Little comes easily for Lakers as they lose to Trail Blazers, drop to 2-2

Lakers forward LeBron James looks to pass while covered by Portland Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington.
The Lakers’ LeBron James looks to pass while covered by the Trail Blazers’ Robert Covington during the first half at Staples Center on Monday night. The Lakers lost 115-107.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

LeBron James doubled CJ McCollum and poked the ball loose, no one between him and the basket in front of the Portland bench.

James gathered his footing and slowed down as if he were waiting for the photographers on the baseline to get everything focused. And then like a Tesla, James zipped into top speed, uncorking a ferocious one-handed slam.

That was easy. Everything else Monday night against the Trail Blazers was not.


Portland outscrapped, outshot and, eventually, outlasted the Lakers, beating them 115-107 as the Lakers’ season-opening, four-game homestand ended with a loss, just like it began.

“We just weren’t able to sustain the energy,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said.

Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma tries to block the shot of Portland Trail Blazers guard Rodney Hood.
Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma tries to block the shot of Portland Trail Blazers guard Rodney Hood during second half action at Staples Center on Monday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Anthony Davis, returning after a one-game absence because of a calf injury, floated his way through the first half and couldn’t put any real impact on the game. Marc Gasol, whose passing cut apart the Minnesota Timberwolves’ defense the previous night, couldn’t deal out a single assist.

And the Lakers’ bench, which had played so well in their last two games, got overwhelmed by Portland backups Gary Trent Jr. and Enes Kanter. Trent scored 28 points and hit seven three-pointers. Kanter had 12 points and 14 rebounds.

Davis scored 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, but it was all a struggle. Being guarded by the much smaller Robert Covington, Davis only started to become a factor in the second half.

“Just one of those nights,” Vogel said. “We were just kind of stuck in mud a little bit.”

Kyle Kuzma followed up a great game Sunday by shooting two for nine Monday (including two for eight from deep), and Montrezl Harrell scored nine points in 27 fairly quiet minutes.

Lakers coach Frank Vogel said Alex Caruso was not playing against the Trail Blazers because he had entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

The Portland bench scored 45 points (nearly twice as many as the Lakers’ 23), turning the game early and helping set the stage for Damian Lillard (31 points) and McCollum (20 points) late.

With Kuzma on the court, Portland outscored the Lakers by 23. With Harrell on the floor, the Trail Blazers were 20 points better.

Early Monday night, it was kind of like that breakaway, the Lakers setting the terms, doing what they wanted. But the team’s 13-point lead quickly disappeared, Portland pressuring every non-traditional ballhandler as soon they crossed midcourt.

The game quickly devolved, with the Lakers playing on the second night of their first back-to-back of the new season. They missed post-ups off the side of the backboard and threw the ball through people’s hands and out of bounds.

The frustration was hard to mask, Davis with his shoulders slumped and head down and Vogel getting called for a technical foul in the fourth quarter. Portland tied the score on the subsequent free throw.

The contrast between Sunday and Monday was obvious, the difference in opponent quality a large factor. Minnesota’s defense allowed for the Lakers to cut easily to the basket, setting up uncontested layups and dunks or wide-open jumpers off ball movement.

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard drives on Lakers forward Anthony Davis.
Portland guard Damian Lillard, who had 31 points, drives against Lakers forward Anthony Davis on Monday night.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

There were glimpses of that early, with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shaking loose and hitting three three-pointers in the first quarter. Portland closed that loophole, though, and Caldwell-Pope scored only five more points the rest of the game.

The Trail Blazers also clogged the cutting and passing lanes as well as anyone the Lakers have played this season, forcing the Lakers to play more one-on-one than Vogel, James or Davis would like.

After consecutive games with more than 30 assists, the Lakers had only 20 on Monday.

Dennis Schroder’s ability to create for himself paid off, as he scored 24 points and kept the Lakers in the game until the final minute. James finished with 29 points, nine rebounds and six assists.

“We just weren’t moving the ball that well,” Vogel said.

The team now heads out on the road for its first trip of the season, two games in San Antonio and two in Memphis — four reminders that this season might not be as easy as it might sometimes look.