The Los Angeles Lakers are now 2-2 in the preseason after coming up short in a thrilling 109-106 overtime game with the Portland Trail Blazers. Heading into the match, all eyes were on the guards, as Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum promised to be a tough matchup for the Lakers’ starting backcourt of D’Angelo Russell and Lou Williams.
The Lakers managed to force McCollum into some tough shots and keep him in largely in check, only allowing five points on 2-13 shooting from the talented guard. Lillard, however, was unstoppable. The fifth-year point guard was on fire from all over the court, carrying his team and matching the Lakers shot-for-shot.
D’Angelo Russell did what he could to defend Lillard by using his length, but it didn’t seem to matter, as the Blazers guard only needed a split-second of space to get his shot off. He finished 10-17 from the field including 6-9 from three for 30 points.
Conversely, D’Angelo Russell couldn’t buy a basket, shooting a dreadful 29 percent from the field and 0-9 on threes. After two red-hot games against Denver, Russell’s performance was a disappointment, but he was due for an off-night.
Nick Young was a bright spot for the Lakers, hitting the tough shots that we became accustomed to when he first arrived in Los Angeles in 2013, but also playing fantastic defense and even showing a little bit of passing flair. If Young continues to play this well he will prove the Lakers right for not waiving him this offseason.
Portland had a one-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter, but as the minutes ticked away they increasingly subbed out rotation players for third-stringers who are hoping to catch on with the club. Similarly, the Lakers brought in little-used Anthony Brown and Yi Jianlian, giving them an opportunity to show their stuff.
After a back-and-forth battle, the score was tied with only seconds remaining, but a D’Angelo Russell three for the win bounced off the iron, sending the game into overtime.
The Blazers stuck with their reserves in OT, deploying Greg Stiemsma, Noah Vonleh, Shabazz Napier, Jake Layman, and Pat Connaughton while the Lakers went with Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and Yi. On paper, the Lakers should have had a big advantage, but Russell’s shooting woes continued. Randle missed a pair of free throws (an area the whole team struggled in, shooting 61 percent for the night) and Clarkson missed a layup to drive home the point that it just wasn’t the Lakers’ night.
The Lakers did have an opportunity to tie the game with only seconds remaining, but Clarkson’s three wouldn’t fall, and the game ended with the Blazers on top, 109-106.
Despite the loss, there were some positives for Los Angeles to take away from the game. Yi was solid if unspectacular in his first prolonged minutes of the season, working the pick-and-pop with the Lakers’ guards. Ingram still struggled with his shot, but his length allows him to be a factor defensively even when he can’t get his offense going. Randle also had his first double-double of the preseason with 13 points and 13 rebounds, and he also threw in 3 assists, a steal, and a block for good measure.
The young Lakers still have a long way to go, but their offense is coming around, with off-ball screens generating open looks that didn’t exist last season. There are still plenty of mental mistakes being made, but if they can continue to put forth the effort that we saw against Portland, this will be a fun season.