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Tougher first-round opponent for the Lakers: Portland or Memphis?
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Steve Aschburner: Blazers all the way. My only reservation with Portland is that, by the time they get to LeBron James & Co., they could be pretty drained physically and emotionally by the gauntlet of playing their way into and through the play-in mechanism. But Portland as currently constituted — peak Damian Lillard, Carmelo Anthony as a third option, healthy Jusuf Nurkic and so on — is unlike most No. 8 seeds. Now if only they could defend and rebound … But why nitpick? I’ll enjoy this series as long as it lasts.
Shaun Powell: Well obviously it’s the Blazers, but almost by default. The Grizzlies are inexperienced and shorthanded without Jaren Jackson Jr., while the Blazers went to the conference finals last year and Nurkic and Zach Collins are healthy. However, Portland’s defense is putrid — not that the Lakers are all that much better — and CJ McCollum isn’t 100 percent healthy. To quote Paul George, Lillard is getting sent home.
John Schuhmann: It has to be Portland, because of how dangerous Lillard has become. He’s shooting 41.6% (that’s an effective field goal percentage of 62.3%) on 9.6 pull-up 3-pointers per game in the restart. He’s also been blowing past bigs when they’ve tried to meet him at the 3-point line. On the other hand, the Blazers might be the ideal opponent for a Lakers offense that ranked 21st offensively in the restart, because Portland’s defense has been terrible. Despite the No. 1 offense in the restart and despite a few teams resting their best players against them, all six of the Blazers’ wins were within five points in the last five minutes.
Sekou Smith: Portland’s experience and depth will no doubt make the Trail Blazers tougher to deal with in a playoff series. Lillard alone should make you nervous, given the way he played during the seeding games. They have to get there and face the Lakers, of course. Surviving the Grizzlies is the first order of business for a team that exhausted every ounce of energy they had to make it to the Western Conference Play-In. You wonder how much juice Portland will have left to battle the top-seeded Lakers. Coach Terry Stotts would have to dig deeper into his rotation than usual, but don’t tell Lillard, McCollum, Nurkic, Carmelo Anthony, Gary Trent Jr. and Co. they don’t have a fighting chance.
Michael C. Wright: No knock against Memphis, as it has been exciting to watch this season. But they don’t have much momentum going into the playoffs, having finished 2-6 in the bubble. Most importantly, the Grizzlies aren’t whole with Jaren Jackson out due to a knee injury. Portland, meanwhile, is the opponent that possesses the star power with Lillard (dropped at least 30 points in five outings in the bubble), McCollum and Anthony, not to mention a young emerging talent in Trent Jr. Plus, the Blazers are the healthiest they’ve been all season. They’ll certainly need to be at full strength against the top-seeded Lakers.