Preview & Chat: The Portland Trailblazers

Kurt —  March 8, 2009

Los Angeles Lakers v Portland Trail Blazers
Records: Lakers 50-12 (1st in the West) Trailblazers 39-23 (7th in the West)
Offensive ratings: 114.0 (1st in league) Trailblazers 113.3 (2nd in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.3 (6th in league) Trailblazers 109.0 (18th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Trailblazers Brandon Roy, Steve Blake, Nicolas Batum, Lamarcus Aldridge, Joel Przybilla

Real Women Don’t Wear Green: You asked for it and the shirt is here.

Lakers notes: So do the people here who thought Lamar Odom had turned the corner a few months back still feel that way? He’s had three games that have been down a little. I’ll go back to what I’ve always said about him — you need to accept Odom as Odom, the moments of brilliance and the moments he disappears. It’s all a function of just who he is. He is going to forever be inconsistent. He is going to be up and down in the regular season, but he tends to rise up in the playoffs. And he still provides a versatility that fits what the Lakers do very well. If you live and die with Odom night to night it is a roller coaster, but when you step back you see a picture of quality.

On another note Su Yue had 11 points on 4 of 15 shooting, with seven assists, in his first game for the D-Fenders. The reports are that he played pretty well, but his shot didn’t fall. The next game he had 12 points on 5 of 7 shooting.

What I thought was interesting was the report (couldn’t find the link) saying that the Lakers spent a lot of time debating sending Sun down and negotiating/talking with Chinese officials to make sure that this move was not seen as a demotion or an insult. As is very important in his culture, Sun needed to be able to save face, so a lot of time and effort was put into the timing and the wording of the press release that sent him down. I think everyone involved knew him getting some burn was a good thing, but it was all in the presentation.

The Trailblazers Coming In: I attended the Spurs/Clippers game this week (the infamous “the beatings will continue until morale improves” game) with a number of Pomona College grads. They were there because Greg Popovich used to coach at Pomona, and he recruited his now top assistant Mike Budenholzer to play for him there (but left before Mike arrived).

Budenholzer spoke to the group afterward, and he was asked about Brandon Roy, who the night before had dropped 26 on the Spurs in a Trailblazers win. The first thing he talked about was just how strong Roy is, how he may be the most physical PG in the league and that allows him to get into positions to get the shots he wants. That kind of PG (think D-Will) has really given the Lakers trouble in the past. Blazers Edge had a great line that Roy tends to “lullaby and waltz” his way to the rim, he changes speed beautifully and that with his strength makes it very hard to stop him.

He has led a Portland team playing very well now, they are 7-3 in their last 10 including that big win against the Spurs. Roy is shooting 56.8% (eFG%) in those last 10. Travis Outlaw and Rudy Fernandez have been playing great off the bench.

All that said, they barely beat the Pacers the other night. Every team at this time of year has clunker games. Here is what Nate McMillan said about the Lakers game right after the Pacers game:

“They know that we’ve beaten them up here so they’ll be ready for the game. We go into this game, what I wanted us to do was have a good rhythm going into this game. I wanted us to basically play really sharp to go into that game. We get this game but we gotta play much better than we did tonight to get that game because they are looking forward to it and for us it’s at home and we want to continue to protect home court.”

Keys To The Game: These are the two top offenses in the NBA (per possession, which is what matters). This is going to be a high-scoring game. That said, whichever team plays the best defense is going to get the win.

For the Lakers, that means protecting the rim. The Blazers are good on offense because they have guys that get to and finish at the rim.

The Lakers defense is predicated on stopping penetration, that is the reason for bringing the help line over so far (bringing the big over to essentially zone off the strong side), but that will be put to a real test with Roy. He is going to get past Fisher (and Farmar), Roy will kill you with layups, and while he hits jumpers it is at a lower percentage, so you have to get the ball out of his hands and to the other shooters. Against the Pacers, take Roy out of the equation and the team shot 37%. This is one case where the Nash/CP3 system is not the goal — you want to get the ball out of his hands and make someone else beat you.

Protecting the rim is also the key to Lamarcus Aldridge, who can only score at the rim and the left elbow (I have no idea why there, other than he worked on that spot because it is key to the offense, and he shoots 52% from there.

While the Lakers need to help on defense, you do not leave Steve Blake at the three point line to help.

The other key — and this is where Odom needs to break out of his slump — the Lakers have to crash the defensive glass. The Blazers grab 32.4% of their missed shots, the highest percentage in the league. Aldridge and Przybilla are good on the glass, and this is an athletic and long team. Teams that beat the Lakers tend to do it because they got a lot of easy buckets, often on fast breaks, but another way is offensive rebounds and put backs. The Lakers have to limit those.

Where you can watch: KCAL9 in LA with a 7 pm tip off. Nationally, League Pass and thee other usual suspects.