Preview and Chat: The Portland Trailblazers

Darius Soriano —  February 22, 2013

Records: Lakers 26-29 (9th in the West), Trailblazers 25-29 (10th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.1 (8th in the NBA), Trailblazers 101.9 (16th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.4 (T 15th in the NBA), Trailblazers 105.5 (T 25th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Earl Clark, Dwight Howard
Trailblazers: Damian Lillard, Victor Claver, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, J.J. Hickson
Injuries: Lakers: Pau Gasol (out), Jordan Hill (out for the year); Trailblazers: Wesley Matthews (questionable), Elliot Williams (out)

The Lakers Coming in: The trade deadline came and went and the Lakers stood pat. This really shouldn’t be a surprise, especially if doing a simple checklist of the Lakers’ assets. The team is mostly made up of high salaried core players who they’re not likely to trade and a group of low value cheap assets who other teams are unlikely to want. In between those two groups are moderately priced to slightly overpaid veterans who are difficult to trade in any market without taking the exact type of contract back. These variables create a formula that equals what we saw the Lakers do. Rumor had it the team was trying to off-load back of the roster players (Duhon and Ebanks) for 2nd round picks in order to create roster spots. That makes more sense than making a trade for a player as the Lakers are likely going to explore the buyout market when players are set free from their current teams. We’ll see what happens on that front, but that is still a ways away.

On the court, the Lakers are coming off one of their better wins of the season against the Celtics. On the night the organization paid tribute to their fallen owner, the team played inspired basketball for nearly every minute of the game, running away from the C’s in the process. Coming off that win there’s a cautious optimism in the air. The team’s offense is starting to click and that’s enabling them to avoid the turnovers and long jumpers that can fuel the opponents fast break chances. With the Lakers also starting to sort out their half court scheme, the defense is starting to look competent more consistently and that will spell trouble for opponents if the offense can continue to operate at a top 10 efficiency level.

The Trailblazers Coming in: While the Lakers have started to rattle off wins, the Blazers have been doing the opposite. They’ve lost six in a row and seven of ten overall. In their first game after the all-star break, they lost to the Suns, in Portland, in a game that they typically wouldn’t lose.

There are several theories for why the Blazers have been playing poorly of late. First, it could just be a regression to the mean. Portland has a negative efficiency differential and their expected win-loss record is 21-33. This team found a way to win games when they likely shouldn’t have and it could be this is finally catching up to them. Second, the Blazers really are a shallow team with depth problems all over their roster. Their starters play heavy minutes every night and it could simply be that after a little more than half a season they’re starting to wear down. Third, some of it could just be bad luck on a couple of different levels. Right before the all-star break Wesley Matthews sprained his ankle, further testing their non-existent depth. Three of their last six losses have come by 6 points or fewer.

What ails this team is probably a combination of all these (and some other) factors, but the fact is they’re struggling to get some wins. At the trade deadline they dealt for the Thunder’s Eric Maynor who may be able to help their back court rotation and give Lillard some much needed in game rest. Maynor had seen his minutes decrease lately to Reggie Jackson and, with him coming up for an extension, the Thunder cut bait on a guy who once looked like one of the better back up PG’s in the league. His torn ACL may have altered that status permanently, but this was a good gamble for the Blazers and one that could turn out well for them in the short and the long term.

Trailblazers Blogs: Blazers Edge and Portaland Roundball Society both do a very good job covering this team. Give both a look.

Keys to game: Several things favor the Lakers in this match up. First, the Blazers don’t have a good option to defend Dwight Howard. In the two games he’s played against the Blazers, he’s averaged 27 points and 14 rebounds (6 offensive). He’s too big and strong for J.J. Hickson and too much everything for Miles Leonard or Joel Freeland. If the Lakers make it a point of emphasis to get Dwight open and then look for him when he breaks free, they’ll be well on their way to establishing control in this contest. On Dwight’s end, he needs to set good screens and dive hard. He also needs to move quickly into the open spaces that are available in the half court. Against the C’s he battled fronting defenders and found his way to the glass. He slipped along the baseline to make himself a target for entry passes. He ran the floor well and tried to establish the post early. Do those things tonight and he can hit those averages I mentioned earlier.

