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Can Damian Lillard and the Blazers Actually Beat LeBron’s Lakers in Round 1? | Bleacher Report

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Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard reacts after making a three-point shot during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)

Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

All the Portland Trail Blazers wanted heading into the NBA‘s Disney World bubble was a real chance to make the playoffs. They got one, and they took full advantage of it, punching their ticket to a seventh consecutive postseason after pulling out a 126-122 win over the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference play-in game Saturday to set up a first-round matchup with the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers.

Even though plenty of buzz surrounds the Blazers as a potential upset candidate in the wake of Damian Lillard‘s otherworldly performance in the eight seeding games (37.6 PPG, 9.6 APG) and the triumphant return of Jusuf Nurkic from a broken leg, continuing this unlikely run against LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Co. will be a tall task. Maybe an insurmountable one, as impressive as Portland has been in Florida.

“They’re the No. 1 seed in the West for a reason,” Lillard said after the game. “They’ve got the best player in the world on their team. But at the same time, we didn’t fight as hard as we thought in the bubble to just say, ‘All right, we’re the eighth seed’ and just go out here and get beat up on.”

The Lakers haven’t been impressive in the Orlando-area bubble, which might not mean much. LeBron’s most recent Cleveland Cavaliers teams spent four seasons looking tired and disjointed in the regular season, only to flip a switch in the playoffs and make a run to the Finals each time. And all due respect to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, but James never had a running mate as good as Davis in Cleveland.

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This is a series in which the Blazers will seriously miss Trevor Ariza, who opted out of playing in the restart because of a family situation. Ariza isn’t the lockdown perimeter defender he was five years ago, but he was solid this season for Portland after heading over from Sacramento in a January trade.

He’d at least be better equipped to handle James than anyone on Portland’s roster. The task of matching up with James for a full seven-game series will be left to Carmelo Anthony (a better defender than he’s given credit for, but not close to “defend LeBron in the playoffs” good) and the scrappy but foul-prone Gary Trent Jr.

Davis, too, poses a matchup problem for Portland. Nurkic has been a defensive game-changer in the bubble, but he struggled greatly against Davis in the 2018 playoffs, when the sixth-seeded New Orleans Pelicans swept the Blazers in the first round.

Nurkic will be spelled by Hassan Whiteside, who is athletic enough to match Davis jump for jump but far too inconsistent to be counted on against that level of talent. Whiteside was excellent in the Blazers’ season-saving win Thursday over the Brooklyn Nets but a massive liability in the play-in game against Memphis. That’s been his story in the bubble—and really, all season.

Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

Also present in that 2018 Blazers-Pelicans series but missing in this matchup: “Playoff Rondo,” the mythical form the otherwise well-past-his-prime Rajon Rondo takes at this time of the year. The Lakers point guard recently arrived in the Orlando area to continue his rehab from a fractured hand but remains out.

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Rondo and Avery Bradley, who opted out for family reasons, would likely have spent the most time guarding Lillard in the series. Now, that’s a tall order for Alex Caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. A huge series from Lillard against the Lakers’ weakened backcourt is a good possibility, but it may not be enough.

The Blazers went 7-2 after the restart (counting the play-in game) purely by outscoring their opponents. They only gave up fewer than 120 points twice, and fewer than 115 once. On the season, their defense was fourth-worst in the league, giving up 114.3 points per 100 possessions. The prospect of beating a team with James and Davis in a pure scoring contest is a dicey one, especially as the Blazers lack the personnel to defend either player.

If Portland is to have a chance, the team’s role players need to outplay L.A.’s.

Trent has shot the lights out and will have to continue to do so (he’d already started to come back to earth after a scorching first four games). The best version of Whiteside will need to show up for a whole series. They must find a way to survive the Mario Hezonja minutes. Lakers sharpshooter Danny Green has struggled in the bubble, and Caruso and Caldwell-Pope will have their work cut out for them on the defensive end with Lillard and CJ McCollum.

The idea that the Blazers can continue this hot streak and become the first No. 8 seed to knock off a No. 1 seed since the 76ers beat the Bulls in 2012 is a tantalizing storyline. But any talk of their actually having a chance may be rooted in the tendency of LeBron teams to lull opponents and observers into complacency with listless regular-season play.

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If you think James, after missing the playoffs last season for the first time since 2005, isn’t saving himself to make a statement in the opening round that the West is the Lakers’ to lose, well, you haven’t watched him.

Still, Lillard packed three months’ worth of clothes. He already faced long odds to drag the Blazers into the playoffs over the last two weeks, and he beat them. He isn’t ready to go home.

