Records: Lakers 41-37 Blazers 33-44
Offensive ratings: Lakers 107.6 Blazers 106.1
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.6 Blazers 108.9
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Blazers: Damian Lillard, Sasha Pavlovic, Victor Claver, LaMarcus Aldridge, Meyers Leonard
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Nash, Jordan Hill
Blazers: Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, J.J. Hickson, Elliot Williams
Blazers Blogs: Make sure you check out Portland Roundball Society for all of your Blazers news and analysis.
Keys to game: The Blazers are coming into tonight’s game with a wealth of injuries to some of their key players. Wesley Matthews has had some big games against the Lakers, Nicolas Batum has done a pretty job of defending Kobe over the years when he drew that assignment and J.J. Hickson’s motor could be a problem on the boards on any given night. While it’s never a good thing for an opponent to have injured players, the Lakers have caught the Blazers at the most opportune time considering the battle for 8th place they’re in with the Jazz and the fact that the Rose Garden has always been one of the most difficult places for the Lakers to travel to and get wins.
With all of that being said, this game is still no gimmie and they’ll have to execute on both ends of the floor. Defensively, keeping Damien Lillard out of the paint and close out on shooters. Portland hasn’t been shooting the ball particularly well from deep recently as they’re only at a .264 clip over their last five. Just to make it a point to show how bad they’ve been from 3-point range, that five game stretch includes a 13-23 performance against Utah — and they’re still shooting over 25 percent. But considering that they’re capable of an outlying performance like that, the Lakers cannot allow them to take open shots from deep to ensure that they’re not the next team to get burned by a bad shooting team. Outside of Lillard and shooters, the focal point of the defense should be on LaMarcus Aldridge. The Lakers have done fairly well on Aldridge in the previous three meetings, holding him to 20 points on 18 shots and only 4 rebounds per game. Both Pau and Dwight will have to be willing to close out on his mid range jumper and continue to keep him off the glass.
On the offensive end, the Lakers are going to have to play inside-out. With Hickson out, Meyers Leonard will get the start and won’t be able to hang with Dwight in one-on-one situations. Should Aldridge or Claver help off of their respective man, that will open things up for both Pau and Kobe. Speaking of Pau, it would be wise to continue to feed him in the post as it seems as if his confidence has been rising lately — and should the Lakers get into the post season, having a confident Pau will be awfully beneficial for this team. On the perimeter, Kobe is likely going to be guarded by the likes of Sasha Pavlovic or Victor Claver, and he should be able to exploit those match ups and find the open man should the Blazers double off of him. I’d like to see lots of off-ball movement from the other wing guys and make this banged up Blazers team work as hard as possible on the defensive end.
I do expect the Lakers to win tonight, which would be the first sweep of a back-to-back on the season. It would be nice if they can put Portland away early and give some of the key guys a break, but a win regardless of how it happens is essential if they want to make the playoffs.
Where you can watch: 7:30 pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.