LOS ANGELES — With Kobe Bryant out for a second straight game due to rest, the short-handed Los Angeles Lakers fell 106-94 to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Damian Lillard filled the spotlight at Staples Center with a 34-point performance that included 14 points in the decisive fourth quarter. This included nine points scored in the final 1:27 left in the game, with a pair of long jumpers and a one-handed dunk where he split both Jordan Hill and Ed Davis which earned him the foul.
Prior to that, Portland had grabbed a comfortable lead in the quarter with 14-1 run that was capped off by a corner 3-pointer by Nicolas Batum at 92-78 with 5:44 left. Los Angeles got as close as 97-90 after two consecutive 3-pointers from Wayne Ellington and Wesley Johnson.
It was game that featured 14 lead changes and was tight throughout, until Lillard put the finishing touches on the Lakers in the fourth quarter.
“It was pretty much the same thing I saw last game against them,” Lakers head coach Byron Scott said. “We played really tough, then Damian kind of takes over. He just made some great shot. We tried to pressure him. He’s just a heck of a player that’s what I saw.”
The first half featured much back-and-forth play with the teams trading the lead six times. Portland held as much as an eight-point lead in the opening quarter. Los Angeles erased the early deficit in the second quarter, and pulled ahead 40-38 after a jumper by Ellington.
Portland responded with a 10-2 run to end the period that included scoring the last seven points with Steve Blake‘s buzzer-beating 3-pointer that gave his team a 50-45 lead at the half.
Lillard led all scorers in the first half with 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting with seven assists. In the second quarter, the Trail Blazers shot 50 percent from the field (11-of-22) and dished eight assists on 11 made shots.
Boozer led Los Angeles with 10 points and also grabbed six rebounds. Wesley Johnson also scored eight points on 3-of-6 shooting that included a pair of 3-pointers.
Los Angeles began the second half on a 7-0, and grabbed a 52-50 lead after a 3-pointer by Ellington. The teams continued to trade buckets until Portland pulled away with a 69-62 lead after a layup by Lillard.
However, the Lakers had an answer with a 7-0 run that included a 3-pointer by Nick Young and dunk in transition by Tarik Black. The Trail Blazers scored the quarter’s last three points that gave them a 72-69 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
Los Angeles falls to a 12-26 record on the season, and have lost three out of their last four games. Here are five things were learned about the Lakers:
Carlos Boozer comfortable in bench role
Boozer got it going early in the game with six points and three rebounds in the first quarter. This included knocking down all three of his shots on long jumpers. He continued to produce in the second quarter with four points on a putback, and a wide-open layup on a roll to the basket.
The 33-year-old didn’t take too long to make an impact after he was subbed in the third quarter when he made a jumper and grabbed two defensive rebounds on consecutive possessions. Following that, he settled down scoring just one point and had just two more rebounds for the remainder of the game.
He finished the night with a near double-double of 13 points and nine rebounds to go along with three assists in 20 minutes played.
Since the move the bench, Boozer has had an uptick in production with 15 games in double-figure scoring. This also includes passing that mark in five out of the six games played in January. Although his minutes are capped, the 12-year veteran has found his niche as a scoring option off the bench.
“He is a great pick-and-roll player,” Lin said. “He is learning the value of rolling because he is so used to popping. Now he is making really good reads and it’s getting him open shots at the rim or at a pop. He is just doing a great job.”
Boozer’s production off the bench has been a great asset for the team over the past month. If he continue this upward it could beneficial for the team. However, the area he needs to continue to improve in is his individual defense, as it will be what gets him reinserted into the starting lineup.
Wesley Johnson returns
After missing the last three games due to a strained right hip flexor, Johnson scored a team-high 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting with four rebounds and three assists in 30 minutes played.
Johnson did a majority of his work from mid-range and beyond the arc. He scored five points in the fourth quarter that included a corner 3-pointer that cut the deficit to 97-90 with just under two minutes left in the game.
“I just need to get my legs underneath and slow down. I think that’s what it was and I found it,” Johnson said. “I had the proper treatment and rest. I went out there and played.”
Scott was also satisfied with how the 27-year-old looked in his first game in nearly a week.