“We feel like we have a chance in a series against anybody in this league,” Lillard said. “We feel like we’ve got a chance in this series. That’s how we’re gonna approach it.”

               

Sean Highkin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report and co-hosts the Bulls vs. Blazers podcast. He is currently based in Portland. His work has been honored by the Pro Basketball Writers’ Association. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and in the B/R App.

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Benfica Chaves League Preview by Roger Schmidt

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PREVIEW

ABOUT Benfica returns to competition, after a break from national team commitments, with the reception of Chaves this Friday, March 29, at 18:00 at the Estadio da Luz, in the game of the 27th round of the championship. Betkliche League.

Already preliminary press conferencewhich took place on the Benfica campus, Roger Schmidt emphasized that the team is in good shape meet with Chaveza rival who has nothing to lose when faced with the threat of relegation.

At the start of the decisive stage of the season, the coach remembered and praised that the Reds were still fighting for three trophies (Betklić League, Portuguese Taça and Europa League) and this was necessary. “We must use this opportunity and this moment to accelerate our highest level in everything.“, emphasized Roger Schmidt, distinguished Coach's Award at the ceremony dedicated to the 120th anniversary of the Club.

Roger Schmidt

“We are in good shape, the first game is always demanding, but we are ready to play it.”

Roger Schmidt

What was it like preparing for this game against Chavez without any international players?

It was a typical international break, some players were with their teams, and I think it was a good opportunity for us to rest a bit and then get back to training. We did it very well and are excited to play again. Playing at home after the national team break is always a good start. All the national team players returned in good shape, a little tired, but without injuries. I'm happy with that, my biggest fear is always that they will get injured. We are in good shape, the first match is always demanding, but we are ready to play it. The decisive phase of the season begins and everything we have done over the last eight or nine months of this season had to be prepared for these weeks. We have six or seven weeks left to play, we still have three competitions to play and it really is a special season. When you can still win three trophies at the end of March, it's a very good season. Our task is to use this opportunity and this moment to accelerate to the highest level in everything. So, anything is possible. We have this expectation. For tomorrow [sexta-feira, 29 de março]Chavez and I know that this team is always difficult to play against. They are facing relegation, they have nothing to lose at our stadium. This is a good team, they have a good coach, and we have to solve this problem.

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How did you feel when you left the Club’s 120th anniversary ceremony?

On Tuesday [26 de março], The gala was impressive. It always gives us a feeling of how great the Club is and how much love and passion there is in it. I'm always pleased to see that and how Benfica treats their history, former players and everything else. It's always something special and I'm so glad to be a part of it. We want to take this opportunity to please everyone around Benfica and within Benfica.

Roger Schmidt

“Playing at home after the international break is always good”

Are you considering resting Otamendi and Di Maria for this game against Chavez before the two matches against Sporting? Is Ba suitable?

Of course they could rest. The question is: “Would it be beneficial for them to rest?” Both players like to play consistently and quickly. Sometimes they need a rest, like I gave Angel a few times. [Di María], when he played a lot of games in a row and there were big games ahead of us. Sometimes it makes sense to keep them out, but they are both key players for us and have performed at the highest level all season. I always have to make a decision about what is best for us and the players. Are they ready to play at this pace? They have shown this over the last 15 years. Are you ready to return to the club after the national team games and play again? They have also shown this over the past 15 years. I have no doubt that they are ready for tomorrow. [sexta-feira], play. Alex Ba is fine, we still have a little problem with load management, he had a problem and we want to be careful that it doesn't happen again. He's fine now, it was good not to play for the national team, he trained again and we tried to rest him at the right time. He's ready to play.

Di Maria has been going through a turbulent time for several days now: he and his family have received death threats. Is the player 100% physically and mentally ready for this game and the rest of the season?

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What happened to him and his family shows how crazy the world is. It is catastrophic and catastrophic if something like this happens. It is clear that receiving such messages affects the player and the individual. We try to support him as best we can. He is professional and experienced enough to handle such situations, but such situations are completely difficult and rare, especially in a family. This is the worst thing that could happen, but we talked about it. He is trying to live a normal life. Of course, when something like this happens, some thoughts arise in your head, so we will try to support you as best we can.

Roger Schmidt

“It’s time for all of us to show a very good attitude and performance on the field.”

In the last game of the championship, he said that a player who does what Kökçu did cannot be in the team. So, have you spoken to him? Can we expect him to be in the team for this game against Chaves?

