Streaking Trail Blazers provide next challenge for Lakers
PORTLAND, Oregon — The Los Angeles Lakers could do a lot to remove some pressure from themselves — and from coach Luke Walton — with a victory at Moda Center Saturday night against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Easier said than done. The Trail Blazers (6-2) have won three in a row, including Thursday’s 132-119 thumping of the New Orleans Pelicans. Portland has also won 16 in a row against the Lakers dating to December 2014. The Blazers would like very much to extend that streak Saturday night.
“It’s always a big game when we play the Lakers, and it gets bigger when you add LeBron (James) to the mix,” Portland guard Damian Lillard said. “But we’re just trying to win games. The Lakers are next.”
The Blazers and Lakers met on opening night at Moda Center, Portland coming away with a 128-119 victory. The Lakers are 3-5 this season after a 114-113 win over Dallas on Wednesday, when the Mavericks nearly came back to win after trailing by 14 points with four minutes left.
Rumors have circulated that Lakers president Magic Johnson — who didn’t hire Walton as coach — is impatient with the team’s early-season performance and that Walton’s job could be in jeopardy. Johnson and Walton met on Thursday, and published reports said Johnson’s message increased pressure on the coach to deliver winning results sooner rather than later.
Walton told reporters Friday he feels he has a “great relationship with management” and does not feel like he is “going anywhere.” Walton would not discuss the context of his meeting with Johnson, but said, “We’re going to be patient.”
“We know where we’re going, we know how to get there, and it takes time and hard work,” Walton said. “Right now, our guys work extremely hard. We plan on winning in the future, and we’re going to keep working and getting better and we’re going to be just fine.”
James is off to a terrific start with his new team, averaging 27.8 points, 8.6 rebounds and 8.0 assists while shooting 50.9 percent from the field.
“I’m extremely happy we’re going through this,” James said after the Dallas game. “You can talk about it, you can preach about it, you can watch film about it, but the best teacher in life is experience. It’s great that these guys are getting this experience of playing these tight, close games … It’s great to learn from.”
The Blazers were in sync offensively against New Orleans, reaching a season high in points and shooting 50.6 percent from the field. Portland made 18 of 35 shots from 3-point range, with eight players notching at least one trey.
“The guys who practice 3s, if you’re open, it’s a good 3,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “If they’re open and uncontested, it’s a good shot. Tonight, it was all within the rhythm of the offense.”
Portland’s bench has been efficient thus far, contributing 43.1 points per game while shooting 48.3 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from the 3-point line.
“We’re playing well right now,” reserve guard Seth Curry said. “We have a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things out there on the offensive and defensive end. We can spread the floor and knock down a lot of shots. It’s a balanced attack. You can’t key in on one guy. That’s one of the reasons Neil (Olshey, the Portland general manager) brought me in — to help spread the floor and make it easier for Evan (Turner) and ‘Dame’ (Lillard) and CJ (McCollum).
“It’s easy to play with this group, and we have a free offense. It’s a lot of fun. We’re playing with a lot of energy right now coming off the bench.”