Jones: Takeaways from LeBron’s Lakers snapping skid vs. Blazers

LeBron James and the Lakers snapped a 16-game skid against the Trail Blazers on Saturday night.

Twenty-four takeaways from the Los Angeles Lakers’ 114-110 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday night…

1. Normally, at this point in the season, it’s flat out silly to label any one game as a “must” or even an “important” win, but for the Lakers, this one sure felt like, well, fill in whatever term of your liking and it would probably fit.

2. Why, you ask, is it so meaningful that Los Angeles hung on for the win, its fourth in nine games this season?

3. Earlier this week, Lakers president Magic Johnson reportedly called coach Luke Walton on the carpet after the team was swept in a two-game road trip, to emphasize LA is in win-now mode, prompting social-media takes such as this:

4. The hard-fought, four-point road triumph snapped the Lakers’ 16-game skid against the Trail Blazers. Additionally, the Lakers’ last win in the Moda Center, formerly known as the Rose Garden, took place March 3, 2014. LA’s starting lineup that night? Pau Gasol, Kent Bazemore, Jodie Meeks, Wesley Johnson and Kendall Marshall, while Jordan Farmar, MarShon Brooks, Robert Sacre, Ryan Kelly and Xavier Henry played off the bench.

5. After closing the third-quarter on a 16-2 run to take an 88-73 advantage into the final 12 minutes, the victory was secured on a sequence in the waning seconds when JaVale McGee (more on him in a minute) and then LeBron James (more on him in a minute, too) each blocked a shot at the cup, McGee somehow rejecting a dunk attempt by Portland’s Damian Lillardย from behind and James skying to negate a subsequent outback attempt by Trail Blazers’ 7-foot center Jusuf Nurkic.

6. For all the talk of James and the collection off oddball veteran guys signed to surround him and the Lakers’ young core, through nine games, McGee has been Los Angeles’ most productive player not named, well, LeBron James.

7. The 7-foot McGee, one of the oddball signings by Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka, had another big game, posting 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting, nine boards an assist and a steal in 27 minutes. Most importantly, though, the former Golden State Warrior built a wall around the bucket.

8. McGee swatted six Portland field-goal attempts, including the aforementioned dunk attempt by Lillard. McGee leads the NBA in blocked shots, averaging 3.55 per game. At one point Saturday night, McGee blocked three Portland shots in a 27-second span.

9. How important has McGee been to the Lakers, especially on defense?ย The Los Angeles defense is 18.3 points per 100 possessions worse when McGee is off the floor through nine games this season.

10. Which means the reported signing of veteran center Tyson Chandler, in the process of being bought out by the Phoenix Suns and signing with the Lakers once he clears waivers, according to Marc Stein of The New York Times, will provide McGee a solid, much-needed backup in the pivot.

11.ย โ€œYou just donโ€™t come up here and get hot to get a win,” Walton said after the victory. “You have to play defense.โ€œ

12. As usual, James was his normal magnificent self, with 28 points, on 9-of-20 shooting, five boards, seven dimes and two steals, all accomplished while playing only 31 minutes.

13. James finished with the worst plus-minus of his career in a win, according to ESPN Stats & Info, minus-22. His previous low-water mark in a victory was minus-11, yet still enjoyed himself.

14. Given that info, it it was the Lakers’ bench which provided a huge lift, outscoring its counterpart, 51-26. Rajon Rondo led the way with 17 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and three steals, all the while being his normal annoying self to the opposition. Before Nurkic took two important free throws in the final minute, Rondo placed himself directly in front of the Blazers’ big man, close enough to sniff what he had for his pregame meal, and telling him he was going to choke on the charity tosses.

15. Rondo also made fun of a drunk female Blazers fan during the fourth quarter after she talked some trash to him while walking along the sideline.

16. Rondo had help off the bench, though, as Josh Hart added 11 points and a pair of blocks, Ivaka Zubac contributed nine points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes and Lance Stephenson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had seven points apiece.

17. The performance of the Lakers’ bench was important as Kyle Kuzma was the only other starter to join James and McGee in double figures with 12 points and adding six rebounds.

18. While Brandon Ingram (eight points, six boards) made smaller-scale contributions, starting point guard Lonzo Ball laid an egg, making just one of the six shots he took, a 3-pointer, and finishing with three points, three rebounds and three assists. Ingram, by the way, put Nurkic on a poster in the first half with his tomahawk hammer:

19. Poor Nurkic, Remember what James did to him last March while a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers?

20. Somewhere, LaVar Ball, aka The Mouth That Roared, must be attempting to rip that Bane-like muzzle off his pie hole after son Lonzo logged only 19 minutes, the win by the team be damned.

21. Still, as is almost always the case during any game in which James plays, it was not without some drama. Late in the first half, Ingram was attempting to post up Portland guard C.J. McCollum on the left block while James brought the ball up the floor. James waved Ingram off the block and into the left corner, wanting to take Nurkic off the dribble, wanting to put him on another poster. Ingram was obviously not happy, showing his displeasure of turning his back on the play and then walked toward the other end of the floor as James drew a foul, Nurkic’s third.

22. The Blazers (6-3) were led by their dynamic backcourt of Lillard and McCollum, whom scored 30 points each, while Nurkic added 14 points, 13 rebounds, two assists, one steal and two blocks while being attacked constantly as the lengthy Lakers dive-bombed the bucket. Evan Turner (11 points) and Zack Collins (10 points) reached double figures off the bench.

23. Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry of the Warriors, flew into Portland to watch his brother, Seth, and his Blazers teammates take on James, his rival of four consecutive NBA Finals matchups. Steph was anything but a good-luck charm for his bro, who missed all six shots he took, including five from long distance, in 22 scoreless minutes off the bench. Check out the awesome nameline:

24. The Lakers (4-5) won’t have much time to bask in the glory of having won back-to-back games as they will host the Kawhi Leonard-led Toronto Raptors on Sunday night at Staples Center (9:30). The Raptors lead the Eastern Conference with an 8-1 record and Leonard is listed as questionable for the game after injuring a foot in Toronto’s 107-98 win at Phoenix on Friday night.