Preview and Chat: The Portland Trailblazers

Darius Soriano —  December 28, 2012

Records: Lakers 14-15 (11th in the West), Trailblazers 14-13 (8th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 106.5 (6th in the NBA), Trailblazers 101.9 (12th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.9 (16th in the NBA), Trailblazers 104.1 (22nd in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Steve Nash, Darius Morris, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Trailblazers: Damian Lillard, Victor Claver, Nic Batum, Lamarcus Aldridge, J.J. Hickson
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Blake (out), Pau Gasol (probable); Trailblazers: Wesley Matthews (questionable)

The Lakers Coming in: Whatever momentum the Lakers had after Steve Nash’s return in the middle of a 5 game win streak ended when the Lakers visited Denver the day after Christmas and forgot to bring their energy, focus, and defensive attentiveness. As Kobe said post game, the Lakers “played old” and looked like they had a “wheel stuck in the mud” all night. In essence, then, the same issues that have plagued the Lakers in most of their losses popped up again and the reminded us all how far this team still has to go before they really can be considered an elite team.

Part of that, of course, is the play of Dwight Howard. The big man’s play has been up and down this season and, to be fair, a lot of that has been related to his recovery from back surgery. Earlier in the year, Ethan Strauss commented that Howard’s recovery might not travel on a linear path and to this day I think that’s the best way to describe what we’re seeing this year. Some nights Howard looks like the defensive monster/dominant big man the Lakers so badly wanted. Other nights he simply looks like another guy. Obviously for the Lakers to be their best, they need the former on nearly every night, but that player isn’t yet wearing the forum blue. This, of course, is frustrating for everyone involved as it seems we don’t yet know what we’re going to get each night. Will it be the bouncy, active Dwight or the one who is late on rotations and extra handsy when playing defense?

Of course, the other Lakers also need to help Howard in more ways than they currently are. The defensive lapses by perimeter players are frequent. The lack of helping the helper has been an issue all season and it’s surely frustrating for the big men (especially Dwight) to see his man get easy baskets when he’s forced to help. This is especially prevalent on the dribble penetration given up by the Lakers’ wings, which forces big men to help on the ball and surrender the rebounding position that allows the team to finish off defensive possessions. When the defense breaks down, finger pointing ensues and whatever strides the team has made in terms of chemistry takes a hit as trust erodes.

Overall, however, it’s still about playing hard and this team doesn’t do it enough on the defensive side. In Mike D’Antoni’s introductory press conference he mentioned that this team should be allowing less than a point per possession. As of today, they’re allowing 1.02 and that will not get it done. Scheme tweaks can help, but will only go so far. Until the team makes the extra effort on D the way they’re trying to on O (at least on most possessions), they’ll continue to flounder and allow high point totals. Until they decide they want to defend for full possessions, they will allow the types of open shots that NBA caliber players make. If there’s an adjustment to be made, it can’t just be us looking at the coaches for answers, but us looking at the players for them to do more while they’re on the floor.

The Trailblazers Coming in: The Blazers have won 5 of 6 with their lone loss coming on the road end of a home and home with the Kings. Essentially, like the Lakers before their most recent game, the Blazers have been playing some pretty good ball. They’ve been beating the teams they should and had a couple of good wins over teams (the Spurs and the Nuggets) that are ahead of them in the standings.

Also like the Lakers, this team is very dependent on their starters for their production. Every night their first five must play well or they’ll lose and more times than not, they’ve been up to task. Especially impressive is the trio of Nic Batum, Lamarcus Aldridge, and rookie sensation Damian Lillard. Nearly every night those three are putting up big numbers and carrying this team on both ends of the floor. Of course we know that Batum and Aldridge are high quality players, but it’s the play of Lillard that has been eye opening. Though only a rookie, he plays with tremendous poise and seems to have a plan (and a sense of how to accomplish it) on every possession. He has all the requisite skills to be a fantastic pro for a long time and from what I’ve seen so far, there’s little evidence to suggest he won’t be.

Also playing well of late is J.J. Hickson. Though undersized as a Center, his work on the backboards and as a scorer in the paint has been a key to the Blazers’ success. Given up on by both the Cavs and the Kings, he’s seemingly found a home in Portland as a nice two way player and is showing that he may, in fact, cash in on the talent that once had folks in Cleveland thinking he was their PF of the future. We’ll see if he can keep up his recent play for the rest of the year, but if he can the Blazers will have found themselves a player for the long haul and done so right off the waiver wire.

