The Lakers played a Jekyll and Hyde game vs. the Blazers on Saturday, playing with a lack of focus in the first half and then ramping up their intensity and execution in the second half to win the game. With that game 3 victory, the Lakers are back in the driver’s seat heading into today’s game 4.
A win this game all but ends the series. Portland would need to win 3 straight games to come back at that point and it would take some unforseen circumstances for that to happen. So, while closeout games are always the hardest, the Lakers should come in focused like this game is one (even if it’s not) in order to put the Blazers on the brink. This can be the proverbial knockout blow for the series and it will take a determined, deliberate, and focused attack to win.
That said, if there’s a theme emerging through 3 games it’s that Portland — particularly big man Jusuf Nurkic — is looking increasingly worn down. The entire restart has been a playoffs run for them and after 12 games they’re showing the strain of playing must win games for over a month. With the injuries they’re facing also piling up and a lack of individual defenders to match up with the Lakers best players, Portland’s uphill climb seems to be getting steeper by the quarter.
The Lakers, then, simply must continue to do what they’ve been doing to this point from and X’s and O’s perspective in order to maintain their momentum.
Yes, Portland adjusted their tactics in game 3, but experienced only limited success. Their two-big man lineups helped create better screen opportunities for Dame and CJ, Dame went to pocket passes more in the P&R to try to get Nurkic into the teeth of the defense for quick hitting actions, and both Dame and CJ attacked quicker overall in an attempt to get good shots before help could arrive. These things helped keep their offense afloat, but over the course of the game, the Lakers just kept at their scheme and were able to grind the Blazers down.
The same approach should be used in game 4. There aren’t many more adjustments for the Blazers to try here. Their best bet for success is to have their role players hit more shots and for Nurkic and Whitside to not tire out while having to deal with the Lakers bigs running the floor and crashing the offensive glass and both Bron and AD threatening the front of the rim on drives, in the P&R, and in transition. Maybe the Blazers can accomplish this tonight, but the Lakers should make them do it by just pressing the same buttons.
From an individual standpoint, we’ve seen a great AD game (game 2) and a great LeBron game (game 3). I’d love to see both bring their top level tonight to push the Blazers over the edge. If both play with energy, attack the rim, and hit their jumpers, Portland won’t have many, if any, answers for them.
This is also a game where the role players can make an outsized impact. I expect the Blazers to sell out vs. Bron and AD to avoid having those two “beat them” and instead force guys like KCP, Danny Green, and Kyle Kuzma to win this game. If the role players can hit their shots and make smart decisions in the open court, they can do just that. The open shots are going to be there, 3 games of evidence tells us this. So far, though, the success rate has been very up and down. It’d be great to see two or more of these guys have the type of hot shooting night they’re more than capable of having.
Lastly, I’m very interested to see if Rondo plays and to what level. Fractured thumb healed, he was finally active for game 3 but ended up a late scratch due to back spasms during warmups. Rondo is surely a part of Frank Vogel’s plans moving forward, but getting him up to speed and into a rhythm will be a major task considering all the time off. With that, it bears watching how much time he sees and how much rust he has to shake off when on the floor.
Where you can watch: 6:00pm start time on TNT and Spectrum SportsNet.