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Long-awaited playoff return fails to fire up as Lakers fall to Trail Blazers in Game 1

Lakers' LeBron James drives the ball against Portland Trail Blazers' Carmelo Anthony.
Lakers’ LeBron James, right, drives the ball against Portland Trail Blazers’ Carmelo Anthony during the first half of Game 1 of an NBA playoff first round on Tuesday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
(Mike Ehrmann / Associated Press)

After a seven-year wait to see the postseason again, the Lakers will have to wait at least two more days before their first playoff win of this decade.

Their effort Tuesday night could not could pull them to victory. Not the 28 points from Anthony Davis, not holding the best offense in the bubble to 100 points, not even a historic triple-double by LeBron James, who became the first player in NBA history with at least 20 points, 17 rebounds and 16 assists in a playoff game.

Instead, they could only watch as Portland star Damian Lillard danced on the court in front of them while the game still was tightly contested, a testament to his poise and calm in a tense moment — the kind of poise that allowed him to make three late three-pointers, all from at least 30 feet away. His heroics lifted the eighth-seeded Trail Blazers to a 100-93 victory over the top-seeded Lakers in Game 1 of their first-round series.

“We had a couple breakdowns,” James said. “… Can’t make mistakes in the postseason. I believe we made some mistakes defensively. We played hard. There were some mistakes that we made especially going down the stretch.”

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James’ triple-double was his 24th in the playoffs and he became only the fourth Laker in the last 30 years to record one, joining Magic Johnson, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

But the Lakers, a popular pick to play for the championship, have yet to hit their stride in the NBA bubble and find themselves in a hole. And they’re not alone. Milwaukee, the top seed in the East, lost to Orlando in the opener of that series, making this the first season since the 2002-03 when both No. 8 seeds have taken Game 1 in the first round.

“It’s one game,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “We’re very confident in our group still. The time was used the right way but there’s no simulation like what they’ve been in and now we’re in the playoff environment. I was pleased with our competitive spirit. We didn’t make shots. You know what I mean? I think we can shoot the ball better than we saw tonight.”

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They said all week that this Trail Blazers team was not a typical eighth seed, but rather one filled with playoff experience and poised veterans. This win didn’t take a Herculean effort from Lillard, like so many Portland victories have, though he did score 34 points, with CJ McCollum adding 21.

“Our confidence has grown each game,” Lillard said. “It hasn’t always just been a crazy scoring run. We’ve had to come up with stops, we’ve had to make the extra pass, different guys have had to make big shots. …We’ve seen so many different guys come in and make game-changing plays and such important games, it’s made us more comfortable with each other when the game gets tight. We don’t lose trust when the game is more on the line.”

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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Lakers highlights.

The way the Lakers played fit perfectly with the way they played the seeding games in the bubble. Their shooting struggled — they missed their first eight three-point attempts and ultimately finished making only five of 32 three-pointers.

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Their defense was strong but broke down late. They planned for Lillard to take deep threes, but allowed him a 30-footer that tied the score at 87 with 5:46 left.

Moments later, at the other end of the court, Lillard heard a Too $hort song that reminded him of his East Oakland roots. He started dancing.

“I was feeling good,” Lillard said.

Said Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma: “I didn’t see it but [shoot], if you’re in a rhythm like that, confident player, [shoot] I’d do the same. Tip my hat to him.”

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That wasn’t the last big three Lillard or his teammates hit. Although the Lakers led by six in the fourth quarter, they trailed for the game’s final 3:13. Carmelo Anthony hit a three-pointer and pointed at his head. Then Gary Trent Jr. hit another for the Trail Blazers.

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“It’s the playoffs,” McCollum said. “Games have changed. Situations have changed. We focus on one opponent. You get to understand tendencies, you get to understand play calls better. We’re not playing a different opponent every other day. It’s just focusing on one. Both teams are more locked in, more focused and understand how they’re going to achieve stops and get a win.”

The Lakers, meanwhile, turned the page.

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“Game 2 is in a couple days,” Kuzma said. “Thirty-six hours.”

Not quite the exact time span, but their second chance at their overqualified opponents will come soon.

Three takeaways on the Lakers

  • LeBron James was magnificent for most of the game, scoring 23 points with 17 rebounds and 16 assists. “No frustration,” James said of his historic performance in a Game 1 loss. “Because the game is the game.”
  • Late in the fourth quarter with the Lakers down 89-87, Anthony Davis and James went to the free-throw line on back-to-back possessions. The two Lakers stars missed all four shots, costing the team the chance to take a late lead.
  • Despite late miscues, the Lakers’ defense was a bright spot for much of the game. The 100 points the Trail Blazers scored were the fewest they’ve scored since coming to Orlando.

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