Preview & Chat: The Portland Trailblazers

Kurt —  April 10, 2009

Los Angeles Lakers v Portland Trail Blazers
Records: Lakers 63-16 (1st in the West) Trailblazers 50-28 (4th in the West, tied with Spurs)
Offensive ratings: 112.6 (3rd in league) Trailblazers 113.8 (1st in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.6 (5th in league) Trailblazers 108.6 (17th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Trailblazers Brandon Roy, Steve Blake, Nicolas Batum, Lamarcus Aldridge, Joel Przybilla

Lakers notes: For the first time in eons, Kobe Bryant will not be the most hated Laker in the arena tonight. Congratulations Trevor! The good news, in my limited dealings with Ariza, I don’t think boos or anything else will bother him in the least.

On another note, a few people were surprised last night when I said I thought the Lakers would lose tonight’s game in Portland. Let me explain. It is not that I think the Blazers are a better team than the Lakers or that LA can’t win in the Rose Garden (although it is not easy).

But every NBA team faces some scheduling quirks that make a few games almost unwinable. The obvious example is the teams that play in Los Angeles one night then in altitude at Denver the next night — Popovich sat all of the Big Three when it was on the Spurs schedule this year.

For the Lakers, this is pretty close. A late night game followed by a flight where the Lakers got to bed at 3 am in Portland and so not even a morning shoot around gets in. Portland is a good team, give then an advantage like that and they are almost impossible for anyone to beat.

The Lakers will have Andrew Bynum back — he looked solid if a bit rusty last night. His timing was off, he was missing some rebounds he normally anticipates and gets, but that is to be expected. The good news was he seemed to move very well. And while his minutes were limited he didn’t seem to labor too much. Of course, tonight on a back-to-back could be different.

The Trailblazers Coming In: John Hollinger is among those that think the Blazers are the second best team in the West, and I think we are now starting to see the team that the Blazers will become in a couple years emerge.

To get a little more insight into the Blazers, I asked Sean of the Oregon Live Blazers blog a quick question:

There seems to be a growing confidence in both Blazers fans and in the team itself. How does tonight’s game play into that? What has to happen in the playoffs for that growth to continue into next season?

Anytime the Blazers can beat the Lakers it’s going to make this team (and fan base) feel better about itself. The Blazers have been playing so well lately (save for the Houston game and a quarter here and there) a win tonight would just help keep the momentum going. Finishing the season strong would just increase the confidence and belief that even though they are the youngest playing rotation in the NBA, they can still make some noise in the postseason.

Making it into the playoffs is a huge first step to next season’s continued growth. It was the preseason goal for the entire organization and mission accomplished. But the thing is, winning 50 games (maybe more) and finishing the season in the fashion they have, this team feels they can really do something now. It’s a quiet confidence, but you can sense it. Whether the Blazers make it out of the first round or not, it’s all about experience at this point. The Blazers just need this experience of playing playoff basketball, which we know is much different than the regular season, to build off and use next season. Plus, this will give Kevin Pritchard and Nate McMillan a better sense of what this team is all about and where tweaks may or may not need to be made. You learn a lot about your team in the post season. And as you can tell, everyone around here is excited about it.

You can see my answers to his questions here.

Keys To The Game: Slowing the Blazers starts with slowing Brandon Roy. In a game this close to the playoffs, it is a great night to try a number of different things on Roy and see how he reacts, who has success. I would like to see the long Trevor Ariza get a shot on him .

The Blazers beat the Lakers up here last game with a pretty simple formula — Roy (or another guard) would drive the lane (not getting enough resistance from the guards) and then the Lakers defense would collapse then the ball would kick out to a jump shooter. The Blazers love the jumper, and they are good at it. First, only one Laker center needs to protect the rim. Next, the Lakers have to stay with and challenge these shooters — Gasol (and/or LO) have to stay with Aldridge and make him out the ball on the floor. Don’t leave Blake at the three-point line.

The Blazers do play at a faster pace then they get statistical credit for, but they still do not run much. The Lakers should. Especially the bigs, more of Bynum running the floor and getting deep post position before the defense sets would be great.

