With Anthony Davis playing like a one-man wrecking crew, the starting lineup kicking butt, and the defense clamping down like a vise, the Lakers rediscovered their mojo and revived their bubble championship hopes.
The 111–88 rout of the Blazers was the first time in the bubble the Lakers played at the level they had been playing back in March before the Covid-19 suspension when they swept the Bucks and Clippers in back-to-back games. The bubble has been an inspired revelation for some teams and nightmare scenario for others. For a while, it looked as if the Lakers had fallen into the latter category as they struggled to play close to a championship level.
Their starting lineup was hemorrhaging large leads, their superstars were looking mortal, and their 3-point shooting had all but disappeared. After losing Game 1 to the Blazers, the Lakers looked to be in deep trouble. Fortunately, losing that first playoff game to the Blazers was the best thing that could have happened to the Lakers as it set the alarm bells ringing, rudely woke them up, and empowered them to rediscover their lost mojo.
This win followed the same blueprint the Lakers deployed to exert their superiority back in March, including a dominant Anthony Davis, an inspired team defense, and a big-game urgency and shared next-man-up mentality. Unlike in Game 1, Davis dominated Nurkic and Whiteside with help from McGee and Howard, the Lakers’ defense shut down Lillard and McCollum, and their midrange, 3-point, and free throw shots finally started to fall.
The Lakers clearly played their best game in the bubble, posting a 30-point lead over the Blazers and 88–58 score at the end of the third quarter, which allowed them to rest their starters and key reserves in the fourth quarter. Besides a dominating defense that held Lillard to 18 points on 1 of 7 from deep and McCollum to 13 points on 1 of 5 from deep, the Lakers were led by an unstoppable Anthony Davis who scored 31 points in 29 minutes.
And orchestrating all of it was 35-year old LeBron James, who focused his energy on being an elite playmaker and team defender rather than scorer and picked his moments to inspire with his elite passing and leadership. What has to be scary and disheartening for the Blazers is the Lakers didn’t need LeBron to play like a superstar to dominate this game, not that his 10 points, 6 boards, and 7 assists and solid defense and command didn’t help.
The reality is the Lakers showed why they’re a legitimate championship contender while the Blazers are simply a good team with two great guards that’s just a notch above a normal 8th seed destined to lose in five games. It’s doubtful we’ll see another game in this series where Portland outscores LA by 24 from three and Lillard and McCollum outscore the Lakers guards by 44, which is what the Blazers needed to eke out a 7-point Game 1 win.
Now that the Lakers have rediscovered their mojo and figured out how to win in the bubble, they need to keep their pedal to the metal and come out ready to take care of business and dominate as they run the gauntlet. The path to the bubble championship will be the most difficult in league history and will likely force the Lakers to go through the Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, and Milwaukee Bucks.
But what the Lakers showed last night in the rout of the Blazers is they are close to unstoppable when James and Davis play their best, their defense clamps down, and their shooters shoot a reasonable percentage. And that is the blueprint for the Lakers winning their 17th NBA championship