As I said during the challenge with Casa Pia [26.ª jornada], my concern was to focus on the game. It would have been better not to mention him in this interview. He returned today [quinta-feira], we talked about it and it was actually exactly what I expected. It was not his intention to create this noise and negativity around our team. I already said before and after the Casa Pia game that I have complete confidence in him as a player, in terms of quality and also in his character. You made a mistake, this interview did no good to anyone. It was not good for us, for him and for Benfica, that's very clear. Now we have to deal with this. Even when players make mistakes, they are still my players, and sometimes I have to support them in difficult times. This is what we have to do, we've talked about it and now it's time to talk about it on the pitch. It's time for all of us, not just him, to demonstrate a very good mentality and performance in field. Everything that is not good for us, that can distract our attention a little, should be excluded. We have resolved this situation domestically and it is time to look forward. I'll be back tomorrow with the team [sexta-feira].

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Kökçu was in the Turkish national team. Do you feel that your role in the national team is different from your role in Benfica?

I think I've said everything about Orkun. [Kökcü]. National teams and clubs are always different. These are different players, different tactical approaches. I don't think much about the choice. National team coaches have their own ideas, their own goals, and they must use the players as they see fit. I'm focused on what's happening here on our team, not just with Orkun. [Kökcü], but in general. Players who make it to national teams love to do it because it's a great honor for everyone. The national teams are preparing for summer competitions… These are two different things, and I am completely focused on the Club.

Roger Schmidt

“Everything we did over the last eight or nine months of this season had to be prepared for these weeks.”

As for Juan Bernat, who was seen in training, will he be fit enough to contribute by the end of the season?

All of us, including himself, expected a different season. He is a very experienced player. Unfortunately, he came in with a minor injury, but he recovered and played a few minutes for us in five or six matches. Not full games, but a few minutes. He has been injured since the end of October, for five months now. I think now is not the time to think too much about next season, we need to think about it. He's working hard to get back on the field. He returned to training with the team this week, the first time in five months he has returned and we hope that he stabilizes with the workload, the football load and, of course, that he makes an impact in the last six or seven years. weeks. This is his situation at the moment. We are on a good track and we hope it will have a good impact at the end of the season.

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″I couldn’t leave without winning this award″

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″I couldn't leave without winning this award″

Statements from Otavio, the player of FC Porto, who this Monday received the Golden Dragon as Footballer of the Year.

Speech: “I thought and I didn’t say anything that I thought. It happened by itself, I’m very happy, I was looking for [o prémio] a lot of time. I saw others, I couldn’t leave without winning this prize. Thank God I won and now it’s time to make the most of it.”

Did you tell the President that you want the Golden Dragon? “I never commented, asking for an award was not my style, it was deserved, I was very happy, many could have won. I am very happy”.

Feeling: “This is something to be proud of, this is the best person in the club, everyone wants to win, this will go down in history. It will be kept under lock and key in the museum that I have. It will get worse.” , nothing will come of it, it will be well stored.

Gala: “It’s always great, because of covid-19, the gala concert has not been held for many years. It is always special, everyone wants to be part of the gala concert. Being a dragonado, he is even more special. We did a good job and this is proof.”

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″Most competitive costume required, Pepe’s costume″

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″Most competitive costume required, Pepe's costume″

Statements by Sergio Conceiçao after receiving the Golden Coach of the Year award at the Golden Dragons Gala

Golden Dragon cost: “I represent many people in this Golden Dragon. The first time I went to Olival with the president in 2017, he named the four essential pillars of FC Porto: rigor, competence, ambition and passion. Looking at it and being with it every day. My players, who don’t usually wear a formal suit as they do today, but the most competitive suit that is required, which is Pepe’s suit, give me great joy when I get up and go to work.”

Technical team and others: “With a super competent technical team, a health department, where there is not only Dr. Nelson Puga and therapists, but also an optometrist, pedologist, a number of people who work daily so that the players do not miss anything. and so that year after year they can get better and win, which is what we want.”

Techniques: “Victory. Not forgetting the people in the kitchen, in the restaurant, the people involved in analysis and observation, the equipment technicians, because today everyone is a technician… [risos]🇧🇷 Lawn techniques too, because I am very picky about the height of the lawn. I think that every detail is important and matters. Finally, a number of people who contribute to making this possible. This is not mine, this belongs to the people of Olival, who are always led by our great, my friend and godfather, the president.”

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A family: “Finally, to paraphrase our Gonzalinho [Borges], I want to dedicate it completely to my family, which is not easy, and parents, as always. Not being among us, they will certainly be very proud, not least because they have received two more extremely important people in the life of the club and that together they are up there watching us so that FC Porto becomes bigger , was getting better. , become stronger and win. And let’s keep it up. Is always. Because we deserve it. We are also honest, serious, dedicated and competent workers.”

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