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LeBron James flirts with triple-double, puts L.A. ahead in the series


 Its looked dicey there for the first few quarters, but when the dust settled, the Lakers escaped Game 3 against the Portland Trail Blazers with a 116-108 win and a 2-1 series lead. After a stellar Anthony Davis outing in Game 2, it was LeBron James that led the way in this game with 38 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. Some clutch Davis jump-shooting is what ultimately sealed the deal down the stretch, and the Lakers are firmly in control of this series now. 

The Blazers, meanwhile, continue to look far too top-heavy to hang with the No. 1 seed. Damian Lillard, Carmelo Anthony and C.J. McCollum gave them 80 points, but the bench generated only eight. The decision to start Hassan Whiteside didn't work out either, as the Blazers were outscored by nine points in his minutes. Portland put up a great fight, but with such a thin roster, they simply aren't equipped to keep up with the Lakers right now. Here are the biggest takeaways from the Laker victory. 

Playoff LeBron has arrived

The scariest thing for the rest of the NBA isn't the 38-12-8 line LeBron James posted in Game 3. It's that he did it on cruise control. LeBron played only 34 minutes. He jogged through portions of the game, particularly when Davis got hot. He missed five free-throws. James just had maybe the best single game any player has had in the playoffs so far...and it wasn't close to his best. 

After scoring only 33 total points in his first two playoff games, there was real concern about what LeBron's peak might look like this postseason. The Lakers need him to be the best player in the world if they hope to win a championship. There was legitimate fear after Game 2 that he just might not have that kind of play within him anymore. 

Those fears have been abated. Peak LeBron is still in there, and when the moment of truth comes, he's going to be even better than he was on Saturday. 

J.R. Smith... why?

The Lakers have been outscored during J.R. Smith's minutes in literally every game he has played with the team. He is now 11-of-37 from the field in purple and gold, and only 6-of-27 if you ignore the meaningless season finale against the Sacramento Kings. He is a worse defender after nearly two full seasons off than he was even in his prime. There is no good reason for him to ever see the floor in the postseason. 

And the Lakers played him in a single-digit game in the fourth quarter. Frank Vogel quickly yanked him after an ugly foul on a 3-pointer, but the damage was done. The Lakers were outscored by four points in his nine minutes on the floor. The Lakers can't afford these unforced errors. Smith is no longer an NBA-caliber player. Playing him only threatens to undermine everything that the qualified members of their rotation do when they're on the floor. 

The Blazers have no margin for error

The Blazers just don't have enough playable bodies to survive this series. They tried to get by with Wenyen Gabriel and Mario Hezonja at points, but the Blazers were killed in their minutes. Gary Trent Jr. is the only bench player that consistently contributes much of anything, but he's shot miserably in this series after a scorching hot run through the bubble. Hassan Whiteside's flaws remain present as ever, and are exacerbated while playing alongside another center. 

This is through no fault of their own. Injuries have ruined Portland's upset hopes, and it's disappointing. This could have been a much more competitive series with the Blazers at full strength, but for now, picking them to win any more games in this series just seems irresponsible when they only have five consistently productive players. 


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