Trailblazers Blogs: Check out Portland Roundball Society and Blazers Edge for all your news and notes on this team. Both are very good sites.

Keys to game: When looking at the Blazers from a statistical standpoint, it’s difficult to find any one thing they do exceedingly well. They’re in the top half of the league on offense, but their defense is poor enough that they have a negative efficiency differential. They don’t rebound especially well, don’t take a lot of FT’s, and are only middle of the pack shooting wise. They’re pretty good at taking care of the ball and forcing turnovers, but even those numbers don’t stand out as especially great. Somehow, though, they’ve won more games than they’ve lost.

Part of that, again, is because of their individual talent at key positions and this is where the Lakers need to be concerned.

In Lamarcus Aldridge, the Blazers have one of the better scoring big men in the league. He can hurt you in a variety of ways, mostly by shooting his feathery jumper from the left wing and then using the threat of that shot to create angles for him to get closer to the paint. Pau Gasol will have his hands full in this game, mostly in being able to contest his shot while still playing him for the drive that sets up the rest of his arsenal. Pau will need to overplay LMA’s right hand, forcing him baseline and then contesting well when he raises up to shoot. Sometimes that shot will still fall, but Pau needs to make it as difficult as possible on him by not allowing him to get to his spots so easily. Battle him for position and make him take contested jumpers.

The other key player to slow down is Lillard. If Darius Morris starts, I would not be surprised to see him get the nod against Lillard as his size and athleticism will allow him to play the rookie tougher than Nash can. As mentioned earlier, Lillard possess a complete game and is effective working in isolation and in the P&R so whoever defends him will have his hands full. That said, the key to slowing any elite PG is to steer him towards help and to keep him off balance with different looks. Vary how you play him in the P&R by chasing over the top on some plays and then ducking under screens on others. Funnel him to the bigs but stay on his hip to make his pull up shots more difficult. Jump passing lanes and make him second guess whether or not his teammates are actually open. Lillard is not mistake prone by any means, but if you change up on him enough, you can at least get him thinking enough so that he’s not dictating the flow of the game when he has the ball.

As for the rest of the Blazers, the Lakers must simply defend them honestly and not allow them to find their rhythm.

Batum can be a dangerous player if he finds his stride so he must be marked early in possessions to ensure he doesn’t get easy looks. He can be a terror in transition so whoever is on him (I’m assuming it will be Kobe), must run hard in the open court and not allow him to streak up the floor for layups. Those shots will give him confidence on his jumper and once he starts hitting from deep you’re in for a long night. Make him work for all his baskets and live with the ones he knocks down.

Hickson must be kept off the boards, especially the offensive side. He averages a whopping 4.2 ORebs a game and his work on that end is a big key to his effectiveness. Much like Faried, Hickson will simply outwork you for position and then chase rebounds out of his area, so he must be marked and kept away from the ball first and foremost. If that means that Dwight has to box him out while Gasol (and others) clean the glass, so be it. But Hickson can’t be allowed to extend possessions and get his team extra shots. Especially since the Lakers can have so many issues securing stops and/or in defending for extended periods on a single possession.

The other key is the play of the benches. As I said at the top, the Blazers aren’t deep at all. In fact, they’re one of the few teams that has less talent in their reserves than the Lakers. When the benches come in, the Lakers back ups (especially Ron, Meeks, and Hill) must outplay their counterparts or, since the Blazers’ starters play such heavy minutes, push Portland’s main players hard to wear them down. Hitting shots is key, but so is playing strong defense and making sure that every minute they’re on the floor they’re playing to their strengths in order to make life as hard as possible on a team that’s shallow.

Overall, if the Lakers show discipline on offense by working for good shots, take care of the ball by avoiding turnovers, and end possessions with rebounds, they will be in a good position to win this game. Of course, this is true every night but against a team that relies on these keys to get their wins it’s especially the case in this game.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

Darius Soriano

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57 responses to Preview and Chat: The Portland Trailblazers

  1. for Warren!
    hope this starts a new win streak!

    I think the key for this team, just like any championship contender is defense. We don’t have to be the most feared defensive team in the league, but we do have to shore up and be in the top ten to truly be considered a legitimate contender. I’ve seen enough progress on the offensive side of the ball, that barring another steve nash injury, I think we’ll be fine in end game situations, and in being efficient most games scoring the ball.

