Race to 8th: Ranking Lakers' Biggest First-Round Threats in 2020 NBA Playoffs – Bleacher Report

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The Lakers would obviously be the betting favorite, but Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers pulling off the exceptionally rare 8-over-1 upset wouldn’t be stunning.

Lillard has an ability to seize command of entire games in a manner rivaled only by a healthy Stephen Curry. If you give him even a hint of space coming off a ball screen, whether right at the three-point line or five feet behind it, he’s likely to make you pay.

On Thursday, he torched the Denver Nuggets for 45 points on 13-of-21 shooting. He also dished out 12 assists and was an outrageous 11-of-18 from deep.

According to StatMuse, he became just the second player in league history to have a game with at least 10 threes and 10 assists (James Harden is the other).

Dame looks determined to get his team to the postseason. Once there, he has the ability to push the Lakers in a way no other individual player identified here can.

He’s not alone, though. After a season in which the Blazers were decimated by injuries, the hiatus helped a couple of contributors get back to full health.

Zach Collins has stretches in which he looks like a legitimate 3-and-D pest who is willing to do a lot of the dirty work a guard-heavy team needs.

Jusuf Nurkic is the more important return, though. Last season, Portland was plus-10.1 points per 100 possessions when he shared the floor with Lillard and CJ McCollum. His steady positional defense, low-post game and point-center abilities made him one of the most impactful players in the league in 2018-19.

After missing most of this season recovering from a broken leg, Nurkic hasn’t missed a beat since returning. In four bubble games, he’s averaging 22.0 points (second to Lillard’s 31.3), 11.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 3.0 blocks.

Gary Trent Jr. has been a revelation as well. For much of the last two years, Anfernee Simons was seen as the more promising young Blazer. Trent, a gritty, multipositional defender and deadeye shooter, has definitely usurped him. After hitting seven threes against the Nuggets, he’s averaging 20.3 points and 5.5 threes in Orlando.

Then, of course, there’s McCollum. On the rare nights Lillard doesn’t have it going, the Blazers still have a chance to steal games thanks to McCollum’s elite mid-range game.

Altogether, the Trail Blazers are looking more and more like the team that made it to the Western Conference Finals last season.

Again, they probably wouldn’t beat the Lakers in a seven-game series. Few duos in NBA history had as much raw talent as LeBron and AD. But the Blazers can introduce some chaos with Lillard’s captivating hot streaks and a rejuvenated supporting cast.

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