SPORTS DIGEST: Lakers lose playoff opener to Portland; Clippers win

By Don Wanlass, Contributing Writer

I often get irritated with Dodgers fans who are quick to criticize players after a bad game, a slow start to the season, a hitting or pitching slump or anything else that makes fans turn on a player or team.

That said, what the heck were the Lakers doing losing to the Portland Trailblazers Aug. 18 in game one of the NBA Playoffs? It’s a good thing the Lakers are playing in a bubble in Orlando, Florida, or they would have lost home-court advantage.

The Lakers have six more games to win four from Portland and advance to the next round of the playoffs, but their loss in the playoff opener revealed the flaws in this team that had the third best record in the NBA this season.

Despite their two superstars, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers are not a balanced team. The Trailblazers exposed their lack of consistent three-point shooting skills and the team’s failure to develop a fourth or fifth scoring option this season.

If James, Davis and Kyle Kuzma aren’t scoring lots of points, the Lakers can be beaten.

Against Portland, James scored 23, Davis scored 28 and Kuzma scored 14 and when all three went cold down the stretch (the Lakers scored only six points in the last seven minutes of the game), the Trailblazers were able to steal a win.

The Lakers are missing a key piece with Avery Bradley deciding to sit out the bubble because of family considerations. Bradley isn’t afraid of taking a crucial shot, would put the clamps on Portland’s Damien Lillard defensively and provides a competitive fire that Davis and Kuzma will never approach.

The closest thing to Bradley the Lakers have is Rajon Rondo, the veteran point guard who is recovering from a broken thumb. Coach Frank Vogel might want to get Rondo some minutes Aug. 20 when the two teams meet again.

The Trailblazers are a solid team. Lillard is an all star point guard and C.J. McCollum is a good compliment at shooting guard and Carmelo Anthony has revived a career that most people thought was over. The trio combined for 66 of the Trailblazers’ 100 points, with Lillard outscoring everyone with 34 points.

That overshadowed James’ triple double of 24 points, 17 rebounds and 16 assists. But, at 35, James can’t carry the Lakers on his back for the entire playoffs.

Davis had 28 points but he missed 16 of 24 shots. Kuzma made only five of 14 shots while scoring 11.

The Lakers’ starting guards, Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, were a combined four for 21 shooting and the first guard off the bench, Alex Caruso, was one for six. The Lakers need more than the 13 points they got from those three.

If there was a bright spot for the Lakers, it was their defense, which held the Trailblazers to 100 points. But the Lakers were the only team of the 16 teams in the NBA Playoffs to fail to score 100 points in the playoff opener.

They need to fix that before game two.

WINNING PLAY: On the other hand, the Clippers defeated the Dallas Mavericks, 118-110 Aug. 17 in their playoff opener.

The two superstars the Clippers brought in last summer to try and bring a championship home led the way with Kawhi Leonard scoring 29 points and Paul George added 27. That was more than enough to withstand 42 points from Mavericks star Luka Doncic in his playoff debut. Doncic could be a household name by the time this series is over, he’s that good.

The Clippers were helped by the ejection of Doncic’s running mate, Kristaps Porzingis, in the third quarter after an altercation with the Clippers’ Marcus Morris. Both players were given technical fouls but Porzingis had received an earlier technical foul for arguing over a foul call and two technicals mean automatic ejection. He scored 14 points before he left.

Morris contributed in other ways, scoring 19 points and playing tough defense against Doncic, who was pretty much unstoppable.

The Clippers were at full strength for the first time since arriving in Orlando. Montrezl Harrell returned to the rotation at backup center after leaving the team for his grandmother’s funeral.

The Clippers have only played their regular lineup 12 times all season. They are 11-1 in those games.

I am more and more convinced the Clippers will beat the Lakers if the two teams meet in the Western Conference finals next month. The Lakers are going to have to figure out how to beat Portland first.

ROLLING NOW: It took three and half weeks, but the Dodgers appear to finally be hitting their stride. They have won eight of their last 10 games and lead the Colorado Rockies by four games in the National League West.

According to Baseball Reference, they are 99.9% certain to make the playoffs and have a 20.3% chance to win the World Series. All that and their two best hitters from last season are hitting .175 and .170.

Imagine how good they will be if Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy ever start hitting.

Mookie Betts is showing he’s worth all that money the Dodgers are going to pay him over the next 13 years.

He’s hitting .305 with nine home runs and 21 runs batted in. Corey Seager looks completely healthy and is approaching his all-star form from 2017 with a .316 batting average, six home runs and 17 RBI.

The Dodgers have the most home runs in the major leagues and the lowest earned run average. That’s normally a tough combination to beat.

Manager Dave Roberts still goes to a bullpen too early and often but the Dodgers starters have thrown five or more innings in 14 of the 25 starts. The bullpen has been outstanding, posting a 10-3 record with eight saves, seven by closer Kenley Jansen, who rarely scares anyone with his velocity anymore, but has only given up one run and four hits in 11 appearances.

The Dodgers’ main worries at this point are complacency and the coronavirus. Nothing else can slow them down.


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