The other key on offense is finding ways to get Kobe going without forcing the action. With Matthews questionable to play, I can only assume that Nic Batum will guard Kobe. Batum is a long, athletic, rangy defender that can bother Kobe’s jumper and slide with him when he drives to the rim. Kobe can still work against him some in the post, but tat length will bother him if he tries to isolate too often. The Lakers can try to free Kobe up with good off ball picks and that should get him some openings to either shoot his jumper or attack off the dribble. What they can also do is continue to park him on the weak side of the floor when they run the P&R. With Kobe on the weak side, his man becomes the primary helper in the paint when the big man dives. When the ball is skipped to Kobe he gets to operate against a closing out defender and that offers countless options for him to attack the D. In any event, getting Kobe the ball in space is important because it will let him make the right pass/shot read more easily and should set up makable shots for him and his teammates.

Defensively, I don’t want to undersell the entire Blazer roster but the Lakers’ game plan really comes down to slowing Lillard, Aldridge, and Batum.

Lillard’s all court game needs to be bottled up with consistent help when he’s working in isolation. Nash will try to stay with him but he’ll need a secondary defender ready to step when he gets beat. When Lillard operates in the P&R, his defender will need to chase over the top to avoid surrendering the wide open jumper and the hedge man will need to be there to deny penetration. If the Lakers can keep Lillard off balance in the half court, they’ll have done most of their job towards slowing him down.

Aldridge, though, is a different story. The Lakers really don’t have a good defender to put on him. I’d imagine Clark draws the match up and with his combination of length and quickness, he’s got good tools to do the job. However, Aldridge has superior bulk and size and should use that advantage to gain the position he needs to get off good shots. If Clark can successfully keep him from getting middle, he’ll make his job easier, but he must also be able to defend without fouling and do it all while being a help and recover man in the P&R.

Batum, meanwhile, is the wild card. He can get hot from the outside and loves to run the floor for easy baskets. He’ll need to be marked all over the court and can’t be allowed to get too many easy baskets as that will only let him find his rhythm. An assertive Batum can spell trouble, so the Lakers will be better off guarding him aggressively in hopes that he takes a back seat on that side of the floor.

Wednesday’s win was a great way to pay homage to Dr. Buss but now the harder work begins. The Lakers need to find a way to play with emotion and effort consistently when there’s not a buzz in the air or an energy in the building like there was against Boston. Tonight things will be back to normal, but the Lakers need to find a way to dig down and bring that same level of execution, concentration, and desire.

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

Darius Soriano

Posts

100 responses to Preview and Chat: The Portland Trailblazers

  1. This one is for Buss!

    “We will make the playoffs,” he said. “And we will compete. And part of the reason I have that confidence is the Miami game. We had control of the game. That was no fluke. We were playing very, very well. We were reading the defense, making the extra pass.

    “OK, they have two great players [LeBron James and Dwyane Wade] who scored eight straight buckets and took control of the game. But we were right there. We can do it.” Kobe

    Now that is the confidence and alpha attitude we love from Kobe, even if it is very unlikely.

  2. For Kobe Alerts!

  3. Rockets won again tonight.

  4. Rockets win once again.

  5. Lakers may need to concentrate on GS and Utah as Rockets are getting better.

  6. Re duhon and faux trevor: So if the lakers wish to create roster spots after the failed trade attempts, can they buy those (or other) players out and replace them or do they not have that option since they are a luxury tax payer? I understand the financial penalties involved, but is it a legal option?

  7. @ Ken–You’ve got that right about HOU—LAL is going to have a tough time running that team down, even with LA having a pretty weak remaining schedule (something like .485 or .490 compared with the .510 or .515 schedule LA has played so far)…, particularly because HOU has an even softer sched than the Lakers down the stretch (last I checked)

    Meanwhile, Utah has one of the toughest remaining schedules in the league, and Golden State is fading (plus LA has two games left against the Warriors).

