First Round: Who do you want? I posed that question in a poll recently and 75% of you said Dallas, and I was with you because the Lakers match up best against Dallas (basically, the Mavs canâ€™t slow Kobe). However, with Phoenix stumbling of late and not playing good defense, Iâ€™m having some second thoughts. (And yes, I know Phoenix crushed Dallas last night, Gatinho and I caught a little of it between beers, but that was the second game of a back-to-back for Dallas). I’d probably still lean Dallas, but Phoenix doesn’t look quite as daunting.
The â€œraceâ€ between the Lakers and Kings for the â€œprivilegeâ€ of playing San Antonio/Dallas and or Phoenix in the first round stands like this: Currently the Lakers are one game up on the Kings with three to play (thanks to that Kingsâ€™ collapse against Phoenix a few nights back). If the two teams finish tied, the Kings have the tiebreaker. The Lakers have three games left â€” two very winnable ones (Portland tonight and New Orleans) and one against the Suns. If the Lakers go 2-1 than the Kings need to go 3-0. The game they are most likely to lose is Saturday at Denver, so watch that score with interest.
Win and your in: A Laker win tonight makes a playoff spot official. Donâ€™t take that for granted though, the Lakers have already dropped two of three to the Blazers.
It has been the backcourt duo of Steve Blake and Juan Dixon that has given the Lakers fits, although Dixon did not suit up against the Clippers two nights ago and may not play today. Expect to see a little more Jarrett Jack. Last time the Lakers and Blazers played, Blake had 19 points â€” and the Lakers need to stay with him beyond the arc, heâ€™s shooting 44.4% from three point range in the last 10 games.
Letâ€™s say something nice about the Blazers: This is not as easy as it sounds â€” they have a $60 million payroll that bought them the worst record in the league; Darius Miles was suspended for tonight’s game after he took off his uniform and changed into street clothes at halftime against the Clippers two nights ago; their owner screwed himself in a stadium deal then went public to complain about it, and is now trying to sell the team; they havenâ€™t been good for a few years and it may be a few more before they are.
But they do have the best group of bloggers out there. Henry at True Hoop is a Blazers fan. Lance Uppercut of Blazers Edge is one of the best writers in the NBA blogsphere. Rip City 24/7 does good work. So at least there are plenty of places for Blazer fan to commiserate.
Key to a Laker win: Defense. Portland is dead last in the league in offense in just about any measure you choose â€” efficiency (98 points per 100 possessions, 7 points back of the Lakers), points scored, free throw shooting percentage. The good news is they are second to last in team true shooting percentage (51%), Charlotte is worse. In the last 10 games Zach Randolph is leading the team in scoring, 14.1 per game, but is shooting just 36.3%.
The Lakers should, should, be able to shut down the Blazers. They also should, should, be able to score plenty. Portland is second to last in the league in defensive efficency (109.5 points per 100 opponent possessions), ahead of only historically bad Seattle. Plus, Patterson is gone, but he didnâ€™t really stop Kobe anyway.
Also Odom is a huge match up problem for the Blazers. But maybe we should ask commenter Kwame a., since he called Odomâ€™s triple double the other night.