5 Reasons the Los Angeles Lakers Will Dominate the Portland Trail Blazers in the Playoffs

Robert Marvi
9 Min Read

At long last, the 2020 NBA Playoffs are underway, and the Los Angeles Lakers have a golden opportunity to do something special.

Last season, LeBron James’ maiden voyage with the Purple and Gold turned into an unmitigated disaster, as the team missed the playoffs for the sixth straight year. But this time around, the team has the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and a great chance to win the NBA championship.

What could be a triumphant and historic postseason run for the Lakers starts on Tuesday against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Portland is a strong team for an eighth seed, as it possesses one of the best backcourts the NBA has seen in years in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

Lillard has been deadly of late, having scored at least 40 points in four of the Blazers’ last six games. McCollum closely resembles Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson in the sense that he can get white-hot from the perimeter and single-handedly kill teams with his shooting.

Yet, the Lakers are still considered heavy favorites to dismiss Portland, and there are several reasons why.

1. Return of Rajon Rondo

Rajon Rondo Lakers

At age 35 and in his 17th season, James is still playing at a phenomenal level, but he probably can’t carry the same load that he used to on a consistent basis. Rondo has helped by giving the Lakers another ball-handling guard and floor general, especially while James is resting on the bench.

Rondo injured his thumb on July 12, but he has been cleared to play in Game 1 against the Blazers. During the resumption of the 2019-20 season, the absence of Rondo was conspicuous at times, as the Lakers struggled mightily on offense for very long stretches.

Although his play has greatly declined since his heyday with the Boston Celtics several years ago, Rondo is still very useful, especially when the chips are down.

His penchant for raising his game when it really matters has led to the creation of the meme “Playoff Rondo,” and it’s a real thing. His playoff career numbers (14.0 points, 6.1 rebounds and 9.3 assists per game) are significantly higher than his regular season stats (10.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game).

In all likelihood, Rondo will make his presence felt in multiple key playoff games this year, one way or another.

2. Lack of Blazers D

Damian Lillard Blazers

After getting off to a poor 5-12 start, the Blazers have excelled offensively. They finished the season ranking third in offensive rating and sixth in points per game.

But the other end is the major bone of contention for them, as they completed the regular season just 27th in defensive rating.

Although the Blazers have made an admirable run since entering the bubble, they haven’t really stopped anyone with any regularity. They gave up at least 121 points in seven of their nine games in Orlando, Fla. and their last five contests in a row.

When they defeated the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday to clinch a spot in the play-in tournament, the Blazers still gave up 133 points to a seriously undermanned Nets squad.

Although the Lakers have struggled offensively for much of the season’s restart, they started to get it together towards the end of the seeding games. In both of its last two games, L.A. scored over 120 points and made over 40 percent of its 3-pointers.

The Lakers won their season series against the Blazers this season 2-1 and had their way offensively. Both wins came in December with L.A. pouring in 136 and 128 points, respectively.

If the Lakers speed up the pace against Portland and shoot well from downtown, they could very well put on an offensive clinic.

3. No Answer for the King

Damian Lillard, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony

Not only are the Blazers defensively inept, but they do not have the personnel to slow down James.

The one player who may have been able to make the four-time MVP work a bit, Trevor Ariza, decided to opt out of the resumption of the season.

Carmelo Anthony has had something of a resurgent season for Portland, and physically he may be able to body up James in a stationary setting. But in an open-court situation or when James is simply playing downhill, it’s hard to imagine a 36-year-old Anthony being able to stay in front of James.

In addition, the Akron, Ohio native has a history of flipping the proverbial switch once the postseason starts. In the 2018 playoffs, his last time in the postseason, James averaged 34.0 points, 9.1 rebounds and 9.0 assists per game as he carried a porous Cleveland Cavaliers squad to the NBA Finals.

Knowing that this may be his last chance to earn another championship ring, look for James to come out with a vengeance against Portland.

4. Invaluable Experience

LeBron James and Rajon Rondo

Portland is coming off a run to the Western Conference Finals during which it gained valuable experience. Overall, this will be the franchise’s seventh straight trip to the postseason, so this is not exactly the first rodeo for Lillard and McCollum.

During that span, the Lakers have never made the postseason, but in reality, the team has tremendous experience amongst its core players. It has an impressive six players who have won at least one NBA championship: James, Rondo, Quinn Cook, JaVale McGee, Danny Green and J.R. Smith.

In addition, center Dwight Howard played in the 2009 NBA Finals. Although his Orlando Magic lost in five games, that experience should prevent him from being too nervous on the big stage.

By contrast, no active members of the Blazers have been to the championship series. Ariza, who won a ring with the Lakers in 2009, opted out, and forward Rodney Hood, who played in the 2018 NBA Finals, has missed much of the season with an Achilles injury.

When it comes to playing in high leverage situations and coming through, the Blazers are no match for the Lakers.

5. Best Duo in the League

Anthony Davis and LeBron James

Depth may get a team through the regular season, but star power is what gets it done in the playoffs, especially as opposing teams make defensive adjustments throughout a best-of-seven series.

Although Lillard and McCollum are an awesome duo, they are mostly perimeter-based players. When they go cold from outside, they can be stopped.

On the other hand, James and his first mate Anthony Davis can attack in various ways. They can hit from the outside, but they’re also a deadly duo in transition. They can play “bully ball” inside and penetrate and score in the paint.

They also excel defensively. By averaging 9.3 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 2.3 blocks per game this season, Davis has made himself perhaps the frontrunner for the Defensive Player of the Year award.

After a 2018-19 season in which he appeared to be MIA on defense, James has stepped it up on that end this season, as evidenced by his outstanding defensive stand at the end of the Lakers’ win over the Los Angeles Clippers on July 30.

As much as a deadly offense is needed in today’s NBA, defense still wins championships, and that’s what sets the Lakers’ dynamic duo apart from Lillard and McCollum.

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Robert is a native of Santa Monica, Calif., and a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has been an avid NBA fan since he was a little kid in the mid '90s and fell in love with the Nick Van Exel-led Lakers teams. He truly cherishes the Kobe Bryant-era of Lakers basketball and the five world championships that came with it, and is looking forward to the team's next NBA title.