A lot has been made of the Trail Blazers’ chances of upsetting the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the NBA playoffs, which begin Tuesday night at 6 o'clock on NBC Sports Northwest.
And certainly, Portland is better than your usual No. 8 seed. The Trail Blazers, at least theoretically, present some problems for the Western Conference’s top seed.
On the other hand, has everyone forgotten that LeBron James plays for the Lakers?
One could make the argument that he is the best basketball player of all time. I don’t subscribe to that, but a lot of people do. And know that he has been to the playoffs 13 times previously and never -- EVER -- lost a first-round series.
And do you think, with Anthony Davis on his team, he is going to start now?
The Trail Blazers, who will be without starting power forward Zach Collins (ankle inflammation) for at least the first game of the series, will be heavy underdogs.
At the onset of the seeding games in Orlando, I was one of the people who gave Portland a shot at handling Los Angeles, if the Blazers could get through the seeding games to the Lakers. Portland’s size, if Collins and Jusuf Nurkic are healthy, can give the Lakers problems. And the Lakers’ offensive weakness -- a lack of consistent three-point shooting -- would not allow them to take as much advantage of the Blazers’ defensive weakness as other teams have done.
The teams played three times in the regular season, but the rosters were much different then. Avery Bradley and perhaps Rajon Rondo are out, Dion Waiters and JR Smith are in for Los Angeles.
Nurkic is in for Portland, but Trevor Ariza and Collins are out. The last meeting between the teams was in late January at the Staples Center, when Damian Lillard torched Los Angeles with 23 of his game-high 48 points in the third quarter and the Blazers came away with an eight-point win.
In the other two meetings, the Lakers’ transition game gave Portland fits, as did Davis, with his inside-outside game.
But while James has seemingly not been interested in putting on vintage performances in seeding games, catching him in the playoffs will likely be tough to handle.
He is a runaway freight train in the open court, a terrific defender and the hub of their halfcourt offense.
“He’s a unique player,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “He makes his teammates better. Do you want to make him a scorer or do you want to let him control the offense and make his teammates better?
“He can score, rebound and assist.”
Stotts said the playoffs always are about running up against special players.
“It’s challenging anytime you get to the playoffs,” he said. “You’re always trying to game plan for a great player, whether it’s LeBron or somebody else. There are great players in the playoffs. You want to make it as difficult as possible, make him work for his points, make him work for his assists, and he’s going to hurt you, that’s one of the things that makes him great.
“As far as preparing for him: Watch a lot of film, we’ll learn from our games against them. That’s one of the beauties of a series is that you can make adjustments throughout the series.”
Carmelo Anthony came into the league the same season as James and has played against him many times and been teammates with him on all-star and Olympic teams.
“This is just another opportunity for me,” Anthony said. “We’ve had our times, our battles. The positive thing is that we’re able to do that, compete on this level in Year 17. That’s how I look at this -- to be able to go out there in Year 17, knowing the history we have, on the court and off the court. That’s the fun part for me.
“It’s a chess game, that’s what this is. It’s more of a mental challenge, more so than a physical challenge. Studying the game, studying him and studying the way that they play, my emphasis is not just on him, it’s the Lakers on the whole. They’re a great team. They’re the top seed in the West for a reason.”
And they have LeBron James -- a first-round challenge no team has been able to handle.