The No. 1 versus No. 8 matchup in the first round of the NBA playoffs is often mere formality. The question isn’t, “Will the 8-seed win the series?” No, the question is often, “Will the 8-seed even win a game?”
Turner Sports NBA analyst Greg Anthony, however, believes there could be some first-round fireworks for the Los Angeles Lakers this season.
“Yes, if it’s Portland,” Anthony said on The DA Show. “The last time you had an 8-seed make it to the NBA Finals, we had a work stoppage – and that wasn’t a typical 8-seed.”
“That Knicks team, they were better than an 8-seed,” Anthony said. “They had two All-NBA players on that team. They had a lot of talent. [But because] of injuries, they didn’t have a chance to put their best foot forward. Well, [it’s] the same thing with Portland. This Portland team, as presently constructed with their full roster, is nowhere near an 8-seed. They’re closer to a 4-seed. And so, anytime you’re a 1 and you’re having some issues right now, which the Lakers are, and you’ve got to go up against a team that potentially is a 4, that creates maybe a little doubt.”
The Lakers (52-18) are 3-4 in Orlando, while Portland (33-39) is 4-2. Damian Lillard is averaging 33.0 points and 9.5 assists in the bubble, and with C.J. McCollum and Carmelo Anthony contributing offensively, the Blazers are a team no one should want to face right now.
“The other thing that happens oftentimes with a 1-8 matchup, that 8-seed doesn’t truly believe [they can win],” Anthony said. “They’re not going to say that, but they don’t truly believe they can beat the 1-seed. That won’t be the case in this series if Portland is the team that ultimately gets in because they’ve got a lot of veteran players who are comfortable in big moments. That would be a dicey matchup.
“Then you factor in being in the bubble,” Anthony continued. “You don’t get that true home-court advantage. You don’t get the same level of anxiety that you would have when you got to go play on the road and be in a hostile environment and not knowing necessarily how your young players are going to react to that. So this levels the playing field so much more when you’re in the bubble. It allows younger players to have more of an impact, I believe, come postseason than they would ordinarily have because they’re not going to see anything they haven’t seen before.”
Which is why Anthony expects younger players to perform better in the bubble than they would under normal playoff circumstances.
“Younger players actually are going to thrive in this environment because this is like playing on the circuit when they were coming out of high school,” he said. “This is literally exactly how it was set up – so they’ve been doing this for years now. At this level – not that it’s a glorified pickup game, but it’s a controlled environment where they have an opportunity to play in their comfort zone. So I think it’s going to be really interesting moving forward.”