When the Lakers visit Portland to play the Trailblazers Friday night, the stakes are about as high as they can get for a regular season game. Playoff seeding is not only at stake, but the prospects of having to participate in the play-in game is also on the line, with the 7th seeded Blazers looking to leapfrog the Lakers and earn the tiebreaker all in one night. That last part is important because, a loss basically puts Portland 2-games up on the Lakers with only 5 left to play. Not insurmountable odds, but close to it.
As has been true of late, the circumstances do not favor the Lakers, either. All of Bron, Dennis, and THT remain out. Alex Caruso, the last remaining primary ball handler, is listed as questionable with a foot contusion. The game is on the 2nd night of a back to back and on the road, too. Meanwhile, Portland is mostly healthy (Norm Powell, who missed their last game, is probable and only Zach Collins remains out), is motivated to move up in the standings, and would love nothing else than to put the team that bounced them from the playoffs last year into an even worse spot than they already are.
The good news is that Anthony Davis is probable to play with the back spasms that kept him out of the Clippers game after his 1st quarter shift. So, while AD is still a bit banged up, he should be fresh and have the requisite energy to go out there and play a style similar to his performance against the Nuggets earlier this week. Of course, AD has to show he’s committed to doing that, but he has no real excuses (unless his back starts to lock up on him again, then all bets are off).
Considering all the above, I see this game going one of two ways.
First, Alex Caruso is able to play, AD brings the competitive fire and the team plays hard enough on defense to keep the game close. If Kuz scores well, KCP and Wes hit shots, and Drummond makes an impact on the glass, the Lakers could even win in this scenario. They have some good defensive ingredients to matchup with the Blazers and a smallish front-line that AD can go to work against in post up situations. The game going this way is the most favorable of outcomes and requires the Lakers to play one of their best games of the year in one of their most important ones. That’s…a lot.
The second is that Alex doesn’t play (or is limited) and the subsequent lack of ball handing and back court defensive deficiencies sink this team. If AD doesn’t play well in this scenario, the game would be a blowout. I could get into some of the other details here, but I won’t bore you. Dame is a killer, CJ is great, Powell can really score, and it won’t matter if the Blazers’ front court isn’t is major threat (outside of Melo), they’ll have enough to win. This scenario seems much more likely and, honestly, I think that is pretty clear.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the Lakers can compete, or even win this game. I really do. But it’s going to take an incredible effort and there’s little this team has shown me, basically all season, for me to believe that is coming when LeBron isn’t playing and with as much uncertainty with their shot creation. AD could make that statement look dumb by the end of the night, and I’D INVITE THAT — PLEASE SHOW ME. Otherwise, though, I’m just chalking this up to the Lakers are in too rough a shape, don’t have the horses, and it feels like it’s seeping into their heads now in (potentially) feeling bad for themselves. I don’t necessarily blame them, either. It’s been a hard stretch and at some point, you just get overwhelmed.
That said, I just hope to see some fight tonight. There’s a lot on the line and I’d love to see the team’s spirit and general approach reflect that.
Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and ESPN.