Trail Blazers

Where did Bubble Blazers go?

Trail Blazers

Out of the clear blue sky and without any warning, the regular-season Trail Blazers showed up Thursday night in Orlando and got blown away by the Lakers 111-88 -- and needed a 30-point fourth quarter from the reserves just to get to 88 points.

This was not the Portland team that stormed into the playoffs with six wins in eight seeding games and then defeated Memphis in a play-in game. This was not the team that had been shooting the lights out from three-point range in the bubble.

Nope, this was the Trail Blazers who finished the regular season 18 and a half games behind the Lakers and was often beaten on the boards and allowed way too many three-point field goals.

But this is the playoffs, of course. And they don’t do aggregate scoring, so Saturday night the teams will take the floor for Game 3 in the best-of-seven series tied at a game apiece.

And Portland will have Damian Lillard on the floor, too.

For a few minutes late in the third quarter, that seemed in doubt. The Trail Blazer captain tried to steal the ball from Anthony Davis and came away with a dislocation on the index finger of his left hand.

He vowed to play Saturday -- “Oh, I’m playing” -- but it’s unknown how much it will affect a man who is a big-time shooter from distance. Even though it’s not his shooting hand, he pulls up very often after a left-handed dribble into his shot.

The biggest question about the injury was what in the world he was doing on the floor with 1:44 left in the third quarter and his team trailing 85-55.

And only one person -- Coach Terry Stotts -- could answer that question. Which he did. Sort of. The exchange via Zoom went like this:

Me: “What was Dame doing on the floor with two minutes to go in the third quarter, down by 30?”

Stotts: “He was playing basketball. Good question, Dwight.”

Well, thanks, Coach. But not much of an answer. And I was muted before I could ask a followup, which was, “Why was he still playing basketball?”

And if he is able to play basketball in Game 3 to his full ability, Stotts will have dodged what could have been the biggest blunder of his coaching career.

Stotts has done this many times during his tenure in Portland -- leaving starters on the floor when the game is a lost cause. In this case, it was even worse, because it’s a playoff game.

Portland was way too far behind to mount a comeback and frankly, Lillard is so important to the team at this point he should not be subjected to ANY possibility of injury in a situation when his presence is not mandatory.

The severity of the injury isn’t even a part of the discussion. A dislocation could be serious or it could just serve as a reminder of what could happen if he is used unnecessarily.

The Trail Blazers were outplayed, outhustled and outclassed in this game. When your game plan is to pack the paint against a team and you still allow 52 points in the paint and 20 second-chance points off 14 offensive rebounds, you have a problem.

And when you depend on your offense to win you games and make only 8 of 29 three-point attempts, you have another problem.

And then if you allow the Lakers to outscore you by 18 from the three-point line, well, that’s yet one more problem.

All in all, way too many problems.

But, it’s still just one game and now it’s a best-of-five series. And the Bubble Blazers need to return before it’s too late.