Game One Preview: Lakers look to start strong against Trail Blazers

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – JANUARY 20: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers and Anthony Davis #3 look on during the singing of the national anthem before the game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on January 20, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Here we are, everyone. The NBA somehow overcame the many obstacles it was going to have to clear to be able to restart this 2019-20 NBA season amongst the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re now in day two of the 2020 NBA Playoffs and it is time for the Lakers to embark on their first NBA Playoffs campaign since the 2012-13 season. They’ll play Game One tonight against their first-round opponent, the Portland Trail Blazers, in a series that is definitely hyped up more than usual for a first seed going up against an eighth seed.

Zach Collins out

The Trail Blazers will be coming into the first game a little short-handed, as their athletic big man Zach Collins will be held out with left ankle inflammation per Marc J. Spears of ESPN/The Undefeated. He will be replaced in the starting line-up by rookie Wenyen Gabriel.

Collins injured the ankle in the Trail Blazers’ play-in game on Saturday against the Grizzlies, only playing seven minutes before suffering the injury. It’s only officially listed as “inflammation”, giving hope to Portland that this injury shouldn’t keep him out for extended time. Gabriel will be playing the second start of his very young career and will be doing so in a playoff game against LeBron James. Scary stuff.

Although Gabriel is starting for Collins, it’s doubtful that he will be in for long as he only played nine minutes in the play-in game following Collins’ departure. Either way, that takes away frontcourt depth that is so desperately needed by the Trail Blazers in this series to take on Anthony Davis. Jusuf Nurkić will be playing his first game against the Lakers this year after missing the entire season before it was suspended by COVID-19 due to the gruesome leg injury in March 2019. His addition will definitely be welcomed by the Trail Blazers, but may not do much to stop Davis as Davis had his way with Nurkić two years ago in the 2018 NBA Playoffs. Davis, then a member of the Pelicans, destroyed the Trail Blazers’ bigs all series to the tune of a four-game sweep.

Lakers look to get a feel for Damian Lillard right away

This matchup between the first and eighth seed is hyped up more than usual series of the same type due to the Trail Blazers not having Nurkić and Collins for nearly their entire season. In addition, not many eight seeds in NBA history have been equipped with a player like Damian Lillard, who may end up at least involved in MVP voting that will come down to either Giannis Antetokounmpo or LeBron James.

He is coming into the playoffs hot, dominating throughout the Trail Blazers’ eight bubble games concluding with a 31-point performance on Saturday against the Grizzlies to secure the team’s playoff berth. He was even more devastating to the purple-and-gold in their last matchup together with a 48 point, 10 assist, nine-rebound performance in a 127-119 win (the game was the Lakers’ first game since the passing of Kobe Bryant).

Don’t be surprised if we see multiple approaches to defending Lillard early on in the game for the Lakers, as they may try to test out different coverages that they came up with in preparation. Expect the Lakers to pick him up at half-court, sometimes even with a blitzing double-team, as he has really solidified the “Logo Lillard” nickname lately with some really deep threes.

Tip-off is at 6:00 p.m. PST. The game will be on TNT as well as Spectrum SportsNet. Let’s go!

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