  8. There are rumors flying around that Dwight had an “argument” with Popovich at the all star game.

  9. That Dwight/Nash P&R looked like I thought it would (over and over again) when we signed both of them…WHY!!!

  10. Earl Clark is gonna get paid(!!!!!) in the offseason.

  11. Dwight is no longer moving around like he’s 70%.

  12. Dwight looks to have finally turned the corner. Has he finally got it?

  13. Dwight had turned the corner, then he missed a super easy lob dunk off a perfect pass from Kobe…sigh

  14. Just guessing Blazers can’t shoot 73% all game. Gonna be fine tonight.

  15. Blazers with 19 points already–but only two in the paint—lots and lots of jump-shots, just like BOS was hitting in the first half last game. Hopefully POR cools off like the lepers did….

  16. No defense from Dwight. Why is Meeks in so early?

  17. I know he got fouled there, but has Meeks ever actually put the ball in the bucket on a fast break…and yet he never looks to pass.

  18. I’m actually not too mad about our botched easy buckets; since they all came off some creative and aggressive ball movement. We’ll convert on those soon enough and yeah – the Blazers being 70% from outside is not sustainable

  19. Considering 0 0 0 from Metta and 1 for 4 with 3 TO from Nash it’s not bad.

  20. MWP airball…

  21. Metta is terrible again.

  22. OMG Meeks scored on a fast break….eating words now.

  23. OMG Metta made a shot—- eating my words now

  24. uh, if Batum was fouled it was BEFORE he rebounded the ball, how is that an and 1?

  25. How do I know that Kobe is getting old? He is taking some charges now! That’s one in each of the last two games. You go Mr. Bean.

  26. Loading comments as slow as IRS income tax refund checks this year!

    Kobe on cruise control mode.

  27. Too much Steve Nash pnr tonight. Got to mix the offense out a bit.

  28. Why in the world wouldn’t Howard at least attempt a shot at the end there? I seriously do not understand the desire to latch our train to this guys engine.

  29. Kobe has had one on one coverage all game when Nash runs PnR but he’s passing to Clark and Metta instead.

  30. @Joe

    He had just hurt his shoulder again….a 3/4 court shot would not have been a good idea. Give the guy a break.

  31. Nash isn’t running the offense well. Missing runners and passing to Metta and Clark when Kobe has half the floor single covered.

  32. Dwight defense has been worthless. Hickson completely out playing Dwight. Guess the new DH is the old DH. Out played by another average center. Need Kobe to get his head in the game.

    Can’t lose to a team that just lost to the Suns at home!

  33. No matter who does the playmaking for the Lakers they have high turnovers. Nash has 3 already.

  34. Just as in the Boston game a couple of nights ago, we’ll need to pick up the defensive intensity in the 2nd half if we are to prevail. His shot has been off in the 1st half, but hopefully Nash can get in some type of shooting rhythm. Dwight’s been aggressive, but now that he’s re-aggravated that shoulder injury, he might be more passive.

    On a different note, just took a peep at the Spurs – Warriors game and I’m not feeling those alternate Warriors uniforms.

  35. @KenOak Throw it with the other arm then! Seriously, Dwight’s shoulder seems fine when he is heaving half Court shots for fun during the all star break when it was recently ‘re-injured’.

  36. And 1 for 6 from field Kevin.

    Also Kobe zero shots in 2nd quarter. Not this thing again.

    Shoot the ball or make something happen Kobe!

  37. I have never seen Nash shoot this badly.

  38. Nash is killing this team. 1 for 9 4 TO. Take him OUT. Blake can ‘t be worse. Yet not one trade was needed. Playing like a 39 year old retired player.

  39. Not a good start to the third quarter, Lakers really need this game.

  40. Lakers playing like a 10th place team.

    Oh yea they are.

  41. Kobe is playing with what I would call ineffective aggression right now, needs to dial it back just a bit.

  42. Really Joe? Kobe is 10-15.

    Dwight is semi injured and Nash 1 for 9. You got to be kidding right.