    I have a little trouble with the way Dwight has been expressing his frustration at the defensive end, but I do actually agree with him. Defense in today’s NBA is not predicated on having lock down 1 on 1 defenders. Most of the great team defenses (see thib’s celtics and bulls) are designed to be TEAM defenses with specific strategies and schemes. Primarily, it is continuing the rotations any time a teammate gets beat either off pick and roll or off a drive… in other words, help the helper. Dwight is 100% correct this is our problem. I don’t know if they are spending enough time drilling the assigments into everyone’s head, but the one glaring problem that needs fixing is kobe’s defense.

    I give him great credit for ceding late game responsibilities to steve nash, that shows tremendous desire for winning, and ability to sacrifice. However, on defense, he’s completely terrible for long stretches of the game. He consistently plays free safety while not actually guarding anyone, and it confuses people as to who they should run out to… he doesn’t make the correct rotations, and its comical how many times his man runs past him to get a rebound since he doesn’t box out either. This, is, I think the biggest and most correctable problem with the defense. Make everyone accountable, call timeouts and get in kobe’s face if he continues this pathetic defensive effort, because team defense doesn’t work if even one player continually defies the team concept. is ray allen a better individual defender than kobe? no, but he was an integral part of one of the greatest defenses in history. No reason why we couldn’t have a similarly effective defense (doesn’t matter the scheme, just that everyone buys in, and does what they’re supposed to do)

    If everyone on the court knows where everyone is supposed to be, and whos supposed to rotate to the open guy and that happens consistently, that’s when defenses are great, even if the individuals themselves aren’t great defenders. In my opinion, allowing kobe to cheat on defense, thinking his offense makes up for it is absolutely wrong. I’d much rather him be a bit more tired on offense but playing solid team defense. In addition to making our defense better, i think it would help team chemistry to know that everyone is held accountable. It also makes people more likely to rotate when they know someone is coming (predictably, not just sometimes) to cover their man in response. Too many times now, we see wide open people, and our lakers looking around trying to figure out who’s covering who, or who blew the assignment. No, not every single time is kobe’s fault, that’s not what i’m saying, but when one member of the team is not consistent, and is not playing his assignment, it leads to confusion. all five members have to be on a string on defense, and kobe is causing problems because he’s not predictable. sometimes he’s gambling, sometimes (most times) he’s not guarding anyone… and that allows other teams to get us scrambling.

    Until this problem gets corrected, even dwight at 100% isn’t enough to keep the defense intact. With Dwight at 70% this problem is even worse… we will get blown out more often than not. I hope Dantoni can hammer this message home, I have seen at least a little compromise on his part in changing some of his offensive sets. But man, continuing to play duhon and letting kobe roam around on defense are in my opinion the very definition of insanity.

    here’s to warren’s first post saving the day at least!

  2. Hope the Lakers come out strong this game. Can usually tell within the first 6 minutes of the game if it’s going to be worth watching or not.

    Just wish they would play some damn defense. Watching the teams go back and forth with at will scoring is like the all star game. If the lakers can’t get any stops then they won’t be going deep in the playoffs.

    I really hope that dantoni can bring this group together because from what I see on tv it doesn’t look like they play well together. just a lot of finger pointing, hands in the air, bickering – not a recipe for success.

  3. Hope Dwight plays a full game tonight,

  4. Kobe Alert: KB recorded his 116th forty point game in Denver (3rd). He also moved by J Richardson for 11th all time in 3 pointers. Yes JR is still playing of course, so theoretically, he could move back by him, however, I have my money on the Kobes. The 2nd All Star results are in, and it is all Kobe, all the time. We will get to more all star marks later – but let’s just say the NBA All Star Game was invented with KB in mind (for a variety of reasons). Lil Pau: Thanks for the shout out last time – I like your calculations to project KB’s scoring levels. If I remember correctly, you did that pre-season and you were using a very reasonable 25 ppg. Of course KB is exceeding everyone’ expectations (even mine). He exceeds everywhere – he will even have 2 numbers on the wall – because a tie with 8 or nine other guys, just won’t due.

