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.