The Los Angeles Lakers got back to .500 on the season with an impressive 134-110 road victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday night. Star guards D’Angelo Russell and LeBron James led the way, dominating in the second half to turn a close game into a blowout win.
Russell Silences Trade Talk With Career Night
Much of the pre-game focus was on fourth-year guard D’Angelo Russell, who has been the subject of recent trade rumors. With Russell set to hit free agency this summer, there has been speculation that the Lakers could look to trade him before the deadline rather than lose him for nothing.
However, Russell silenced any doubt about his future in LA with a mesmerizing performance against Portland. He finished with a career-high 34 points on blistering 13-19 shooting, including 6-8 from three-point range. Russell took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 19 points to put the game out of reach.
After the win, Russell was visibly emotional on the bench as he pondered his Lakers future. When asked about it after the game, Russell said:
“I’m just playing my game, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see all the rumors out there. I love being a Laker, I love our fans and my teammates. But at the end of the day I have to do what’s best for my career.”
Russell is sure to generate major interest ahead of the February trade deadline. After tonight’s performance, the Lakers may think twice about trading away their young star.
LeBron and AD Dominate Again
While Russell drew the headlines, LeBron James showed he is still the heart of this Lakers team. James finished with 31 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists, controlling the game in his vintage style. Big man Anthony Davis added 27 points of his own.
The Trail Blazers had no answer defensively for the Lakers dynamic duo. James got whatever shot he wanted on the block, while Davis lived at the free throw line. This was a return to form for the All-Star pair after some recent injury issues.
When James and Davis play like this, the Lakers are nearly unbeatable. Their health and consistency will be key factors as LA battles for playoff positioning down the stretch.
Slow Start Dooms Trail Blazers at Home
The Trail Blazers came into this game struggling, having lost three straight games. A strong start at home against the unpredictable Lakers seemed essential to snap that skid.
Instead, Portland came out flat and fell behind 39-26 after one quarter. Shooting guard Anfernee Simons kept them within striking distance with a quick 10 points in the period. But defensively the Trail Blazers looked confused, giving up easy buckets to James and Davis.
Portland did rally in the second and third quarters behind Simons and point guard Damian Lillard. A 10-2 run early in the third quarter briefly gave the Blazers a 72-70 lead, bringing the home crowd to life. But the Lakers had an immediate answer, as Russell scored 7 quick points to deflate the Portland run.
In the end, the poor start doomed Portland’s chances as LA pulled away down the stretch. The inconsistent defensive effort continues to plague the struggling Blazers.
What This Means Going Forward
With the victory, the Lakers improved to 23-23 on the year. They currently sit 12th in the Western Conference standings, but are just 2.5 games out of 6th place. In the crowded West playoff race, every game matters heading towards the All-Star break.
For the Lakers, this win shows what they are capable of when fully healthy. Russell looks fully entrenched in the starting lineup for now, while James and Davis seem to have moved past their injury issues. GM Rob Pelinka has some big decisions ahead at the trade deadline, but this core has enough talent to make noise.
Meanwhile, the loss was the Trail Blazers 4th straight. At 18-28, they sit 13th in the West and the playoffs look increasingly unlikely. Injuries have ravaged the roster, but GM Joe Cronin also faces pressure to turn things around. Further moves could be coming as Portland faces a potential rebuild situation around Damian Lillard.
This long-time rivalry delivered playoff intensity despite both teams struggling this season. The stars shone bright with exceptional performances from Russell, James and Davis. But in the end, defense remains the Lakers Achilles heel while Portland continues to plummet.
Los Angeles Lakers
Portland Trail Blazers
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