  5. Utah is very good. Hayward and Cantor are two guys I would love to see in LA. Beating Clips. By 8.

  6. Aka

    Well said and I’m in total agreement. I, along with some others within the FB&G Community, have been preaching defense first from the outset. Dwight’s presentation (putting the coaching staff on blast in the media) might have been incorrect, but his message is what they need to take heed to. I don’t see how anyone with championship aspirations, whether it be the players or coaches, can have issues with the actual statement. They all need to hold themselves accountable. Including Dwight. His comments after the game, in which he stated, “Our pick-and-roll defense wasn’t great tonight .. The help wasn’t there. The ‘help the helper’ wasn’t there. It just has to be better overall”, was accurate and for him, a step in the right direction. His criticism of Nash also should have been kept in-house, but lets keep in mind that, after an in-game defensive miscommunication with Kobe earlier in the season, he called him out also. And while, in the eyes of some individuals, it might be viewed as them just trying to defuse a controversial situation, both Kobe and Nash were okay with the critiques.

    Fact of the matter is, in order for them to have any type of chance at competing for the Ring (I’m sure that several people believe that ship has already sailed), the team (Coaches and Players) as a whole needs to put that work in on the Championship End of the floor. During practices, scrimmages and actual games.

  7. Very good offensive flow now. Dwight don’t seem too happy tho

  8. That backcourt of Nash and Kobe is just freaking awesome.

  9. Wow, old Dwight is playing offence tonight.

  10. Sadly it is new Dwight playing D, how do you get out jumped by Hickson on that board?

  11. This is the kind of 1st quarter we all have been wanting to see from this team. Lets go Lakers!

  12. Duhon is terrible, is there no one else. Look at this stupid lineup. Morris, Duhon, Ebanks. Is this coach kidding. Play to win Mike!

  13. There is never any justification for having neither Kobe nor Nash on the floor…ever…not with this team.

    Effort is a big problem for this team, but coaching has not done us any favours.

  14. Gasol. Three. Money.

  15. Nash and Gasol with a nice give and go that leads to a Nash layup.

  16. Lakers up by 20, 2nd Q. A good night so far. Pau’s got it going on.

  17. With Morris,Meeks and Duhon,they have 3 players that can hold their own dribbles and all can shoot the 3 esp Meeks. They left Hill and Howard in for rebounding and the post up dish out cookie cutter. Just trying to buy more time for Nash and Kobe who gets to rest more now.

    Look at score now 60-40.

  18. Boy this team goes through times of lack of attention.

  19. Terrible last 2 minutes by Kobe. 3 TO and missed 3 shots. They can’t relax and mess around. Not good enough to do that.

  20. Clipper win again. Unbelievable. Boy Barnes is playing great.

  21. Congrats to Jamaal Wilkes (Silk) on getting his #52 retired to go with all the other great Lakers.

    The last two Lakers to wear #52 were Samaki Walker and Mike Smrek.

  22. Congrats to Mr “20 ft layup” Jamaal Wilkes!

  23. One would have to ask the question: why are the Lakers constantly leaving Aldridge wide open?

  24. How long is Mike going to leave Pau on Aldredge? Please try Dwight,

  25. Kobe is just awesome. Pumps another opponent into a bad foul on a 3 pointer and then grabs a steal for the easy layup. A pleasure to watch you Mr. Bean.

  26. Lakers offence is humming, which will deflect attention away from the D, which has been littered with problems again. A big difference in this game is Batum and Lillard are missing shots they normally make, they have been wide open too often. Aldridge is shooting 80% right now and has been wide open most of the night.

    The D is all one effort, if that.

    When the offence is not humming, this type of D is glaring.

  27. This Laker announcer is annoying. He’s so negative, just an extreme pessimist. I hope the Lakers get rid if him. Other team announcers flattery & compliment their players but not him!

    Ok back to ballin. Loving Kobe’s all-around game tonight!

  28. D is up 2 notches today,if you look at the horrid performance ytd. At times bad but overall has been solid. Lillard is struggling mightily today and its killing the Blazers. This isn’t the Blazer team that won 6 of last 7 games. Blazers D looks awfully similar to the Lakers ytd.

  29. i don’t think Pau hates the offense any more.

  30. I am glad to see Howard bounce back with a monster game. Pau is also showing he may be able to fit within this system. Offense should not be a problem with this team moving forward.

  31. Lakers could be tied for 8th by the end of tonight! If my math is correct.

    Yea

  32. This win really feels *more* like a over-the-hump type victory. Guys are smiling and hustling. Team feels like it is gelling right before our eyes. I like what I’m seeing!

  33. Pau is having a nice game, but why is he still in??

    Give Jamison some burn.

