On Tap: The Portland Trailblazers

 —  February 1, 2005

I feel a certain kinship with Trailblazer fans — next to the Lakers, no team has been more of a soap opera the past few years (although the one in the Pacific Northwest more closely resembled COPS than As the Basketball Turns). I’ll bet they are as sick of it as we are, and would prefer to focus on basketball and not bong loads.

Following the policy of this blog, we will only talk soap opera about Portland in that it will affect the team on the court tonight. Specifically, Darius Miles will not play against the Lakers, the second game of a team-imposed suspension. I guess calling your coach the “N word” during a team film session then accusing him of going to run to his mother when Maurice Cheeks brings the GM into the situation does not endear you to the powers that be. Or the fans, from what I read.

The Lakers also catch a break with Shareef Abdur-Rahim and his second-best on the team PER of 18.36 sits on the IR as well. (Another player out tonight is guard Derek Anderson, who had to be hospitalized due to complications of dental surgery. As a guy who is up for a root canal next week, I feel for him.)

Also swirling around the Blazers are rumors that Miles, Abdur-Rahim and Damon Stoudamire are all on the trading block. If you don’t think the rumors and the injuries are having an impact, know that Portland is 3-11 in their last 14.

Even without Miles, Portland presents some serious backcourt match up problems for the Lakers, primarily because of Stoudamire, who has a PER this season of 18.14. The other starting member of the backcourt will be the streaky Nick Van Exel (13.47 PER). That gives the Trailblazers essentially two point guards in the back, and the Lakers have had trouble guarding one this season, and Atkins sat out yesterdays practice with sore knees.

Leading the way for Portland this season has been power forward Zack Randolf, with a PER of 19.26. Also getting plenty of minutes right now is self-proclaimed Kobe Stopper Ruben Patterson, who could potentially just walk around the court looking confused without his nemesis there.

The key area tonight may well be turnovers — Portland is 27th in the league in turning the ball over, an average of 16.9 times per 100 possessions. The Lakers are last in league in creating turnovers, 12.2 per 100 possessions. Both of these teams’ shoot themselves in the foot nightly with turnovers, whoever hurts themselves less tonight will have a huge advantage.

Portland’s other big weakness is on defense — they are ranked 25th in the league, giving up 104.4 per 100 possessions (worse than the Lakers 104.1). One big part of that is Portland gives its opponents plenty of second chances on offensive rebounds – they are second to last in league surrendering an offensive board to their opponents on 31.7% of missed shots. This could mean a big night for Chris Mihm, who has been great of the offensive boards for the Lakers, if he is healthy (he had better numbers last game and by all reports played his best game in a while).

This is a big chance for Lamar Odom to put up good numbers as the Trailblazers weakest defensive spot is power forward (18.1 oPER). Thing is, Portland can be attacked anywhere — their defense has been worse than average at every position.

Frank Hamblin may be back leading the Lakers on the bench tonight as Rudy T. remains down with stomach problems. I didn’t see the last game, but what I’ve read suggests the offense was a little more diversified — and there was more triangle and movement — with him at the helm. Maybe this is a good thing short term.

This is a game the Lakers need. If the goal is to stay above .500 with Kobe out, the Lakers are currently 5-4 (counting Cleveland) coming into tonight, with the daunting task of San Antonio up next. Followed by a road trip. Wins now will be big at the end of the season, with at least three teams, maybe more, fighting for the final few playoff spots. Look at what new Denver coach George Karl said yesterday about his team’s chances:

“There’s teams like Houston and Memphis and L.A. Only two of us can make the playoffs, and right now Houston and Memphis are playing pretty well.”

Update: You may not be familar with the Blazer’s starting center, Joel Przybilla, but he’s having a better season than anyone expected and Harlan Schreiber did the work to point that out. It’s worth the read.