There haven’t been too many pleasing moments this season for the Los Angeles Lakers, so it makes their 107-106 win over the Portland Trail Blazers thanks to a game winning touch by Wesley Johnson even easier to cling on to as a positive in a season filled with bad moments.
The last time the Lakers beat a playoff-bound team was January 19 (Toronto Raptors), making their win against a team trying to finish on top of the Western conference even that much more unlikely. But from time to time, the Mike D’Antoni system does work, as the Lakers kept the pace of the game high and wild, outscoring Portland 32-9 in transition.
Without too much defense on both ends of the floor, Jodie Meeks came up with one final big play, limiting Lillard to a tough, contested 3-pointer to try and win the game. The Blazers didn’t really have time to think about something better than spreading it out and letting Lillard let one rip, but he times it completely wrong, and some teams need a plan B in their play bank for moments like this.
The Lakers won as Kent Bazemore, maybe their best player on the floor during the game, lobbed an inbound pass to Wesley Johnson, managing to catch it above LaMarcus Aldridge, who got caught on the screen and didn’t have anyone to cover for him on the play. It left Portland with only 6.4 seconds, but no more magic after coming back from behind with several shots, including one huge step back by Wesley Matthews before they got the lead, for a few seconds, via the free throw line.
When all you have left is feeling good, a win like this means a lot. Pau Gasol and his head coach probably hate each other at this point, but it hasn’t stopped Gasol from playing well. He has a future contract with a different team to think about, and he’s been on the Lakers for a long enough time to care about how they look, even in a losing season. He finished with 22 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists. Jodie Meeks, who also had his poster moment with a huge dunk over Nicolas Batum, was next in line with 21 points, while both Johnson and Bazemore added 14 each on top of their late game heroics.
The Blazers? This was one of the games that might cause them some concern. They struggled in thinking and showed no creativity besides waiting for some individual play to save them, as they couldn’t get a 20-12 edge in offensive rebounding give them a win over the worst team in the West.
There won’t be too many moments like this left for the Lakers this season, probably. Sometimes they might catch teams like the Blazers, who are too much about individual ability and not enough preparation and foundation in their game, off guard. But few teams will defend as bad as the Blazers did on most nights, especially those heading into the playoffs.
All that’s left is to enjoy the ride that’s left. Everyone but Nick Young, Robert Sacre, Kendall Marshall and the missing duo of Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant are free agents at the end of the season. It means that maybe it’s not so much D’Antoni’s style that’s making this team tick at this point, but the hunger and desire to show other GMs they deserve a contract next year.