Last meeting the Blazers defense did a great job of contesting jumpers on the perimeter. The Lakers did a bad job of countering that by getting the ball inside to Gasol (who looked tired in that game) and now Bynum. Soften them up with body blows inside, that will open up the wings. Inside out tonight, inside out.

The Lakers must crash the defensive glass hard — not just Bynum/Gasol/Odom Walton, Kobe and Ariza too. Przybilla alone had seven offensive boards last game, that can’t happen.

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


228 responses to Preview & Chat: The Portland Trailblazers

  1. Kurt, perhaps you can provide an answer to something I have been trying to figure out. I somehow saw the game differently last night. Despite the free throw disparity, the game was close and we still had a chance to win. Thus, I can’t decide whether Portland is simply a better team than LA ( a lot of people on the forums seem to think that). whether they just played better than us last night, and whether LA has the capability to beat them.

    Unlike the game in March, I am not sure whether Portland was really able to enforce their will on the Lakers this time around. To me, it just seemed like the game came down to one or two posessions, since it was so close….

    What do you guys think?

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  2. Only caught the second half…any particular reason why Farmar only played 5 minutes last night? Shannon Brown played well, but did Farmar piss off Rambis or something?

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  3. LakerFan010,
    Yes the Blazers do match up better with us than almost any other team. Yes, the fact that the game was so close – given other considerations – does mean the Lakers don’t have to fear the Blazers.

    The lack of back-to-backs in the playoffs should help the Lakers, but – and this is a big but – the Lakers were one of the best teams in back-to-back wins this season. That means the Portland match up in one of them does mean something.

    The most dangerous thing is that so many of the Lakers had bad games last night. Many of our players have been really down over the last month and the big guns have really carried much of the club. Additionally, the Blazers are a good defensive club. These two things do give me pause going into the playoffs.

    How do we get our guys back?

    Portland is dangerous and their lack of experience isn’t as much a factor as we would like to imagine. This has been argued in several places on the internet and I come away feeling experience is good, but overrated – except perhaps in the finals, where the pressure takes on a whole different feel.

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  4. do you guys really believe that portland can take out spurs / houston (their plausible team to be matched up with) and win a series because i really don’t.
    don’t count the spurs out now that they dont have manu. duncan always brings his best game in the playoffs, also he said his knee feels just fine or much better now. duncan will NOT let the spurs be ousted the first round. c’mon guys think about it they have duncan, parker and new additions im thinking someone will step up big time for them in the playoffs.
    and if portland faces houston, well that will be good because houston matches up with portland VERY very well.

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  5. Farmar is done as Fischer’s backup…he’s the 3rd string PG now.

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  6. Lakerfan010,

    I think Portland may be the Lakers biggest playoff threat. Many people would disagree because of their inexperience, but they have really thrived in close games this year and a big part of that is Brandon Roy. Their ability to win close games time and time again, is something the Lakers havent done particarly well this year, and last night this difference showed. However, their inexperience does show for the fact that they are not a good road team. I dont think this team can beat the Lakers at Staples, unless the Lakers have a really off night. Lakers however, have the ability to win in Portland as last night game showed, and Lakers will have homecourt advantage. Therefore, it is unliely Portland will beat us if they meet us in the playoffs. Next year though, Portland may be a lot scarier.

    So no, Portland is not the better team, but they have the ability to take us to at least 6 games. They are deep, they have a center who is strong and can clog up the middle, they have a superstar who can take over late in games, and I think they have an underrated defensive team. This is the third time this year they held the Lakers under a 100 points. But I say bring them on, it be nice to take them out and let their fans and announcers choke on defeat from the Lakers.

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  7. 201 — It was a road game, second of a back-to-back, against a team that plays amazingly at home. Our starting center came back 48 hours ago. We were in it and even had a lead with 2 minutes to play…

    Not making excuses, but saying the blazers are a better team? Wondering whether the lakers have the capability to beat them? You can’t be serious.

