With the 2020 NBA playoffs rapidly approaching for the Los Angeles Lakers and Damian Lillard seeming to have channeled his inner Michael Jordan, all eyes will be on this first round matchup between them and the Portland Trail Blazers.
Fresh off the 2020 NBA ‘Bubble’ Most Valuable Player award, Lillard seems ready to take on LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Lakers, causing many to choose the Blazers and the upset in the first round.
Unfortunately for those people, that will not be happening.
The Lakers will be dispatching of Lillard and the Blazers in a gentleman’s sweep of five games for a multitude of reasons with the first being that ‘Playoff Lillard’ is not all that he is hyped up to be. In fact, in Lillard’s six playoff appearances, he has been bounced in the first round three times with two of those coming in the form of a sweep.
To put that into context, Lillard boasts a 3-3 record in the first round while James has an impeccable 13-0 record in the first round. Ironically, the Blazers’ last sweep came at the hands of Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans in the 2018 playoffs. In that series, Lillard failed to lead them in scoring in all four games and shot just 35.2 percent from the field while committing 4.0 turnovers per game.
Davis, on the other hand, was dominant and averaged 33.0 points (57.6 percent from the field), 11.8 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks. While everyone might remember the buzzer-beater against the Rockets in 2014 and the infamous series-ending half-court heave against the Oklahoma City Thunder just a season ago, Lillard has ultimately struggled come playoff time. Since 2014, he is shooting just 40.6 percent from the field in the playoffs and often goes cold for extremely long stretches of games.
In the three games the Lakers had against the Blazers during the 2019-20 NBA season, Davis’ stats were almost identical to his playoffs stats two seasons ago. He put up 32.0 points (55.9 percent from the field and 40.0 percent from the three-point line), 11.3 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks.
It is quite simple: the Blazers just cannot guard Davis.
Not only can the Blazers not guard Davis, but there is also absolutely nobody on their roster that should be capable of staying in front of James. Sure, the James vs. Carmelo Anthony matchup might be drawing a ton of hype but in all reality, it is not much of a matchup at all.
In the Blazers’ eight bubble games, Anthony posted a usage rate of just 18.8 percent which means that he just does not have the basketball in his hands all that much. On the other hand, James will undoubtedly be the Lakers’ primary ball-handler and if head coach Frank Vogel decides to play Davis at center and spread the floor, the Blazers are toast. With Trevor Ariza opting out of the restart, the Blazers just do not have a player that can guard James up and down the court and if they choose to double, he can easily kick out to the open man.
The Blazers do not just have a problem guarding James, they have a problem guarding everybody.
Since entering the bubble, the Blazers have ranked 20th in defensive rating (120.4), 22nd in opponent’s field goal percentage (49.4), 21st in opponent’s three-point percentage (43.3) and 21st in opponent’s points (123.4). Considering the fact that only 22 teams qualified for the Orlando seeding games, the Blazers were bottom-five in almost every single defensive category.
They also allowed the second-most second-chance points to their opponents in the league, which the Lakers will likely look to take advantage of with their size.
Yet another factor that will play into the Lakers conquering the Blazers in five games is revenge.
The last time these two teams saw each other was Jan. 31, just five days after Kobe Bryant’s death. In that game, the Blazers — Lillard in particular — dominated the Lakers and gave them just their tenth loss of the season. It is highly unlikely that anyone on the roster has forgotten about that and with the Lakers now having the incentive of wearing Mamba jerseys after the first round, they will be as motivated as ever to destroy the Blazers.
However, the Blazers will get one game off the Lakers. It might even be the first game, which will undoubtedly cause social media to go into a roar about how the Blazers will upset the Lakers. To be fair, the Blazers have been amazing offensively as they have managed to finish the seeding games with the league’s best offensive rating (122.5) while also ranking top-five in both effective field goal percentage (56.0) and true shooting percentage (60.1).
On top of that, Lillard has come too far and talked too much smack to allow the Blazers to get bounced in just four games. He will almost certainly get hot one game and shoot the absolute lights out en route to bringing home a win.
Unfortunately, Lillard will need to do that four times in order to upset the Lakers and end James’ perfect first round record. In the end, the Blazers will simply just be outskilled, outmatched, and outsized, causing James and Davis to cruise into the second round in just five games.