No doubt the Terry Stotts-mentored team is the hottest squad in the league right now, winning their last four games in impressive fashion.
Blazers’ superstar guard Damian Lillard has been close to unstoppable, being rightfully named “bubble MVP” after putting up 37.6 points, 9.3 assists, and 4.3 rebounds over the eight seeding games. His masterful performance catapulted the Blazers to a 6-2 record.
The 5-time All-Star put up an insane total of 154 points in the last three games, powering Portland to a play-in against the Memphis Grizzlies — and eventually into the playoffs.
The Blazers certainly carry all the momentum in the world, especially considering how the Lakers laid a huge egg inside the bubble. The Purple and Gold only won 3 of their 8 games in Orlando so far.
The Lakers did come out victorious in two of its three encounters with the Blazers this year, but that seems to be irrelevant now given the current state of both teams.
To be perfectly clear, the Lakers are still the heavy favorites in this series. LA, after all, emerged as the best team in the talent-packed Western Conference for a reason.
Still, stranger things have happened in the past, and eight-seeds eliminating top-seeds aren’t exactly new in the NBA.
Let’s look at three deciding factors that need to happen for the Blazers to pull off the monumental upset.
Logo Lillard must stay hot
Dame Time has been alive and kicking for the Blazers since the restart. The 30-year-old supreme scorer has been shooting lights out both from the field (49.7 percent) and past the arc (43.6 percent) at Walt Disney World.
The big question, however, is if he can keep up that hot streak against the Lakers’ plethora of wing stoppers. Lakers’ lockdown defender Avery Bradley is out, but they still have guys like Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to shadow Lillard.
As good as Portland has been, the team will live and die by Lillard’s performance. The reality is if Dame goes cold, who picks up the slack for the Blazers?
CJ McCollum has reportedly been dealing with a fractured back and has been atrocious on the offensive end the last few games. Jusuf Nurkic has been a beast since his return, but he will now be facing defensive juggernauts Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, and JaVale McGee.
Carmelo Anthony, of course, probably has the best scoring accolades of any player in this series. Melo has enjoyed a career resurgence particularly in the bubble, but he’s been on and off for the Blazers for the most part.
For instance, Lillard had to put up a 51-point outing against the Lakers back in January just to carry his team to a win. While he is indeed capable of such scoring outbursts, it will be tough to put up such consistent numbers against a defensive powerhouse like LA in a seven-game series.
Portland’s bigs must find a solution against AD
While LeBron James will still be the focal point of the Lakers’ offense, the Blazers must also be able to figure out a way to deal with the unsolvable puzzle that is Anthony Davis.
The Brow’s arrival basically put the Lakers back in title contention, notching 26.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.5 steals, and 2.3 blocks in his first 62 games in Hollywood.
The 6-foot-10 slotman is considered the prototypical big man of this modern era. He is great defensively, possesses guard skills, can stretch the floor with his shooting, or punish opposing bigs with his athleticism and array of offensive moves.
Add in the fact that the Blazers have been considered a guard-oriented team for the past few years. Nurkic does have the size and grit to deal with Davis down low, but can he keep up with AD once he operates outside the perimeter?
Hassan Whiteside is considered a defensive specialist, but his minutes have dropped ever since the Bosnian Beast returned. Playing them at the same time won’t be an ideal strategy for coach Stotts. Zach Collins is another big body they can put on Davis, but he is not exactly known for his defense.
Double-teams will surely be in order against Davis for Portland to steal some wins.
Lakers must display their “bubble form” in playoffs
There’s no question about Portland’s talent after clinching that 8th seed, but they also need a bit of luck to survive the Lakers. Roster wise, the Blazers are simply outmatched considering their opponents are stacked at almost every position.
But the case could also be made that the Lakers haven’t exactly looked like the same world-beaters ever since they entered the bubble. If the same sluggish, disorganized Laker team shows up in the playoffs, the Blazers will definitely have a fighting chance.
For instance, Davis put up brilliant numbers one game, only to have an off night the following match. LeBron had some good games inside the bubble but didn’t exactly look like his usual superhuman self. Danny Green fired blanks, while McGee and Howard didn’t protect the paint as they did before the suspension of the season.
Then again, the Lakers already clinched a playoff ticket, and there’s a good chance that they simply took it easy in the seeding games. Plus, home-court advantage isn’t exactly a thing in the bubble. This may explain why top seeds Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks didn’t really perform to their usual standards.
The Lakers team, of course, is filled with playoff-tested veterans and they do know just when to flip the switch. If for some reason they cannot, expect the Blazers to pounce and give LA a run for its money.