  43. This season has been so stressful. Every game seems to be some sort of struggle. Where’s the Showtime we were promised?

  44. Sometimes I wonder if people are actually watching the game with some posts.

  45. Lakers going to need to gut this one out….Nobody is hitting an outside shot, Kobe the only really effective scorer right now…gonna be tough.

  46. When two if your starters are 2 for 14 with 5 points you might have trouble. Yet FO thought Metta and Nash are not over the hill and need no trades.

    Odd!

  47. @Jayz – I posted that when Kobe was 5 of 10 and had turned the ball over 3 times in about 2 mins. Post delay, he focused in and has played great since that time.

  48. As I mentioned in my halftime post, that’s still stuck in moderation, Dwight is now playing passive and more than likely, that’s the reason for Kobe’s aggression.

  49. In fact, Kobe has willed the Lakers back in this game that was on the verge of getting away from us.

  50. Vintage Mamba tonight. 29pts 5reb 4ast thru 3qtrs.

  51. So strange to have almost no margin for error, with so many games left still. The Lakers simply can’t afford to drop this one.

  52. Ebanks must’ve had strong words for D’Antoni if he can’t get playing time the way metta is playing. Lakers need to keep the 2 pg lineup out there Metta is killing this team.

  53. Nash is killing my fantasy team right now, but I guess it’s equalizing his 7/8 shooting performance against the Cs.

    The game is close & ours to win…let’s go, boys!

  54. I like the ball movement we have had…but our D tonight is pretty subpar. Still if Nash shoots like Nash tonight we are up 10.

  55. Whoa! Dwight has a post game? When did this happen?

  56. Win or lose we must except.

    11 place Portland, lost 6 in a row, one of worst road teams.

    Yet Lakers are struggling to win at home.

    Lakers are what their records says they are. I lower seed team.

    Put Kobe in Mike!

  57. MWP with a 5 second violation dribbling the ball. Horrible turnover.

  58. sometimes i wonder if MWP even thinks about what hes doing. 5 seconds back to basket…what a dumb turnover

  59. Metta plays like he talks! Dumb.

    What a stupid play from this guy.

    Get him off the court.

  60. So they just called the first isolation violation infraction I have ever seen called in an NBA game. I swear I have seen guys like Wade, Lebron and even Kobe isolate for entire possessions without a call for years.

  61. And there goes Metta thinking he’s Lebron by ignoring Kobe to go one on one for a 5 second call. Smh.

  62. MWP…I have no words! What a play!

  63. Artest never stops fighting … all you Artest haters need to get some perspective.

  64. WOW Ron Artest with the steal and 1, he make the FT.

  65. We have to be the worst coached team in the league, my goodness…we just make dumb dumb dumb decisions…

  66. Get Nash off Lillard.

  67. Get NASH OUT. Killing on both ends.

    Kobe must do it all!

  68. Who takes the T Kobe or Nash?

  69. @Ken
    Holy crap man! You call for every player to be taken off the court! Give it a rest.

  70. To win this game, Kobe may need to drop 40.

  71. What exactly is Nash providing out there?

  72. Ken

    I want them to play Kobe on 5 I guess.

  73. Lakers late game offense is a load of crap.

  74. Amazing. This team just lost to the Suns!

    Amazing. Two very even teams here.

    Please take Nash off Lillard.

  75. Just for tonight, I want Kobe to take the free throws To close this game.

  76. Jayz

    Our new coach.

    Neil 9 out 20 is darn good.

    How in the world can this coach have Meeks out there?

    Amazing.

  77. These announcers are brutal.

  78. so why is howard out there? why not earl clark?

    Edit: oh steve blake came infor howard.

  79. How can mike be this dumb? Take Dwight out of there.

  80. Thank you. Must have been Kobe’s call!

  81. He just did, relax people.

  82. It’s a wrap. Mamba out!

  83. Mamba showed up tonight, always expect a tough game against the Blazers so this was not a surprise. And another solid game by Dwight. Good win!!!

