In a first-round rematch of last season’s Western Conference playoffs, the Portland Trail Blazers visit the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night.
It’s the first meeting between the clubs since Los Angeles claimed a 4-1 series win in the opening round in August.
The Blazers’ start this season began with a thud. They lost 120-100 at home Wednesday to the Utah Jazz. They also were forced to overcome a slow start to beat the short-handed Houston Rockets 128-126 in overtime Saturday.
CJ McCollum scored 44 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer, and had eight assists for Portland in the win over Houston. McCollum converted 17 of 30 shots from the field and hit a career-best nine 3-pointers on 16 attempts. Damian Lillard contributed 32 points and nine assists and Jusuf Nurkic added 12 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
The Blazers trailed by as many as 16 in the first half before rallying. McCollum sparked a third-quarter surge by scoring 14 points, 12 via four 3-pointers.
“CJ obviously had an outstanding second half offensively,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “He made some big shots for us, he got us back into it, especially in the third quarter.”
Lillard said he was encouraged to see the Blazers respond after the lackluster beginning.
“I thought we got some life in us and we started to defend and play with more energy in that second quarter and got ourselves back in the game,” Lillard said. “And then coming out of the locker room (at halftime) we just basically told ourselves, and our coaches said it as well, it (doesn’t) matter if we did it for five minutes if we come out in the third quarter and we can’t sustain it, we can’t continue it. I thought that third quarter was the difference in the game for us.”
Portland will be without forward Carmelo Anthony, who didn’t travel to Los Angeles because of “health and safety” protocols, the club announced Sunday.
The Lakers were without Anthony Davis (right-calf strain) on Sunday, but they still pounded the Minnesota Timberwolves 127-91 in Los Angeles. Karl-Anthony Towns, who suffered a dislocated left wrist in Saturday’s win at the Utah Jazz, did not play.
Davis was injured in the opening-night loss to the Los Angeles Clippers and apparently aggravated it in the Christmas Day blowout of the Dallas Mavericks. Lakers coach Frank Vogel seemed optimistic Davis might play Monday.
“We hope he’ll be available tomorrow, but we have to see how he feels tomorrow,” Vogel said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “It’s kind of a day-to-day. See how he responds tomorrow with treatment. But we’re hopeful that he’ll play tomorrow.”
Against the Timberwolves, Kyle Kuzma, who started in Davis’ place, scored all 20 of his points in the first half. He hit 8 of 12 shots, including 4 of 6 3-pointers.
“Kuz has really become a helluva player,” Vogel said.
LeBron James, who continued to play after tweaking an ankle, contributed 18 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Vogel said James was questionable for the Portland game.
Marc Gasol delivered a solid performance, finishing with 12 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and four of the Lakers’ 14 blocks.
–Field Level Media