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  8. @Lakerfan010
    I don’t think anybody sane thinks the Blazers are a better team. Even Henry Abbot concedes LA is the team to beat. And obviously LA has the capability to beat them, we can beat anyone. We just didn’t play as well as we could’ve.

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  9. As a Blazer fan I’m gonna state the obvious: If PTB and LAL meet in the post season the Lake Show will prevail unless a miracle occurs.

    Yes Portland is playing great ball. Yes they are an up and coming team. Yes Roy and Aldridge will be dominant players for years to come. But still that’s then and this is now. Fact is, when the s**t hits the fan only one team will walk away smelling fresh as a daisy and it won’t be Portland.

    That said, we’re coming for the Lakers and everyone else in the west. The new will soon repalce the old. Enjoy your glory while it lasts.

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  10. The Blazers definitely match up better with the Lakers than any other team in the west. Pryzbilla and Oden give them very good interior defense, Aldridge, Outlaw and Batum bring length and athleticism, Blake is solid off/def without lots of mistakes and Rudy gives them 3pt shooter and Roy takeover guy in clutch.

    However, I’m believe the Lakers will handle them in 5gms (6 at most) if they meet in playoffs because a) Lakers will kick up their defense another notch, b) Bynum will have 6-7 more games under his belt and will be playing better, c) Kobe and Gasol will be rested with long days off in early rds of playoffs and limited minutes rest of reg season.

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  11. I’m with the majority that the Lakers win a series against Portland but we are witnessing a contending team emerging.

    Also, to steal a though Darius had in an email, they look like the Lakers in how they are built. Gasol/Aldridge, Roy/Kobe, Bynom/Oden etc. Offense first teams. They are a lot alike.

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  12. How smart was Pritchard not to trade Pryzbilla? People were so sure Oden would be a defensive/rebounding beast quickly that I remember some writers were suggesting Pryzbilla might be able to net them a stronger SF. Pryzbilla is a huge part of that team’s success.

    On a side note, Gortat from Orlando reminds me a little of Pryzbilla. He may be similar he can pick up more PT with a different team.

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  13. Remember that even a full 7-game series is only one permutation of an endless amount of possible results — it’s hard to predict with certainty who will win — the ball simply bounces one way or the other (as it apparently has for us the last eight times in the Rose Garden). But a lot of it is mental. I believe Boston won the Finals last year because they convinced the Lakers (and everyone else) they would, in Game 4.

    That’s why I’m really starting to worry about the mental makeup of this team. Apart from Shannon Brown (who will have a coming-out party during the Playoffs, hear you me) our guys seem to be caught in a downswing three games away from the postseason. I’m not much of an X’s and O’s guy, but it looks like several players have been hanging back on offense, not executing plays, moving around on the court without the confidence that world-beaters should have.

    I think Pau Gasol is playing tremendous ball, and he might well anchor us all the way through to June. Kobe is still Kobe. Bynum will return to form. LO, Ariza and Luke will keep on keepin’ on. With a potential Icebox (Shannon Brown) to keep Fish fresh, we might have ourselves a championship team — but only if they can pull together and start believing in themselves.

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  14. Glad Laker fans are feeling Shannon Brown. As a MSU alum and Lakers fan I was happy when the Lakers got him. I saw him play virtually every in college. He was always a great athlete, but his jump shot and defense improved dramatically every year in college. He’s still young (only 23 yrs old) and raw (haven’t got much pt in league), but here’s what he brings to the table – he’s a great athlete, good defender with long arms, good scorer –can finish at basket and shoot the 3. But his best asset is he’s fearless and plays his best in big games. Remember he played great when GWallace got hurt (by Bynum) and scored 14pts including big 3 in OT when Charlotte beat LA earlier this season.

    His negatives are he’s not a good ball handler for a SG and a poor ball handler for PG. I expect teams to start picking him up full court if Lakers try to let him bring it up. However Lakers have plenty of other guys at SF/PF who can handle that when Shannon is in the game (Walton/Odom). Shannon is not good at creating for others and sometimes gets himself in trouble if he’s dribbling in traffic. The beauty of the triangle is it not reliant or guards to create off dribble as much as other systems.

