The Lakers won a slugfest of a game in thrilling fashion against the Pacers last night, with Kobe Bryant leading them down the stretch. Kobe scored the Lakers final 9 points of the game, including the game winner with only a handful of ticks on the clock — a classic drive and half hook from the dotted line that he’s made more than a few times over his career.
That shot capped another efficient night from #24, giving him his 20th point on 7-14 shooting (including 2 of 3 from behind the arc) to go along with six rebounds and six assists. Kobe, as he has since returning from his three game absence, mostly took what the defense gave him and hurt the Pacers with smart shot-pass decisions all night. His passes were so good most the night, in fact, that after the game he even commented how the Pacers started to play him for the pass and that opened up some of his buckets (including the game winner) as the defense stayed home with their own men, opening up the lane in the process.
The night wasn’t just filled with victory, however. Starting small forward Wes Johnson was hurt in the first half, straining his hip flexor. He did not return in the 2nd half and has been ruled out indefinitely. With Johnson out, the Lakers are likely to turn to Ryan Kelly to play some small forward while also giving more minutes to Wayne Ellington, Nick Young, and, potentially, Jordan Clarkson with Kobe playing a bit more “SF” in the process. And while more of those guys isn’t necessarily the worst thing, missing Wes will test the Lakers depth — especially on nights where Kobe doesn’t play due to his newly modified game schedule where coach Scott decides to rest him more.
Which brings us to tonight. After playing last night with travel planned for after the game, it was predetermined that Kobe would not play against the Blazers this evening. That leaves the Lakers down both their starting wings and shallow at that spot in general. If I were to guess, I’d expect Ellington and Kelly to start for Kobe and Wes with an uptick in minutes for Lin and Young to compensate. I’d also expect to see Clarkson play about 10 minutes at SG as filler on the wing.
This would be an issue on any night but playing against one of the better teams in the conference makes it that much more difficult. In case you weren’t monitoring the standings closely, the Blazers possess the 2nd best record in the league, trailing only the Warriors. They are have an incredibly balanced and productive roster and have not missed a beat since losing Robin Lopez to injury last month. Powered by Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge their offense can get good shots all over the floor. And in the event that those two struggle, they can turn to Nic Batum’s all-court game or Wes Matthews’ three point and post-up oriented game to get buckets too.
In other words, don’t expect much from the Lakers’ tonight. While they’ve shown a nice ability to compete hard on most nights, traveling to Portland and playing this team on the 2nd night of a back to back without Kobe (especially the version who has shown up lately) and diminished wing depth is a nearly impossible hill to climb. I do expect them to battle, but do not be surprised to see a double digit loss by night’s end. Portland is just that good.
Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.