• The Lakers lost to the Trail Blazers 95-92 on Saturday night, a game Los Angeles should have won. They have not beaten Portland since March 3, 2014. After elevating their game to go toe-to-toe with the best teams in the league over the last four games, the Lakers lowered their play to just below that of their competition in order to register another frustrating loss.

    Los Angeles led for the bulk of the game before faltering down the stretch allowing Portland to walk away with a victory despite playing without their best player Damian Lillard. The Lakers held a 78-70 lead before being outscored 25-14 to end the game. Down the stretch the only Laker to make plays was Lonzo Ball, who played an excellent game though he shot poorly from the field.

    Ball almost had a triple-double as he amassed 10 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds, two steals, one block and a plus-8 rating. He made a few critical plays down the stretch including a step-back 3-pointer and an impressive blocked shot. However, Ball also had a key turnover on a errant pass contributing to his team leading five turnovers and the Lakers’ eventual unraveling. He also shot poorly as he was only able to knock down 4-of-13 shots for the game.

    Ball’s eleven assists were vital to the Lakers on a night where the really missed Brandon Ingram and his ability to consistently break down opposing defenses. Several of these dimes were of the spectacular kind including multiple alley-oops to Julius Randle. Ball was almost able to single-handedly carry the Lakers to victory down the stretch but came up just short.

    Kyle Kuzma came into this game as one of the hottest players in the NBA but appeared a bit fatigued and was unable to maintain his torrid pace. He finished the game just 6-of-19 from the field but still contributed 18 points, seven rebounds, three assists, one steal and a plus-6 rating. Kuzma had the ball in his hands twice down the stretch failing to produce on either trip. The first was a 3-point attempt with the Lakers up one where he had his shot blocked but didn’t get any help from the referees as the defender made significant contact with him, knocking him to the floor –this was one of the plays that coach Walton foccussed on during his post game interview. The second possession was emblematic of his evening as he actually stepped in the backcourt (the refs did not whistle him for this violation) before mistakenly passing the ball to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

    Speaking of, Caldwell-Pope had his second lackluster performance for the purple and gold, struggling down the stretch in particular. He shot 5-of-12 from the field and compiled 11 points, nine rebounds, one assist and two steals with a plus-7 rating. However, the stats do not belie the negative impact he had down the stretch of the game where he missed two key shots, fumbled away a fast break and simply appeared out of sync. Perhaps his current legal problems are weighing on him more than anyone would like to admit. Unfortunately for him, the Laker fans were not forgiving as he was quite the parriah on social media after the game.

    Josh Hart on the other hand received nothing but Kudos from his coach, teammates and fans. Hart recorded 11 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, one steal and a plus-8 rating. He made many mature plays during the game and continues to demonstrate his maturity even as a rookie.

    The Lakers received positive bench contributions from Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. Randle accrued 16 points, nine rebounds and one assist on 6-of-9 shooting while Clarkson scored 18 points with three rebounds, one assist and one steal. They were however part of a bench that was badly outscored as they amassed the two most negative ratings on the team with minus-12 and minus-13 respectively.

    The Blazers were led on the night by Maurice Harkless who came off the bench to score 22 points in only 25 minutes. He had the game winning basket off an offensive rebounds and compiled six rebounds, one assist, two blocks and a plus-8 rating on 9-of-16 shooting.

    The other hero on the evening for Portland was Shabazz Napier who was charged with replacing Lillard in the starting lineup. Napier finished with 21 points, five assists, three rebounds and three steals on 8-of-18 shooting and 4-of-7 from 3-point range. He broke down the Laker defense all night and was a key factor in the Trail Blazers win.

    Portland will be greatly encouraged by the performance of No. 10 overall pick Zach Collins who added 11 points, six rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a plus-5 rating. He was an integral part of the final push by the Trail Blazers and made the block on Kuzma that led to Portland taking the lead and eventually winning the game.

    The Lakers made a lot of mistakes in this game including defensive lapses, careless turnovers, poor offensive execution down the stretch and their usual critical number of missed free throws. After the game there were several negative comments from coach Walton about the officiating and sentiment on the bench. Another concerning statement was made by Bogut as he mentioned that the team was showing concerns regarding their impeding free agency and salary cap for 2018 that the Laker franchise has openly prioritized.

    Key Stats and Observations

    • The Lakers continued their year-long struggle from the free throw line as they shot only 12-of-20 (60.0 percent). The Trail Blazers were no better shooting 7-of-14 (50.0 percent).
    • Los Angeles shot poorly from the field going 36-of-85 (42.4 percent) which was just a touch better than Portland who shot 39-of-95 (41.1 percent).
    • The Lakers once again failed to curtail their miscues turning the ball over 17 times compared to only 11 for the Trail Blazers.
    • Portland blocked eight shots vs. only three for Los Angeles.
    • The Lakers were whistled for 22 personal fouls on their home court while the Trail Blazers were only called for 15 infractions. On the season the Lakers are the fourth most fouling team in the league — a point of frustration for coach Walton in his post-game interview.
    • Los Angeles was outclassed from the 3-point line as they hit only 8-of-25 (32.0 percent) vs. 10-of-25 (40.0 percent) for Portland.
    • Corey Brewer, a hero during the Lakers most recent win against Houston, simply didn’t have it tonight. He had four turnovers and a minus-9 rating in only 13 minutes. It might behoove the Lakers to have his bed shipped from Houston to Los Angeles to try and re-create the uplifting magic he gifted the Lakers on that evening.

    Up Next

    The Lakers (11-20) host the Minnesota Timberwolves (20-13) for the final game of a busy Christmas Day slate.

    Minnesota is led by Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler, who was acquired during the offseason from the Chicago Bulls.

    Towns continues to have an impressive early career as he is averaging 20.5 points, 11.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.4 blocks and 1.4 3-pointers. He shoots an impressive 52.7 percent from the floor and 83.1 percent from the free throw line. The knock on him is that he does not excel on the defensive end of the floor.

    Butler is averaging 20.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.1 3-pointers in his first year with the Wolves. He is a strong defender whose arrival to the team immediately elevated Minnesota to a potential playoff contender.

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