Five things that have to happen for Trail Blazers to upset Lakers


Portland is battle-tested, having just played eight meaningful seeding games at the NBA’s restart in Orlando, followed by a dramatic play-in game win on Saturday. They have the bubble MVP in Damian Lillard. The Trail Blazers are as hot a team as the league has right now.

The Lakers looked like a team trying to find reasons to be motivated the past two weeks (leading the silly notion from LeBron James‘ the Lakers had to lock down the No. 1 seed because nobody thought they could do it). The Lakers went 3-5 with the second-worst offense in the bubble and a whole lot of shots clanging off rims.

Does all that mean Portland has a real chance of a historic 1-8 upset in the first round of the playoffs?

Or, does it mean the Lakers need to get punched in the face to wake up, to realize they face a genuine challenge, then start playing like a No. 1 seed again? (Just like the 2014 Spurs, who got pushed to seven games by Dallas in the first round, but by the Finals were playing the most beautiful team basketball the league has ever seen in shredding the Heat.)

“They’re the No. 1 seed in the West for a reason,” Lillard said Saturday after Portland’s win. “They’ve got the best player in the world on their team. But at the same time, we didn’t fight as hard as we fought in the bubble to just say, ‘All right, we’re the eighth seed’ and just go out here and get beat up on.”

If the Trail Blazers are going to make this a series — and maybe pull off the upset — here are five things that need to happen.

1) The Lakers have to keep missing shots

Los Angeles looked out of sync during the seeding games — not just a little out of sync, either — but a part of that was they could not knock down shots. The team’s true shooting percentage of 53.7 was second-worst in the bubble (Washington, to answer your question). The Lakers shot 30.3% from three as a team through the seeding games.

Or, look at the Lakers’ shot chart from the bubble.

The Lakers shot okay at the rim, but their three-point shooting in the seeding games was awful: Danny Green 25%, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shot 27.5%, Alex Caruso 15.4%, Dion Waiters 23.3%, Anthony Davis 29.2%, and J.R. Smith 9.1%. That’s what a slump looks like.

If the Lakers fall to the Trail Blazers (or even get pushed to a Game 7), some of those wounds will have to be self-inflicted. The Lakers will have to help beat themselves, and shooting like this certainly helps that cause.

2) Portland has to figure out how to slow LeBron James and Anthony Davis

Good luck with that.

Who are the Blazers going to match up on LeBron? Gary Trent Jr.? He’s gritty but undersized for that assignment. Mario Hezonja? Yikes. Carmelo Anthony? Double yikes. This is why Portland players were trying to find a way to get Trevor Ariza into the bubble after it started, he would have helped a lot in this matchup. Portland has no good options to cover LeBron, and even if they did, he is the master of having a pick set to get the matchup he wants. LeBron is poised to have a monster series.

Davis is another matchup nightmare, although Portland fares slightly better here. The combination of Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic up front means Portland starts with the physical size to match the Lakers. Collins cannot begin to guard the versatility of Davis, and Nurkic isn’t going to stay in front of AD on the perimeter, but they have the size to make a few plays. Portland also brings the athletic Hassan Whiteside off the bench, and he plays well when challenged and focused — if AD doesn’t get your focus, then who will?

This is the Lakers’ secret weapon in every round, their top two are unstoppable. Portland, however, has to find a way to slow them to have any hope.

3) Damian Lillard has to keep playing like the bubble MVP…

Does anyone doubt Lillard is going to keep up his MVP level of play?

Lillard is a particular problem for the Lakers because they lack the personnel to deal with small, quick guards who can score — Lillard averaged 36 points a game against the Lakers this season. He’s going to have to keep doing that and better, although his performance should not be in question.

4) …And he’s going to need help.

For Portland to have a chance, its bench and role players have to dramatically outplay their Lakers’ counterparts.

Portland has other stars, and we saw that against Memphis in the play-in game. CJ McCollum is better with a fractured back than 95% of the league. How much this team missed Jusuf Nurkic has been evident throughout the restart because he can score, rebound, and pass. The Lakers will at times do what Memphis did — double Lillard out high, take the ball out of his hands, and dare any other Trail Blazer to beat them. McCollum can do that. Nurkic can score and is a strong passer as a big man who can find the open guy. That’s where Trent Jr. and ‘Melo and everyone else needs to knock down their shots.

Portland’s role players will need to win them this series.

It should be noted the Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma probably played the best basketball of his career in the bubble. He was hitting threes (44.4%) and was making efforts — and second efforts — in defense we haven’t seen from him consistently. LeBron said he was the third Lakers’ scoring option, he has to live up to that billing.

5) Carmelo Anthony’s defense can’t be an anchor

We need to give ‘Melo credit: He slimmed down, worked harder on defense in the bubble and made more second efforts defensively than we can remember seeing. He played better on that end.

He’s still not a strong defender, and LeBron is merciless —’Melo will get targeted. Memphis did it on Saturday (trying to drag Anthony and Whiteside into pick-and-rolls), the Lakers are better at it.

Portland’s catch-22 is they need Anthony on the floor, he has become an important floor spacer in their offense. He averaged 16.5 points per game and shot 47% from three in the bubble. Coach Terry Stotts needs to keep Anthony on the court without him getting abused from mismatches on the other end.

It’s all a lot to ask, but that’s why eight seeds almost never beat one seeds.


