UPDATE: In the wake of the Milwaukee Bucks boycotting their Game 5 matchup with the Orlando Magic, and the Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers to follow suit, the NBA postponed all of Wednesday’s games.
The Los Angeles Lakers drubbed the Portland Trail Blazers on an emotional night Monday, taking a 3-1 lead in the series behind an impressive showing to honor the late Kobe Bryant.
L.A is now on the verge of winning their first postseason series since the 2012 NBA Playoffs matchup with the Denver Nuggets. A lot has changed since the Lakers savored that sweet taste of playoff victory.
To put things into perspective, JaVale McGee actually played against L.A. in that series, putting in big minutes off the bench for Denver. Lakers All-Star LeBron James was on course to claim his first NBA title with the Miami Heat.
Not to mention that Bryant, who played the last postseason of his career that season — leading L.A. with 30 points before their second-round exit — is not among us anymore after a helicopter crash tragically ended his life in January.
Yes, it has been a while. And fast forward eight years, the NBA and world are definitely different.
But the mindset of “Playoff LeBron” — now a three-time champion — so reminiscent of Bryant’s Mamba Mentality, remains the same. “They’re going to give you everything they’ve got because they know they can be sent home,” James said of Portland, warning his teammates the hardest part of the series is yet to come.
Though aead of Game 5, Portland’s roster has been decimated by injuries with five-time All-Star Damian Lillard ruled out due to a right knee sprain.
But James does not get complacent and wants to crush Portland’s tiniest hopes of a comeback. And having seemingly tasted blood — look at his focused stare after drilling a 3 to claim the Game 3 victory — he will have no qualms hammering the final nail into their coffin on Wednesday night.
Anthony Davis said he would be available despite being pulled from Game 4 in the third quarter due to back spasms, and Lakers head coach Frank Vogel echoed that sentiment.
Vogel said Rajon Rondo is “still banged up” by back spasms that forced him to be a late scratch from Game 3 and is unlikely to play Wednesday. The veteran point guard had been cleared to return after recovering from surgery to repair a fractured right thumb.
L.A. has been the bubble’s best defense since the series started, topping even the mighty Toronto Raptors on this end of the floor. And they have reduced Portland’s offense, the same offense that ripped their rivals apart and scored 126 points a game in the seeding part of the NBA restart, to the coldest in Orlando.
But the Lakers took it up a notch, or a couple, since they fell to the Blazers in the series openers and went on an impressive three-game winning streak. And even though Davis and James are primarily responsible for L.A.’s spectacular surge — both averaging 26 points during the stint — it has truly been a result of a tremendous team effort.
Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have finally coped with their shooting demons and been converting 50% of their 3s since Game 2. All the while making a difference on the defensive end and holding Trail Blazers feisty guard duo Lillard and CJ McCollum to 21.0 and 19.7 points per game, respectively.
Meanwhile, Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso have proven they are ready to offer support off the bench. L.A. has outscored Portland by eight points on average with the former on the floor and 12 with the latter in the last three games, making up for a formidable second unit.
Despite all the predicaments, Portland will certainly leave everything on the floor to upset the Lakers in Game 5 and extend the series. But James said he would have no mercy for the Blazers. And he expects his teammates to come out with the same mindset come Wednesday night.
The Lakers seem to be badly craving this sweet taste of playoff victory which the hurting Los Angeles franchise has missed out on in the last eight years.
Trail Blazers (1-3) vs Lakers (3-1)
6:00 p.m. PT, Aug. 26, 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!