LeBron James, Lakers Beat Trail Blazers Despite Lonzo Ball's StrugglesNovember 4, 2018
For the first time since March 2014, the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Portland Trail Blazers with a 114-110 victory on Saturday.
The Trail Blazers had won 16 straight games between the two Western Conference teams. That streak included a 128-119 win in the season opener on Oct. 18.
LeBron James and Rajon Rondo set the pace for Los Angeles. James scored a team-high 28 points to go along with seven assists and five rebounds.
Rondo was excellent off the bench with 17 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. He picked up the slack for Lonzo Ball, who had just three points on six shot attempts and recorded a minus-16 plus-minus.
Luke Walton Silences Critics For Now
The big story in La La Land this weekend involved how hot the seat was getting for head coach Luke Walton.
Per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Dave McMenamin, Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson admonished Walton after they lost consecutive games against the San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves.
Even James had a telling quote about where the team was at following its 124-120 loss to the Timberwolves:
The Lakers have responded by winning their last two games, including Saturday's victory over a good Trail Blazers team.
All things considered, this was Los Angeles' best performance of the season. The offense shot 52.3 percent and had 20 assists on 45 field goals, while the defense tied a season low with 110 points allowed.
LeBron Must Fix 3-Point Shooting Woes For Lakers to Succeed
Even though James has never been the most prolific three-point shooter, the early returns this season have been particularly alarming.
After going 1-of-5 against Portland, James is hitting a career-low 26.5 percent from behind the arc. By comparison, the four-time NBA MVP connected on 36.5 percent of three-point attempts over the previous two seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It wasn't until the third quarter that James made his first (and only) three, though he certainly made it one to remember:
One reason the Lakers have gotten off to a slow start is their lack of shooting. It was a problem for them last season when they ranked 29th in the NBA with a 34.5 three-point percentage.
Their ranking in that category has gone up this season—they entered Saturday ranked 19th, but their success rate was essentially the same at 34.9 percent.
It's hard to find things in James' game to criticize—especially on a night when the Lakers played well overall—but he must be at his best to lead this team deep into the playoffs.
Trail Blazers Not Among West's Best Teams
Despite ending the 2017-18 campaign as the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference and getting off to a 6-3 start this season, the Trail Blazers showed why they have work to do to be considered a top-tier team.
While Portland has had a good week overall—it has wins over the Indiana Pacers, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans—laying an egg against a Lakers team that hasn't slowed down anyone is a warning sign.
Even Thursday's win over the Pelicans came on a night when Anthony Davis didn't play due to an elbow injury.
There was a sense of Portland being disrespected coming into the year when oddsmakers set its over/under win total at 42, a drop of seven games from last season even though the biggest loss on the roster was backup center Ed Davis.
Everyone not named Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum went 2-of-18 from three-point range. This game was eerily similar to what caused the Blazers to get swept out of the playoffs last season.
"If the Pelicans force Lillard off the ball, the Blazers will need to knock down shots off the service he provides; in the playoffs, Lillard averaged 13 potential assists per game against New Orleans, but his teammates converted only 4.8 of those passes," per The Ringer's Dan Devine.
Having two legitimate stars like Lillard and McCollum all but ensures the Blazers will be a factor in the playoff race. That duo combined for 60 points and made 23 of the team's 44 field goals. But on a night when they needed someone else to step up, no one did.
The Lakers have a quick turnaround when they go back to Los Angeles to host the Toronto Raptors on Sunday at 9:30 p.m. ET. The Trail Blazers are also in action on Sunday, though they get to stay home against the Minnesota Timberwolves at 9 p.m. ET.
This article will be updated to provide more information soon.
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