In a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Quarterfinals, the Portland Trail Blazers open road play against the defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers. Here’s what you should know about Monday’s game.
Here’s an early-season take that may as well be hot enough to heat up the room: three games into 2020-21, the Portland Trail Blazers are a work in progress.
They’re far from championship-ready — few teams in December are — but Monday night will give them a chance to access their progress during the road opener against the defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers.
The two teams have some familiarity, particularly from last season’s Western Conference First Round series, when the Lakers deemed the Blazers ineligible in a gentleman’s sweep.
Those losses helped create the basis for this year’s Portland team, showing them the team they would likely need to beat to win a championship. Groupthink within the Blazers’ front office went out to acquire talent to combat the Lakers’ length and versatility after Los Angeles stifled Portland’s No. 1-ranked offense in the Orlando bubble.
The Lakers found a way to contain Lillard by forcing the Blazers to run offense through everyone else. But, Frank Vogel didn’t showcase that new wrinkle until the postseason. Given how early we are into the season, and the fact that the Lakers’ roster is filled with new faces, a chance for Portland to attack, especially if they can turn defense into offense.
Portland put that on display in spurts during their 128-126 win over the shorthanded Houston Rockets, when deflections and defensive awareness became the deciding factor.
Well, that and the gift that is having CJ McCollum in tow. The often-overlooked guard exploded for 44 points (the second-highest of his career), the 13th time in his career that he and Damian Lillard each had 30+ points in the same game.
The Lakers are welcoming in a remarkable amount of new players themselves, which could give the Portland Trail Blazers an opportunity to strike. Here are a few things to know.
How to follow the action:
Injury report, per CBS Sports
— (POR) Nassir Little, health and safety protocols (game time decision)
— (POR) Zach Collins, ankle (expected to be out until at least Jan. 20)
— (POR) Carmelo Anthony, health and safety protocols (per The Athletic‘s Jason Quick)
— (LAL) Anthony Davis, calf (expected to be out until at least Dec. 28)
— (LAL) LeBron James, ankle (questionable for Monday’s game, per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin)
— (LAL) Alex Caruso, hand (questionable for Monday’s game, per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin)
— POR — Damian Lillard (G), CJ McCollum (G), Derrick Jones Jr., (F), Robert Covington (F), Jusuf Nurkic (C)
— LAL — Dennis Schroeder (G), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (G), LeBron James (F), Anthony Davis (F), Marc Gasol (C)