“I thought he looked pretty good,” Scott said. “I thought the first couple of trips up and down the floor he looked like he was kind of going a little gingerly on it, but then I think he got warmed up, forgot about it and started playing. I thought he played well tonight.”
Johnson has had his fair share of ups and downs this season, but his performance against the Trail Blazers could be what he needs to find a level of consistency moving forward.
Black making an impact
The rookie big man had yet another impactful performance coming off the bench with six points on 3-of-3 shooting to go along with six rebounds and one block in 20 minutes played.
Black was once again the spark plug off the bench with his activity on both sides of the court. His role within the offense is similar to that of Davis with his ability to grab rebounds, and finish around the hoop.
He did just that in the second quarter with four points and three rebounds. His first make of the quarter came on a putback from a missed jumper by Ryan Kelly. Black showed some low post skills with a five-foot running hook shot over Chris Kaman.
It may be a bit early to truly gauge the type of player the 23-year-old is, but he has also been effective rim protector.
“I felt very comfortable out there on the floor,” Black said. “I felt like I fit in well. I felt like I didn’t look too off out there. I had a good little rhythm going.”
Scott has been quite impressed with Black’s play over the last two games stating that the big man “brings a different element” to the team.
“He just brings a different element to the game for us,” Scott said. “His energy is contagious. I do like what I see.”
Lin also expressed the same sentiment about his new teammate.
“He just plays hard and aggressive. He is active and he talks,” Scott said. “That is exactly what you need from a big man. As he gets up to speed and gets acclaimed, I am sure we will see more.”
It also looks that Scott has removed Robert Sacre‘s spot in the rotation as the four-year center was a healthy DNP-CD for Sunday’s tilt against the Trail Blazers. Moving forward it will interesting to what size of a role that Black fills.
Struggles defending 3-pointers
Entering the game the Trail Blazers were one of the league’s best 3-point shooters who possessed the top sharpshooting duo in Lillard and Wesley Matthews.
Through the first two quarters, the Lakers had defended the arc quite well forcing Portland to start the game just 4-of-16 shooting. However, things changed in the second half as the Trail Blazers shot 57.1 percent (8-of-14) from 3-point range.
They caught fire in the fourth quarter making 6-of-8 from downtown, with the backcourt duo knocking down three of them. Portland is a team that loves to shoot the 3-pointer, and their effectiveness from that range in the second half put the game out of reach.
This is an area that Los Angeles has struggled defending through the first 38 games of the season, which they have allowed the second-highest opponent 3-point field goal percentage (38.3) and third-most made 3-pointers (9.1) per game.
If the Lakers want to see an improvement in their record, this is area that the team must work on first.
Nick Young’s shooting struggles
It has not been a January to remember for Young as he entered Sunday’s game shooting just 28.6 percent from the field.
This trend continued on Sunday as he had just nine points on 3-of-11 shooting that included 1-of-8 from 3-point range in 17 minutes played. This included going 0-for-5 in the first half.
It has been a tough stretch for the 29-year-old, and he is hoping that he can get back to playing his style of basketball.
“Yeah, a little bit, especially when I’m going through times like this,” Young said. “[I’ve been] in the gym every night. It’s tough to think too much about it. I have to go out there and play carefree. That’s part of my game. If I’m thinking, I’m not playing.”
For Scott, Young’s shooting struggles go beyond missed shots, as he believes that is limiting the seven-year veteran’s impact to just scoring rather than other aspects of the game.
“He just has to keep working. I think the one that he can do is Nick almost lives and dies with his shot,” Scott said. “If it’s not going in, then the one thing I have to tell him tomorrow is that you have to be able to do other things on the court. If your shot is not falling, you have to rebound. You just have to do other things to get yourself involved. Every shot that he misses is the end of the world right now to him.”
His teammates appear to be confident that he can turn it around.
“He is a guy that I don’t worry about. He is a guy that can turn around that easily because he is a scorer. All he needs is one and you open the flood gates,” Lin said. “I am not worried about him. He is putting in the work and working hard. He is getting it in before practice. He is doing what he can do. Sometimes it’s just the ups and downs of the season.”
The Lakers need Young to get out of his shooting funk as he plays a major part of the team’s success. Outside of Bryant, he is the only other player on the team that can create his own shot and offense. That said, Young has to try and turn it around as quickly as possible.
Photo Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press
Bob Garcia IV
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