On a cloudy Saturday night in northwest Oregon, the rarest of things happened.
The Lakers won a game in Portland.
It had been exactly four years and eight months since they beat the Trail Blazers on the road. They’d lost to the Trail Blazers 16 times in a row overall. They’d lost nail-biters more than once, falling victim to the heroics of Damian Lillard.
But on Saturday, the Lakers ended the drought. They won 114-110, pushing ahead during a third quarter in which they outscored Portland by 16. Despite taking a 20-point lead early in the fourth quarter, the Lakers allowed Portland to threaten as they committed seven or their 20 turnovers during the final period.
“A lot of season to grow,” guard Rajon Rondo said. “Each game we will continue to improve and work on what we need to work on. But I would love to continue to work on getting better with Ws instead of Ls.”
LeBron James led the Lakers (4-5) with 28 points while Portland’s guards did most of the team’s scoring. Lillard and C.J. McCollum each scored 30 points and combined for 25 in the fourth quarter alone.
The Lakers’ second unit was particularly effective. All of the players who came off the bench had positive plus/minus ratings in double digits. They helped the team overcome a sloppy start and a sloppy finish to avenge a season-opening loss here.
Rondo scored 17 points off the bench and added 10 rebounds and six assists. The Lakers were plus-28 with Rondo on the floor.
“He got us good shots,” coach Luke Walton said. “We want to play fast. … I thought he orchestrated a beautiful game tonight. He always has the freedom to call what he wants and what he sees. He just showed why he has been one of the elite point guards in this league.”
The win was the Lakers’ second consecutive since a tense meeting in which team president Magic Johnson yelled at Walton about his displeasure over the direction of the offense. Walton said that didn’t make the win sweeter.
“It feels good, knowing we haven’t beaten this team in 16 attempts,” Walton said. “… It feels good knowing that our team is getting better, that we just had a really good road win. That the group game together.”
On Wednesday, the day after Walton’s meeting, the Lakers beat Dallas. Saturday’s game bore some similarities to that game. On Wednesday, the Lakers led by 14 late in the fourth quarter and couldn’t stop a Dallas run from making the game close.
Despite a sloppy start offensively, the Lakers kept this game close in the first half on the strength of consistent defensive effort. At halftime they trailed by just one despite 10 turnovers that led to 11 Portland points.
A 16-2 run to close the third quarter gave them a cushion they needed. With 9:45 left in the game, Josh Hart hit a three that that gave the Lakers a 20-point lead. But the Trail Blazers went on a 20-6 run midway through the fourth. Hart and James traded buckets with the Trail Blazers, and the Lakers put forth a fierce defensive effort. In the game’s final 3:01, Hart, James and JaVale McGee all recorded blocks. McGee finished the game with six blocks.
Portland never got closer than within four.
“This is one of the hardest places to play,” Hart said. “When they start making shots and that crowd gets into it, it’s very tough to hear each other.”
The win in Portland was the Lakers’ fourth of the season, but the one that carries the most weight. The Trail Blazers are 6-3 and were the third-best team in the West last season.