So you’re telling me there’s a chance…”

Watch Trae Young get ejected for launching ball at referee


Trae Young screwed up and he knew it.

“It’s just a play he can’t make,” Hawks coach Quin Snyder said via the Associated Press after the game. “I told him that. He knows it.”

With the score tied at 84 in the third quarter, Young had a 3-pointer disallowed and an offensive foul called on him for tripping the Pacers’ Aaron Nesmith. A frustrated Young picked up a technical foul for something he said.

Then walking back to the bench, Young turned and launched the ball at the referee with two hands. It was an instant ejection.


“There wasn’t a single part of him that tried to rationalize what happened,” Snyder said.

Young can expect a fine for this. It also was his 15th technical of the season, one more and he will get an automatic one-game suspension.

The Hawks went on to win 143-130, improving Atlanta to .500 at 37-37 and keeping them solidly as the No. 8 seed in the East.

Report: ‘Strong optimism’ Anthony Edwards could return to Timberwolves Sunday

Houston Rockets v Minnesota Timberwolves
Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

What looked so bad when it happened may only cost Anthony Edwards three games.

Edwards rolled his ankle last week but could be back Sunday when the Timberwolves travel to Golden State, reports Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports.

Edwards is averaging 24.7 points and 5.9 rebounds a game this season, and he has stepped up to become the team’s primary shot-creator with Karl-Anthony Towns out for much of the season. The Timberwolves have been outscored by 3.4 points per 100 possessions when Edwards is off the court this season.

Towns returned to action a couple of games ago, and with Edwards on Sunday it will be the first time since November the Timberwolves will have their entire core on the court — now with Mike Conley at the point. With the Timberwolves tied for the No.7 seed in an incredibly tight West (they are 1.5 games out of sixth but also one game out of missing the postseason entirely) it couldn’t come at a better time. It’s also not much time to develop of fit and chemistry the team will need in the play-in, and maybe the playoffs.

Nets announce Ben Simmons diagnosed with nerve impingement in back, out indefinitely

NBA: FEB 24 Nets at Bulls
Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ben Simmons — who has been in and out of the Nets’ lineup all season and often struggled when on the court — is out indefinitely due to a nerve impingement in his back, the team announced Friday.

A nerve impingement — sometimes called a pinched nerve — is when a bone or other tissue compresses a nerve. Simmons has a history of back issues going back to his time in Philadelphia, and he had a microdiscectomy about a year ago, after he was traded to Brooklyn.

With two weeks and nine games left in the season, logic would suggest Simmons is done for the season. Coach Jacque Vaughn said Thursday that Simmons has done some individual workouts but nothing with teammates, however, he would not say Simmons is shut down for the season or would not participate in the postseason with Brooklyn.

Simmons had not played since the All-Star break when he got PRP injections to help deal with ongoing knee soreness. When he has played this season offense has been a struggle, he has been hesitant to shoot outside a few feet from the basket and is averaging 6.9 points a game. Vaughn used him mainly as a backup center.

Simmons has two fully guaranteed years and $78 million remaining on his contract after this season. While Nets fans may want Simmons traded, his injury history and that contract will make it very difficult to do so this summer (Brooklyn would have to add so many sweeteners it wouldn’t be worth it).

The Nets have slid to the No.7 seed in the West — part of the play-in — and have a critical game with the Heat on Saturday night.

Frustration rising within Mavericks, ‘We got to fight hard, play harder’


If the postseason started today, the Dallas Mavericks would miss out — not just the playoffs but also the play-in.

The Mavericks fell to the No.11 seed in the West (tied with the Thunder for 10th) after an ugly loss Friday night to a tanking Hornets team playing without LaMelo Ball and on the second night of a back-to-back. Dallas is 3-7 with both Kyrie Irving and Luka Dončić playing, and with this latest loss fans booed the Mavericks. What was Jason Kidd’s reaction? Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“We probably should have been booed in the first quarter,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said…. “The interest level [from players] wasn’t high,” Kidd said. “It was just disappointing.”

That was a little different than Kyrie Irving’s reaction to the boos.

Then there is franchise cornerstone Luka Dončić, who sounded worn down, by the season and the losing in Dallas.

“We got to fight hard, play harder. That’s about it. We got to show we care and it starts with me first. I’ve just got to lead this team, being better, playing harder. It’s on me….

“I think you can see it with me on the court. Sometimes I don’t feel it’s me. I’m just being out there. I used to have really fun, smiling on court, but it’s just been so frustrating for a lot of reasons, not just basketball.”

Dončić would not elaborate on what, outside basketball, has frustrated him.

Look at seeds 5-10 in the West and you see teams that have struggled but have the elite talent and experience to be a postseason threat: The Phoenix Suns (Devin Booker, plus Kevin Durant is expected back next week), the Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry and the four-time champions), the Los Angeles Lakers (Anthony Davis and maybe before the season ends LeBron James).

Should the Mavericks be in that class? On paper yes, they have clutch playoff performers of the past in Dončić and Irving, but an energy-less loss to Charlotte showed a team lacking the chemistry and fire right now that teams like the Lakers (beating the Thunder) and Warriors (beating the 76ers) showed on the same night.

The Mavericks feel like less of a playoff threat, especially with their defensive concerns. They don’t have long to turn things around — and get into the postseason.