With four teams still in contention for a play-in series to determine the eighth seed in this year’s Western Conference playoffs, Los Angeles Lakers forwards Kyle Kuzma and Markieff Morris along with head coach Frank Vogel weighed in on what could happen if they faced the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round.
As reported on Wednesday by USA Today, Portland — which is a half-game ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies in the race for the final playoff spot in the West — has been seen by a number of NBA observers as the most likely to secure eighth-seed status during this weekend’s play-in. Some of these pundits are even predicting that the team could potentially upset the Lakers, who have struggled since the league resumed play on July 30, winning just three out of seven seeding games thus far.
Commenting on the matter, Kuzma told USA Today’s Mark Medina that Blazers point guard Damian Lillard should probably be the MVP of the season restart if his team is able to make the postseason. He also weighed in on the possibility of a Lakers-Blazers matchup in the first round, saying that he doesn’t see this as a “worst-case scenario.”
“I think that anytime you can be tested early in the playoffs, it’s going to help you out in other rounds. So obviously them getting the eighth seed would be a very tough matchup for us.”
Vogel made similar comments when asked about the potential series, with the head coach saying that a “strong first-round opponent” in general could push the Lakers to play at their best and become more cohesive going forward. Likewise, Morris observed that Portland has been “playing well” as of late, noting that this could be a “good” thing in terms of motivating his team to reach the “top level” of competition.
As pointed out by Medina, Los Angeles has appeared “vulnerable” in the seeding stage despite having two of the league’s top players in LeBron James and Anthony Davis alongside a solid supporting cast. He wrote that the losses of Avery Bradley due to family concerns and Rajon Rondo due to injury have affected them on the defensive end, while Davis has shown some inconsistency as of late. Furthermore, he explained that the Lakers have been among the lowest-ranked teams in terms of field-goal and free-throw shooting and assists since the NBA resumed operations.
As for the Trail Blazers, they have won their last two games to improve to a 34-39 record, with Lillard matching his career-high with 61 points against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday following 51 points against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday, as noted on the NBA’s official website.