Portland, OR — Despite a 26 point, 12 rebound and six assists performance by LeBron James in his regular season debut with the Los Angeles Lakers (0-1), the Portland Trailblazers (1-0) won their 16th Consecutive game against Los Angeles by a final score of 128-119.
This was the game that many NBA fans had marked on their calendars as this would be James’ regular-season debut. It was not only an opportunity for James to be able to make a strong first impression but this was a chance for Los Angeles to end their 15-game losing streak against Portland.
As the game began, the Moda Center crowd was absolutely electric and both teams wanted to put on a show for the fans. James’ first basket as a member of the Lakers would come off a steal and a super-duty, high-flying jam that would bring the crowd on their feet. His dunk was answered by Damian Lillard, who would rock the rim on the very next possession. However, James would not be outdone, and he once again made the rim scream in pain with another poster dunk on the next trip down for LA.
The Lillard versus James battle continued in the first as both players would finish with 13 points to close out the opening frame. However, once James was subbed out, the Lakers looked like a completely different team. They missed their final 7-of-8 shots and the Blazers would take complete advantage of the Los Angeles’ cold spell and took a three-point lead to end the quarter, 34-31.
The Blazers didn’t get much production from their backcourt pair of Lillard or CJ McCollum in the first half as the two combined for 21 points on 28 percent shooting. Portland did find a flamethrower by the name of Nik Stauskas, who was feeling it from downtown and would torch the Lakers, finishing with 16 points on a sizzling 5-of-8 shooting from behind the arc.
As early as it is, Los Angeles’ biggest issue this season is going to be that of their three-point shooting. LA struggled from downtown in the first half failing to knock down a three-point field goal. Rajon Rondo would come alive in the quarter however and begin looking for his own shot, finishing the period with eight points, three rebounds, and six assists. The bench for Los Angeles also came alive contributing 21 points in the half with Josh Hart having nine of those points and Kyle Kuzma contributing eight. Their production was much needed and kept Los Angeles in the game.
Despite not shooting well from beyond-the-arc, the Lakers went on a 21-12 run in the last six minutes, have 50 points in the paint and were only down by two points going into the second half, 65-63.
Los Angeles tried their best in the second half to give themselves that extra spurt to propel them past the Blazers, however, Portland had an answer for every Laker run. Brandon Ingram would come alive in the third quarter scoring 10 out of his 16 points in the period. However, Portland retaliated with its own 12-3 run and shifted the momentum back in their favor. Again, the Lakers responded with another cluster of points (13-4 run), yet the game remained back and forth as Portland refused to let up, scoring eight unanswered points of their own.
In the third period, Hart drilled the Lakers’ first triple of the game to keep his team in striking distance. With his quarter-ending buzzer-beater, Los Angeles entered the final 12-minutes of play down by two, 93-91.
The young Lakers squad looked to James to bring them home in the final period, however, it seemed that he wanted his young guys to not rely on him to bail them out of every situation. You could see in the game that when Los Angeles found themselves on the wrong end of the scoreboard, they looked lost. In addition, there were plenty of times where the Lakers would come down the floor, make one pass and shoot or play one-on-one isolation basketball.
This is going to be a problem early on for the Lakers. They want to play at a fast pace which is very good but are going to be a team that is going to have to learn how to calm down when they are facing a deficit, continue to go runs of their own, and play solid defense. This is a whole new cast and they will figure it out. However, expect some growing pains early on in the season.
Portland closed the game out with their backcourt duo bringing their team home as they normally do despite neither having a great shooting performance. Lillard finished with 28 points, six rebounds, and four assists on 9-of-21 shooting and McCollum tallied 21 points on 35 percent shooting and hitting 50 percent of his three-point attempts. Portland now has won 18 consecutive home openers after defeating the Lakers, 128-119.
The Blazers aren’t a team that many should sleep on this season. Yes, they got swept by New Orleans last year in the playoffs, but this has always been a great regular season team. They have 11 returning players, so the comradery is already there and everyone knows where they like the ball placed to be successful. The only question is can this team win with your two best players being 6-foot-four-inches and 6-foot-three-inches and do you trade one of these players?
The last time Portland lost to the Lakers was March 3, 2014, and their last loss in a home opener came at the hands of…. The Los Angeles Lakers in 2000. The Lakers hope to redeem themselves when the two teams meet again Nov. 3.
The Blazers will be home on Oct. 20 as they’ll host the San Antonio Spurs (1-0). On the opposing end, LeBron James will make his Staples Center debut as the Lakers will take on the Houston Rockets (0-1).