Tuesday, August 9, 2022
Aug. 9, 2022

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So you want to face the Lakers?

Greg Jayne: Commentary

The Columbian
Published:

C’mon, Blazer fans, admit it. You want the Lakers.

You envision a first-round shot at the defending champs. A chance to yell “Beat L.A., Beat L.A.,” even in your own living room. An opportunity to slay the dragon that has been the bane of your team’s existence.

You quietly harbor dreams that Portland’s success against the Lakers — 9-1 in the past 10 meetings in Portland — could somehow translate to the playoffs.

But you better be careful what you wish for. Because while Portland could face any one of five teams in the first round, hoping it’s Los Angeles is like tilting and so many windmills.

Did the French goad the Nazis? Did Michael Spinks double-dog-dare Mike Tyson? Did Grenada taunt the United States by sticking out its tongue and thumbing its nose?

Of course not. So I’m not sure why Blazer fans would be hoping to face the Lakers.

Oh, it’s not that Portland can’t win a first-round playoff series this year. With Marcus Camby aboard, the Blazers are close to being the team we expected to see from the start of the season.

They’re 16-5 since late February. They’ve beaten some good clubs. They’ve secured a second straight trip to the playoffs, despite a season filled with injuries.

But the dirty little secret in all this is that Portland is 2-5 in its past seven games against playoff-bound Western Conference teams. While the Blazers have done a good job of wrapping up a postseason berth and scrapping for seeding position, they also have retained some shortcomings that can be exploited by good teams.

“Before the game, I said, ‘This is what you’re going to be facing next week,’ ” coach Nate McMillan said following Friday’s 83-77 loss to Dallas. “This is the style of basketball. It’s going to be a physical game. It’s going to be a grinding game. You need to be able to execute your offense.”

If only that offense were not so predictable. The Blazers’ crunch-time strategy appears to be having Brandon Roy go one-on-one from the top of the key, with little variation and even less creativity.

The Mavericks attacked that approach like a team in the playoffs will, aggressively double-teaming Roy and limiting him to 4 of 14 from the field.

The Blazers’ strategy might be a terrific one against, say, the Timberwolves. It might be a hopeful one against, say, the Mavericks. It would be a disastrous one against the Lakers.

Getting out of the first round this year is vitally important for the Blazers, if for no other reason than it might be necessary to save the job of general manager Kevin Pritchard.

And in a Western Conference where the Nos. 2-8 teams are separated by four games, the postseason is going to be a war of subtleties and adjustments.

Considering that the Lakers are the defending champions, they have the best record in the Western Conference, and Phil Jackson is 16-2 in first-round series, we are guessing the Lakers will have a pretty good grasp of those subtleties.

There is no telling if McMillan and the Blazers will have a similar grasp.

Last year’s six-game playoff loss to Houston could be viewed as a learning experience, the first step for a young team. But now it is time to see if they have learned anything, and a matchup against the Lakers probably would not tell us one way or another.

Let us save the Lakers for a later round, after the Blazers have demonstrated the ability to win a playoff series. After they have gained the confidence that comes with making the game-to-game adjustments that are inherent in a seven-game series.

For now, we say bring on the Mavericks. Bring on the Jazz. Bring on the Suns or the Nuggets or anybody but the Lakers.

Because while the inclination of a competitor is to want to prove yourself against the best, wisdom dictates that you should be careful for what you wish.

Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jayne@columbian.com. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne

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