These two games felt like scheduled losses for the Lakers. After a drama-filled week with news of a tense interaction between Luke Walton and Magic Johnson, the Lakers had Portland on the road and then were to return home to play the east-leading Toronto Raptors the next day.
Instead, the Lakers notched their first win in Portland since the 2013-14 season and are 2-0 since that much-talked-about meeting Tuesday.
Here are five takeaways from the Lakers’ 114-110 win over the Trail Blazers on Saturday night.
1. Rajon Rondo was tremendous on the court of the Lakers and had an amusing interaction with a fan at the end of the game. Walton said he orchestrated a “beautiful game.” His play was a major part of why the Lakers won that game.
Then in the game’s closing seconds, as Portland fans began to leave in frustration, Rondo looked engaged in conversation with a woman sitting courtside.
“She said she loved my shoes and I was telling her I loved hers,” Rondo said after the game. He was told she waved goodbye. “Did she or [did she] shoot me the finger?” Rondo asked. “Which one?”
She actually made a hand motion indicating he was talking too much. “Oh she did that,” Rondo said. “Oh, [you can] tell her favorite character on ‘Muppet Babies’ was… who’s the guy who did this [moves his fingers like it’s a mouth]? Kermit?”
That interview ended quickly after that exchange.
2. JaVale McGee is about to get some help, but he’s shown his value to the Lakers so far. McGee had six blocks Saturday night and was critical for the Lakers defensively.
Their plan was to force Portland’s shooters inside and that plan depended on McGee being able to make them pay once they got there.
“I just try to be in the right places at the right time,” said McGee, who leads the NBA in blocks. “I got beat to the rim a couple times, but I was just really trying to focus on not letting that happen.”
3. Ivica Zubac got his first extended playing time all season. He’d only played seven minutes all season before this and not at all in the previous four games.
On Saturday night, Zubac played 19:40 and scored nine points with a steal and eight rebounds.
“Their second unit has been killing games. They had 50 [points] last game, I think, as a group,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “And they’ve been playing that bigger lineup out there. And Zu, like I said, he’s been working hard and he’s looked good the last couple days. So we told him before that there’s a good chance he gets his number called so be ready.”
4. Walton joked with Josh Hart that it was nice to have him back. Of course, Hart didn’t go anywhere, but his play had slipped a bit over the past few games. Hart laughed when he was asked about Walton saying that. Then he was asked if moving to the bench affected him.
“It’s a little different because I’m coming off the bench at the four,” Hart said. “So it’s different from a backup shooting guard to starting shooting guard to backup power forward. So the road’s a little different, but I have the opportunity, I showed them what I could do. And now it’s just helping this team win, and that’s whatever role I’m given and do that to the best of my ability.”
Hart took only three shots and made them all. Two of them were critical three-pointers. He also had an assist, a steal and two blocks. His impact extended far beyond
5. The Lakers defensive effort was better Saturday night than it has been all season. In speaking with players in the locker room, they felt that what changed was that the team sustained its effort.
“We defended as close to 48 minutes as we’ve done all year,” LeBron James said.
McGee sees this as a pattern.