NBA Coach on Lakers vs. Blazers: Portland 'Scares You Because of' Damian Lillard

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistAugust 16, 2020

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) dribbles during the second half against the LA Clippers in an NBA basketball game Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
Kim Klement/Associated Press

The Los Angeles Lakers are the No. 1 seed in the NBA's Western Conference, but they have a tough first-round matchup in Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers.

"They're just a team that scares you because of Lillard," an Eastern Conference coach told ESPN's Brian Windhorst. "When you're the top seed, you don't like the idea of being scared in the first round."

Portland won its last three seeding games and then Saturday's play-in game against the Memphis Grizzlies to earn the No. 8 seed. Lillard averaged 46.3 points per game in this four-game stretch and brought his season scoring average to a career-high 30.0 points per game.

The point guard was named the MVP of the seeding games

Beyond the hot streak, the Blazers are also a proven team that reached the Western Conference Finals last season behind Lillard and McCollum. This year's squad also has a healthy Jusuf Nurkic, plus Carmelo Anthony, Hassan Whiteside and more.

"From an overall talent and experience standpoint, they are probably a 4- or 5-seed masquerading as an 8," a scout said while also noting the defensive struggles.

It could create a tough matchup for the Lakers, who had the best record in the Western Conference but finished just 3-5 during the eight seeding games in Orlando, Florida.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis still make a formidable combo, but the team is without key contributors like Avery Bradley (opted out) and Rajon Rondo (broken thumb).

It puts the Lakers at risk of a first-round exit, a rarity for No. 1 seeds. Since the first four expanded to a seven-game series in 2003, only three top seeds have lost in the first round: the 2012 Chicago Bulls (Derrick Rose injury), 2011 San Antonio Spurs and 2007 Dallas Mavericks.

Los Angeles is still expected to win its matchup as the favorite to take home the NBA championship, per Caesars Palace, but this is clearly a tougher opening-round opponent than we are used to seeing for a top contender. Adding in the lack of home-court advantage, and this could be a stressful week for the Lakers.