The top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers will take on the eighth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs, but don't expect the Lakers to take it easy.
"They're not your typical eighth seed. I don't think they would have been the eighth seed if they were healthy all year and that's my mindset," LeBron James told the media following Monday's practice. "I'm not going in as a one seed versus an eight seed. I'm going in as the Lakers vs Portland... I won't be going in with my guard down."
[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts Channing Frye and Dan Sheldon!]
Where the Lakers will direct their attention should be obvious: Portland's backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
They have a two-headed monster in Dame and CJ and it starts and ends with those guys. They control the tempo. They control the pace. They do all the ball-handling and they are the rock of that franchise. They've been there. They've seen it all. They have playoff experience. They have chemistry between the two of them. We have to have all ten eyes on them at all times... cause they're that dangerous. - LeBron James
Lillard was named MVP of the seeding games after averaging 37.6 points and 9.6 assists in the eight seeding games, all against opponents that qualified for the postseason.
"He’s balling right now. He’s hot," said Anthony Davis Monday of Lillard, who dropped 48 in a win over the Lakers in January. "He’s doing whatever he’s doing, whatever he can do to make his team win."
That's not where it ends for Portland, however. James gave his respect to many other players on the Blazers roster including good friend Carmelo Anthony.
"Then, they have a Hall of Famer in Carmelo Anthony who can erupt at any point. So you always have to key in on him. Have that respect factor cause you know what he's capable of doing."
Carmelo Anthony has averaged 15.4 points on 38.5% shooting from beyond the arc and 6.4 rebounds for Portland after joining the team following an injury to Zach Collins.
Fast forward until July, and the Trail Blazers entered the bubble as healthy as they had been all season with the return of Collins and center Jusuf Nurkic.
"I believe [Jusuf] Nurkic and Zach [Collins] coming back from injury has helped them out a lot as well," added James.
While Collins did suffer left ankle inflammation in the Blazers play-in game against Memphis Saturday which will cause him to miss Game 1 against Los Angeles, Nurkic has looked as good as ever. Since returning from his fractured tibia suffered in March 2019. The Bosnian Beast has averaged 17.6 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists in Orlando.
The Blazers already had a good offense despite the injuries due to Lillard's supernova offensive attack but with the return of Nurkic, they may be the best offensive team in the NBA.
"They move extremely well," said James. "Offensively, they're one of the best scoring teams in the bubble, I'm sorry not one of, they are the best scoring team in quarantine in the seeding games. You have to get stops. You have to get multiple stops and you can't try to outscore them because they score with the best."
LeBron is correct it's difficult to outscore Portland. Dallas tried that and despite finishing the season with an NBA record 115.9 offensive rating, fell to Portland 134-131 after Dame scored a career-high 61 points in Orlando.
LeBron and the Lakers will be ready to take on Dame, CJ, and the Trail Blazers. As he said, Portland isn't a typical eighth seed.
The Blazers face the Lakers in Game 1 of their Western Conference Playoff Series on Tuesday, August 18 at 6:00 p.m. here on NBC Sports NW.