    All n all this could be the perfect system/team for his skills (like Ariza). I fully expect Shannon to help make a few plays and help the Lakers win at least one critical playoff game.

    FYI…he was a high school teammate of Dee Brown (Univ of Illinois) in Illinois at Proviso East. Same HS that produced Doc Rivers and Michael Finley.

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  15. P.S. the fact that we were even close in this game means we’re doing SOMETHING right.

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  16. If Jackson has the guts to rest Kobe and Pau the next three games, we are a lock for the championship. Who’s going to want to face those two guys with fresh legs and Bynum clogging up the middle.

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  17. LOL at the idea of Shannon Brown lighting up the playoffs.

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  18. kurt i agree, portland looks like a young lakers team.

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  19. Shannon Brown doesn’t have to light up anything – he just needs to hustle on D and hit the open shot if presented with the opportunity. That’ll be far better than what Farmar has given us since his surgery.

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  20. I am just looking forward to seeing how Bynum keeps improving his game since being out for some 30 games this year. Let’s see how Shannon Brown plays these final games of the season before making any judgments on him one way or another. The Jazz are not a team I would like to face in the 1st round.

    Life is to short to be existing and not living.

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  21. At least we know this much:

    Shannon Brown > Stephon Marbury

    Mitch Kupchak, I salute you once again.

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  22. People here are saying Shannon Brown is inconsistent and not the answer for the Lakers. What is inconsistent has been his shooting and this is NOT what we need from him. We need defense, aggressiveness in going after the ball, and willingness to stay within the system. He is fairly consistent in delivering those things this year. Therefore, I do think Phil will use him in these last two games to determine how he may use him in the playoffs.

    Shannon has opened his own door. What happens now is up to him.

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  23. the other Stephen April 11, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    let it be known that on this day, on the cusp of the playoffs, i miss ronny turiaf. i wish he were here to block the hell out of some greenies.

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  24. Man, Utah is in some funk. Golden State leads 93-76 after three quarters and they’re starting three rookies and are on a back-to-back. They’re simply being aggressive, working harder than Utah, and not backing down from Utah’s hard play. For all the crap Nelson has pulled this year, give him this: he’s getting superb contributions out of three undrafted rookies (C.J. Watson, Anthony Morrow, Rob Kurz) and Randolph is going to be special in a few years.

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  25. And Utah gets smoked at home 118-108. Career night for C.J. Watson with 38 points, 7 rebounds, 9 assists, 16-16 at the free throw line. Pretty damn impressive for an undrafted rookie.

    In any case, we play kingmaker now. It’s up to us next Tuesday whether we want to face Dallas or Utah (assuming Dallas loses to New Orleans and Houston and Utah wins against the Clippers). Given how poorly Utah has been playing recently (they’ve now lost seven of their last ten), I say crush Utah at Staples Center and face them in the first round.

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  26. @ 225 — Given how well Dallas has been playing recently, I’m not sure I’d take them to lose to either NO or Houston.

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  27. laughing hard,

    True, but I’d expect the Hornets to put up a better effort on their home court (not sure how much of a better effort Paul could make over his stunning performance in the last game, but anyways) and Dallas has noticeably performed worse away from home. Also, Houston doesn’t want to lose the #3 seed in order to avoid us until the WCF, so count on them to be motivated. Houston also matches up fairly well against Dallas; if Artest or Battier takes Howard out of his game, it will be extremely difficult for Nowitzki and Terry to carry the entire scoring load.

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  28. If I were Dallas, I’d be very happy to be #7 rather than #8. With their veterans, they could easily upset Denver and at least make the second round. With all their players healthy and together, they are surging, whereas Utah . . . .

    That would leave the Lakers with the Utah Jazz in the first round.

    I think that the Lakers match up much better against the Jazz this year, with Bynum and Ariza starting. Having Shannon to help defend Deron, and Mbenga to, well, Mbang are decorations on the frosting.

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