  84. Kobe’s FTs ices the game. Lakers hang on for the win.

  85. Announcers actually complain about the reffing more than the average fan.

  86. Quite remarkable how they continue to manage barely eking out these close games.

  87. BlizzardOfOz: hopefully they’re practicing for the playoffs.

    They do need a different late game strategy. Not enough movement.

  88. They lost a lot of close games early…..and recently there were some losses where Kobe shot them out of the game…also, Portland has won a ton of close games this year..so maybe its best to look at this as a kind of “reversion to mean” kind of game.

  89. Dwight Howard is looking dominant. This is the Dwight we were hoping to see at the beginning of the season.

  90. No recap tonight, folks. Enjoy the win the best you can. At this point, all wins count the same.

  91. Lol. This thread of complaining sure died once we WON THE GAME.

    Way to pull it out, boys. Kobe is phenomenal. Glad Dwight is stepping it up out of the break. On to the next one. Go Lakers!

  92. needed GSW to lose this game…real bad break that spurs had to play them on back to back!

  93. At the very least,the Lakers announcers provide more insights and being frank unlike most one-sided commentary. Anyways, I’m relieved that they’re through by hook or crook cos if they lose,its over. Rockets and even the Warriors won too. My goodness, how can “playoff not be a question” to Kobe ?!

  94. Too much whining, no more comments.

    On to the next one in Texas.

    Til then folks.

  95. At this point we need ways any way we can, pretty, ugly, lucky, blowouts, close ones it doesnt matter al it matters now is the W not style points. GS,Hou and Dallas won tonight so the pressure is on. Im going out doing on a high note like Geroge Constanza lol repeating something that Jeff Van Gundy said a couple of weeks ago when things were really in the craper, ” If the Lakers get Dwight, Kobe and Nash on the same place, this team can beat anyone, anywhere at anytime” Its happening folks.

  96. Thanks to a phenomenal game by Kobe, we were able to hold on for the victory. Nash was off tonight, but like Kobe alluded to, no one is immune to one of those type of games. Dwight, in these first 2 games after the ASB, is improving. Unfortunately, the Rockets, Mavs and Warriors won. Speaking of the Mavs, they’re up next and we know the scheduled start time. So what! No excuses. Lets get it.

  97. Just skimmed the comments and vhanz is right. Far too much negativism. This was not a vintage game but our guys did enough to win a close game against an opponent that always seems to give us trouble. This game would have ended up in the loss category earlier in the year. I am happy with the W. Nash had a very subpar game and we still won. And even when the game was in doubt the chronic pessimism of some of the posters (e.g., Ken was there absolutely nothing about this game that you could see in a positive light?) was silly lopsided.

    I will be @ the Dallas game Sunday with my Lakers hoodie rooting for a Beatdown. Either way I hope To get out of TX and back to John Wayne in one piece! Let’s go Lakers.

  98. The Lakers most certainly will make the playoffs!! With that win against Portland, that makes them just two games under .500 and with 26 games left in the season, a lot can happen. I can see them probably getting the sixth or the seventh seed, possibly even the fifth. Why do you ask?

    Right now the 6th thorough eighth spots are held by young inexperienced teams that do not have luck or history on their sides. After starting the season scorching their opposition, the Golden States Warriors six of their nine last games making them quite vulnerable in the ultra competitive west. Utah’s and Houston’s hold on the seventh and eighth seeds are shaky at best. Houston has a long history of bad luck as they have come up short in three of the last four years. Who is to say that history will nor repeat itself?

    As for Utah, last season’s playoff appearance was more of a fluke than anything else. A late season surge followed by the collapsing of Phoenix and Houston resulted them in shockingly reaching the playoffs last season. Knowing about that, it is not too far fetched to think the same will not happen to the Lakers. it seems that the Purple and Gold has finally woken up and with the tragic loss of team owner Jerry Buss, they will even have more motivation to push them.

  99. Slap Dog Hoops

    IMO you are being uberoptimistic. Lakers have some chance of taking Utath, GSW of Rockets place but surpassing all of them and Denver is unrealistic.