Update: Kobe Bryant will not play tonight because of the sprained ankle that he has been nursing. Obviously this shifts around the starting lineups. I would assume that either Shannon Brown or Sasha Vujacic will start, but a darkhorse to start the game would be Luke Walton with Ron Artest sliding down to SG to start the game. This obviously also changes the dynamic for this team on offense as they have lost their main perimeter threat for the first time in well over 200 games. This puts an even greater emphasis on our big men performing and we’ll see how all of the other players step up without Kobe in the lineup. As if this game wasn’t interesting enough. Back to the preview…
Records: Lakers 38-13 (1st in West) Trailblazers 30-22 (7th in West, 8.5 games back of Lakers)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 109.4 (9th in league), Trailblazers: 111.0 (5th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 102.8. (5th in league) Trailblazers: 107.8 (18th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Trailblazers: Andre Miller, Jerryd Bayless (though Roy is a game time decisions and could play), Martell Webster, LaMarcus Aldridge, Juwan Howard
About Last Night: The Lakers ran into a hot, confident, and inspired-with-something-to-prove team in the Denver Nuggets. Even without Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets are dangerous and capable and proved that they are a team to be reckoned with. It’s obvious that the Lakers could have played better defense and been (much) smarter on offense. Early in the game on defense we saw players help when they should not have and late in the game on offense we saw too much P&R and forced shots outside the flow of our offense. We gave up and gave away easy points and that contributed to a bitter defeat.
That said, when a team that is as explosive as the Nuggets finds their groove the way that they did in the second half, not much is going to knock them off their trajectory. So, despite a better effort in the 4th quarter to play defense, it really didn’t matter as Billups and J.R. Smith hit some amazing shots that not only increased their lead but also took the air out of the Lakers. You throw in our players forcing shots and not making them and you get a ballooning lead that snowballed in the last 5 minutes. At this point, I could lament on and on about mistakes made on individual plays or break down what went wrong by exploring the X’s and O’s but what we all saw was a determined opponent that found a comfort zone. It’s as simple as that. Really, that type of basketball is a beautiful thing to see – except when the team you root for is on the other end of the thrashing. I tip my cap to the Nuggs and move on to the next game.
Portland coming in: The Blazers can be looked at two different ways right now – they’re either a struggling team (6-6 in their last twelve) that is dealing with some devastating injuries to some of their best players (Oden, Pryzbilla, Roy, Outlaw) or they are a scrappy bunch that is staying in the playoff hunt by maxing out the talent that is available to them. I lean towards the latter when it comes to this group. They have won 3 of their last 4 and by beating the Spurs, Charlotte, and Dallas (with the only loss coming to a red hot Jazz team). And even though Roy is again doubtful for tonight’s game, they’ve gotten Rudy Fernandez and Nic Batum back into the lineup and Andre Miller is stepping up his offensive game to off-set the absence of Roy. When you throw in a very good player like Aldridge and an uderrated two way player in Martell Webster, you’ve got enough talent to compete every night. Especially when Nate McMillan, a guy known to get the most out of his players, is pacing the sidelines.
Blazer’s Blogs: Beyond Bowie is new on the scene but they are doing some very good things at that site. And there is always the very strong Blazer’s Edge, where Dave and crew are always bringing smart analysis and great writing on anything Blazers.
Keys to the Game: Welcome to the ‘Land of the Loss’. The Lakers have historically struggled to get wins in the Rose Garden and tonight will be no different. Throw out the records and disregard the injury reports when these two teams meet. Last night, you saw a visibly frustrated Lakers team depart their home court as fans were quiet and stunned. Tonight, I’d like to see them channel some of that frustration into positive energy, smart play, and a focus on getting back to the little things that are the difference between winning and losing.
I’m going to sound like a broken record, but on offense the Lakers need to get the ball inside. The Blazers are down to a big man rotation that prominently features Juwan Howard, Jeff Pendergraph, and Dante Cunningham. And even though Aldridge is still going strong for Portland, the Lakers have a big advantage inside. The Lakers need to pass the ball into the post and let Pau and Bynum go to work. But when the ball does go into the post, the other Lakers just can’t stand around and watch. The key to the Triangle is ball and player movement and too often we’re getting little of both. Make the post entry and cut, screen, and be active. Also, if Roy does not play, look for one of Artest or Kobe to take advantage of a smaller player that is guarding them. The Blazers have been starting the diminutive Jerryd Bayless in Roy’s place and he’s going to have to guard someone. If the Blazers use him to defend our PG, then that means Andre Miller will need to guard either Kobe or Ron. If they keep Miller defending our PG that means Bayless will be on Kobe or Ron – either way this is an advantage that the Lakers can exploit. But all of this should come within the flow of our sets. Run the backside screen action that leads to curls into the lane. Play more of the high low game with Pau at the FT line and Bynum getting deep position under the rim. I hope to see less high P&R and more of the ball screen actions that are built into the Triangle – i.e. the sideline P&R and the pinch post hand off P&R that we hurt Orlando with in the last years Finals.
On defense, the Blazers will look to exploit our P&R defense. They have a classic stretch 4 in Aldridge and they’ll run a lot of P&R with LaMarcus popping to open space to shoot his feathery jumper. The Lakers will need strong rotations tonight and will need to help the helper when the guard comes off the screen and our big man is out helping. Portland will run this P&R with a variety of guards so the Lakers need to be prepared for all of the different tendencies of their players. Miller loves to turn the corner and use his physicality to get into the lane. Bayless will shoot the jumper coming off the screen, but he’s also an explosive player and will look to turn the corner and/or split our defenders when he comes off the screen. Fernandez is a Ginobili type that has an all around game and will also both shoot or turn the corner in their screen game. Fernandez is also a crafty passer and will find the open man if you over help on him. The Blazers will also look to post up Andre Miller whatever PG is guarding him so our bigs are going to need to be cognizant of him on the block while also recovering to rebound.
Where you can watch: 7:00 pm start time out West, on KCAL channel 9. Also on ESPN Radio 710am.