LeBron James and Anthony Davis didn’t exactly bring it, and several players who were pivotal for the Portland Trail Blazers almost certainly won’t be on the roster when this team is really trying to win. Don’t dismiss the long-term significance of Portland’s stirring 107-105 win over the sinking Los Angeles Lakers despite the unique circumstances surrounding both teams, though.
As Portland’s revamped roster forges an identity heading into next season, Chauncey Billups can look back on his depleted, largely anonymous team’s spirited all-around effort on Wednesday night at Moda Center like a guiding light.
“I just think we’re still building,” the Blazers coach said. “This is a fun brand of basketball to play, where everybody’s involved and everybody’s defensively so engaged. It’s fun like that.”
Anfernee Simons scored 25 of his team-high 29 points in the second half, tormenting the Lakers from beyond the arc and at the rim after intermission. Jusuf Nurkic added 19 points on efficient 8-of-11 shooting, picking his spots as both an individual scorer against Anthony Davis and passer when Los Angeles brought double-teams on the block.
What makes Portland’s victory over its longtime rivals extra sweet, though, is that it resulted from a true team effort offensively, defensively and in transition.
dennis smith jr. and Justise Winslow hounded James from the opening tip, helping force him into six turnovers and combining for a whopping 10 steals. CJ Elleby was everywhere in his game-high 43 minutes, and the emergency frontcourt tandem of Trendon Watford and Greg Brown III provided game-changing energy. Even Keljin Blevins, ninth man on the Blazers’ nine-player active roster, canned a pair of crucial catch-and-shoot triples to start the fourth quarter, vaulting the home team in front and igniting Moda Center.
“It was a great feeling, just to see everybody playing well, coming together and beating a good team,” Simons said. “Say what you want about [the Lakers], but you’ve always got a chance when you’ve got LeBron and AD on the team. So for us to get a win was big.”
Greg Brown III got HOPS ⬆pic.twitter.com/LOgUiGAcFM
— Blazers Nation (@BlazersNationCP) February 10, 2022
Billups won’t be coaching to lose and the Blazers won’t be playing for lottery balls. But there’s no denying the state of flux in Rip City, one that will persist well past Thursday afternoon’s trade deadline, into the offseason and beyond. Portland’s roster could still look much different this weekend, let alone training camp for 2022-23.
None of that mattered for a couple hours on Wednesday night at Moda Center, though, just like the Lakers’ own increasingly dire straits.
“It was a lot of yellow and purple in the arena tonight,” said Smith, who finished with seven points, 11 assists and six steals. “We deserved to win.”