Maybe all the Trail Blazers needed was to see the purple and gold of the Los Angeles Lakers up close.
The defending champions, you know. A serious challenge and the team that dispatched them in the playoffs last summer.
After a dismal exhibition season and a so-so first two regular-season games, Portland marched into the Staples Center Monday night and handed the Lakers a 115-107 defeat.
And even though the statistics lied about this game, it was the Trail Blazers’ defense -- and some red-hot shooting off the bench from Gary Trent -- that made the difference in this one.
The Lakers shot better than Portland overall and from the three-point line. And Los Angeles got and made more free throws.
But, as is so often the case in the NBA, it’s not the percentage of threes a team makes, it’s the sheer number. The Trail Blazers made six more three-pointers than the Lakers, with Trent -- who played a little under six minutes in the previous game -- hitting seven from long distance.
But really, Portland brought a much different package into this game than it did in last season’s battles with the Lakers. With Derrick Jones and Robert Covington at the starting forward spots, Coach Terry Stotts has players capable of defending LeBron James and Anthony Davis one-on-one, without a lot of help.
James still scored 29 points, but worked very hard for them and at the end, appeared to be worn down by Jones’ relentless work on him.
And Davis settled for just 13 points under Covington’s watchful eye.
“LeBron had 29,” Stotts said, “and I thought Derek really did a good job with him and made him work for it. I thought Robert was outstanding guarding Anthony Davis.
“Those two, the defensive component that they gave us, especially in a matchup like tonight, was pretty obvious. Those two, they're great players and I think both Robert and Derek love the challenge of guarding those kind of guys.”
Jones certainly seemed to delight in taking on James.
“I picked him up fullcourt every time,” he said. “And that’s what I’m gonna do -- to everybody. I don’t care if I get under anybody’s skin. That’s what I’m here for. If you get mad, you better not show it because I’m gonna keep doing it.”
Portland’s bench was a big key in this game as it outscored Los Angeles’s vaunted reserves 45-23, with Enes Kanter backing Trent up with 12 points and 14 rebounds.
Damian Lillard scored 31 and hit half of his 10 three-point attempts.
It was a win that should have some juice to it for the Blazers, who stay in Los Angeles to meet the Clippers Wednesday night.
“Hopefully, we can build on it,” Stotts said. “We realize we can be a good team. We just beat the defending champs and they’re a great team.”