  34. The night would have been perfect if the clips lost tonight.

  35. Curious why Jamison won’t play even in garbage time?

  36. Hard to understand how Jamison isn’t better then the really bad guys out there now. What did he do to MD.

  37. Excellent win after the loss at Denver. This team has surprised me and exceed expectations since Nash returned. Let’s hope they’ll continue this level of play on offense and improve their defense. If they stay injury free, maybe the Lake show can make a run here to make up for lost time. Go Lakers!

  38. Free Jamison!

  39. Good mins tonight for the 4 allstars – Nash played only 26, kobe played most of all 4 at 31. Assuming that there isn’t something else going on – Jamison is a veteran pro and i have a feeling MDA didn’t play him outta respect eg he doesn’t need pity mins. Do hope he gets some meaningful mins in a game that means something as he is a good soldier

  40. Dwight saying the right things for once in the post game interview – says he has to bring the energy everynight and that he didn’t in denver.

  41. If we can get that 4 seed from memphis and avoid OkC in Round 2 we can make some serious playoff noise. Clips don’t scare me, Spurs don’t scare me.

  42. Pau may be re- inventing himself right before our eyes. I give him a lot of credit in that regard. If he can continue to stretch the floor and mix it up with some solid big man play, it will help a lot. Guy looked liked he was enjoying himself tonight.

  43. I’m loving it. Starters playing limited minutes because we blew out a team.

  44. Solid win tonight. Pau with a nice game… Hill & Meeks solid off the bench.

  45. courtesy twitter @mcten “D’Antoni didn’t play Jamison in the final five minutes as a respect thing. Didn’t want to play a vet of his stature in garbage time.” Pretty much what i thought – bet he finds some way to get jamison on the court in the upcoming games – particularly if dwight is moving well and help cover him a little defensively.

  46. This is the type of “routine” win we were expecting from the start. The play that sticks in my mind is Nash bulleting a pass through seemingly every Blazer jersey to hit Kobe right on the money for an easy score. Nash’s game is a thing of beauty.

    Maybe it was good the Lakers game wasn’t the most exciting of the night. Somehow I wasn’t surprised the Clippers pulled out of a 19-pt hole for a last second win. And how does it feel to be the Knicks, who almost overcame a 27-pt hole only to be beaten at the buzzer by a guy who made his first 3-pt shot of the season? (Off of a horrible Kings possession to boot.) I’m sure Nash can sympathize though…

    (Apologize if this is a duplicate post. It looked like my first one didn’t go through.)

  47. Good to see the turnovers limited to just 11. Good all around effort with everyone fulfilling their role. The Blazers found a way to hold Kobe under 30, though. :-)

  48. Solid i totally agree this should be the norm from now on, all those ” bring back Phil” guys just got a lesson of good coaching and how to figured out to use a player , letting Pau burn some minutes at the end of the game was important, last 2games look like he is fitting in, on the other hand i consider a war crime having Jamison rot on the bench, better trade him and get something bc he can help, he needs to play.

  49. Jerke that cleared up a lot i can understand that, but he needs to play

  50. Great mixture of youth and experience–9 deep. Rotation of Howard, Gasol, Hill exciting to see. Great attitude from Meeks and Morris. Great balance. Decent team defense/rebounding/interior domination.

  51. apparently I watched a different game than everyone, but I was very disappointed in DH12’s performance. how many times is JJ Hickson going to steal rebounds from him. really? JJ Hickson?

  52. Kenny T since Nash came back our turnovers have been reduced so much and the offense have been sharp, i x
    chalk the Denver loss to a ” shit happens”loss.

  53. Tviper Jabbar got rebounds stole from him , he still dominated you must be a Blazers fan.

  54. I’m just glad the Lakers played a solid ballgame on the night Jamaal got his jersey in the rafters. He deserved no less.

  55. tviper,
    As noted in the game preview, JJ Hickson averages 4 offensive rebounds a game. It shouldn’t be a surprise that he grabbed some in this game, even if it’s Dwight he’s battling with.

  56. Anyone commenting about JJ Hickson getting to rebounds that Howard did not still does not realize the guy (Howard) is not close to 100%. He shows glimses and people believe he’s fully recovered. He is not. I hope he one day returns to form, but the guy at 50% is still as good as Bynum at 90%. He hustles and that is all I care about. Ditto for Hill. I’m glad to see we came to our senses and are not offering him as trade bait for a back-up point (even though we need one).