Preview & Chat: The Portland Trailblazers

Darius Soriano —  January 5, 2012

Records: Lakers 4-3 (6th in West), Blazers 4-1 (1st in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 103.9 (14th in NBA), Blazers 106.4 (9th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 98.4 (7th in NBA), Blazers 98.1 (6th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Matt Barnes, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Blazers: Raymond Felton, Wesley Matthews, Gerald Wallace, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marcus Camby
Injuries: Lakers: Derrick Caracter (out), Josh McRoberts (questionable); Blazers: Greg Oden (out)

The Lakers Coming in: The games are strung together like popcorn tinsel and even after yesterday’s day off this will be the Lakers’ 8th game in only 12 days. The pace will slow down some, but not for a while as this will be the first night of a back to back with the Warriors visiting Staples tomorrow. So, get used to seeing lots of game action even if the team could use a bit of a rest.

What you should also get used to is Kobe playing with a bad wrist because that doesn’t seem like it will change soon either. From Kevin Ding’s latest at the OC Register:

These days, over Bryant’s right wrist also rests a fat postgame ice wrap roughly the size of rookie guard Andrew Goudelock, Bryant trying in vain to minimize swelling after acting on the court as if there isn’t a torn ligament in there. Bryant has been taking a numbing injection to that wrist before every game in hopes of performing normally. Yes, it’s that bad. He does not want to publicize all the details of his wrist, which is usable only because the bones were not moved permanently out of alignment without the ligament to hold them in place. But it’s now clear just how problematic the wrist is, and it’s fair to wonder where all this will take Bryant.

At this point, I’m not sure what’s best for Kobe. Taking time off, in a condenced season, isn’t something the Lakers can afford. Not with the team so reliant on Kobe’s play making and scoring ability from the wing. But, if his wrist is going to hamper him this way all season, that’s not a recipe for success either. Every game it will get whacked again, with every shot becoming an adjustment in mechanics that hasn’t allowed his normal accuracy from the floor. So, the team marches on with its leader banged up but still fully needing his contributions.

The Blazers Coming in: The evolution that the Blazers have been going through over the past couple of seasons is now pretty much complete. Greg Oden, sad as it may be, will likely never suit up for the Blazers again. Recurring injuries have him sidelined again, likely for the season. Gone too is Brandon Roy. Injuries also took their toll on him and have removed him from the game much too soon, as bone on bone knees left him in chronic pain and gave him no choice but to medically retire this off-season.

(As an aside, I’m truly going to miss Brandon Roy. His game, built on change of pace and direction, timing, and exploitation of angles was as exciting for me to watch as the games of players who dominate through explosive athletic prowess. Roy understood how to play the game and how to keep his defender guessing and was a master of getting to his spot when and how he wanted. His game was a transplant from a different era but modernized through his flair. His sense of the moment was also so special as he’d can game winners and end of quarter buzzer beaters like it was second nature. He was a special, special talent and now, because his body betrayed him, he’s a specatator like you and I. Regardless of what you think about how much money he made or how he got paid to play a game, it’s sad when someone wants to do something they were so good at and what they loved but no longer can because they’re physically unable.)

So, this is now LaMarcus Aldridge’s team and the Blazers are well off this way. They’ve complemented him by bringing in an uptempo guard in Ray Felton, trading for  rugged combo forward Gerald Wallace (who can play beside him in both big and small line ups), and have given him the reins on offense to play the inside-outside game that many envisioned for him when he left the University of Texas early. LMA now is, by every definition, the Blazers’ franchise player and he’s helped lead them to a fantastic record by picking up where he left off last season.

Blazers Blogs: Portland Roundball Society is a very good site. Blazers Edge is also one of the best team sites out there.

Keys to game: Much like the Denver games, this will be a game where style of play is very important. The Blazers play at the 4th fastest pace in the league while the Lakers still prefer a slow it down game, playing at the 9th slowest.

The Lakers need to control the tempo of this contest by running their sets and utilizing their match up advantages in the half court. That means going to Bynum against the light framed Marcus Camby and to Gasol at the mid-post against Aldridge. Bynum should be able to outrun and out-muscle the aged Camby and the Lakers should look for him after he bodies his way to deep post position. Gasol should also see his touches and I’d like for him to be aggressive when he does have the ball. Pau has been excellent in being assertive with his jumper and I’d like to see that continue with a few more post possessions mixed in. Aldridge offers good size and will fight Pau for position, but when the Blazers go small, Pau is likely to see some of Wallace (or even Batum) and it’s in those moments when Pau can go to the block to do some damage.

Defensively, there are two keys. First is for the Lakers to disrupt the Blazers’ running attack. This can be done in a variety of ways but it needs to happen. LA can attack the offensive glass to keep the Blazers from rebounding cleanly and running out quickly. Bynum can be especially effective in this role but so can Pau, Barnes, and MWP. Second, the Lakers must sprint back and shut down the lane. Felton will push the ball much like Ty Lawson did and a wall must be built to slow him down. The Lakers must also mark Gerald Wallace in transition and not let him catch the ball on the run with an angle to the hoop. Wallace is fearless attacking the rim and if he gets a head of steam he’s difficult to stop.

The second key is to keep LMA off balance and not let him find his comfort zone. He’s become a true inside/outside threat and will just as easily stroke his feathery jumper in your face as he he will bang you down low and look to work you 10 feet and in. He loves the left side of the floor and will almost always look to go to the middle when attacking. He loves to turn and face and then power dribble to his strong hand and then shoot his jumper over the top of you with his high release. The Lakers should shade him in that direction, force him to his left hand and contest everything. If he finds his rhythm, it could be a long night, so I’m hopeful that Pau or Bynum can force a few misses and get him to press a bit.

Portland has long served as the Lakers personal shop of horrors. Getting victories in the Rose Garden has always been tough for this group and tonight should prove no different. However, the Lakers do have a formula and the personnel on hand to get this game. It will take discipline and a few shots falling but that’s no different than many other games. Here’s hoping they follow through.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on KCAL and nationally on TNT. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

Darius Soriano

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