seal L.A.’s first playoff series victory since 2012 on Wednesday, especially as Lillard has been ruled out with a right knee sprain and has already left the bubble.
But the shooting of Blake and everything that followed has visibly shaken the Lakers and James in particular, making him — one of the fiercest competitors the world of sports has ever seen — question the rationale behind playing competitive basketball considering the circumstances.
With what mindset will the three-time NBA champion come out of the locker room? Will the Lakers maintain their momentum? If L.A. defeats Portland and wins the series, how can they celebrate while their hearts are full of indignation and anguish, and minds drift away, possibly to Kenosha, Wisconsin?
The NBA hits the restart button again and just like the last time there are more questions than answers. As the bubble mantra goes, the Blazers were not a typical eight-seed matchup.
In all likelihood, the clash will not be a typical closeout game either.
Trail Blazers (1-3) vs Lakers (3-1)
6:00 p.m. PT, Aug. 29, 2020
ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Orlando, Florida
TV: TNT, Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: ESPN 710
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: LeBron James
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Danny Green
PF: Anthony Davis
C: JaVale McGee
Key Reserves: Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso, Dwight Howard, Markieff Morris
Projected Trail Blazers Starting Lineup:
PG: CJ McCollum
SG: Gary Trent Jr.
SF: Carmelo Anthony
PF: Hassan Whiteside
C: Jusuf Nurkic
Key Reserves: Wenyen Gabriel, Mario Hezonja, Anfernee Simons
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!