The Los Angeles Lakers have looked much better since 2017 started and have won three of their last four games. That loss came last week in Portland against the Trail Blazers, the Lakers’ ninth straight loss to that team. Now they will be looking to finally end that streak back at home in L.A. where they have won three straight.
Last Thursday’s game was a close game that went down to the last few minutes before Portland’s tandem of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum put things away. The Lakers will be hoping to change those fortunes this time around and will have veteran Luol Deng, who missed that game, back to do it.
Portland is coming off a tough 125-124 double OT loss to Detroit on Sunday while the Lakers have won two straight blowouts over Orlando and Miami. Now they’ll hope to continue their good fortune.
The vast majority of the offensive firepower from the Blazers comes from their backcourt. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are the highest scoring backcourt at 50.2 points per game and they can get things done in a variety of ways.
Both are difficult to stop from getting to the basket, but are just as dangerous as three-point shooters who can light it up from deep. They combined for 48 points and 17 assists in the first matchup and both shot at least 50 percent from the field.
The difference makers in the first game, however, came off the Blazers bench as Evan Turner scored 20 points and dominated the fourth quarter, while Allen Crabbe added 14. Their ability to match the Lakers’ bench unit was a big reason Portland came out on top.
D’Angelo Russell is playing the best basketball of his career right now, averaging about 21 points, five assists, and five rebounds over his last five games. He has also gotten his turnovers under control which has long been a major problem. He led the Lakers with 22 points in the first matchup and will once again need to play well against one of the premier point guards in the NBA.
Nick Young has finally cooled off after his ridiculous run of shooting and has made only 2-16 in the last two games. Even with his struggles, he remains a threat to get hot at any moment and will have to try and contain one of the Blazers’ explosive guards.
Jordan Clarkson and Lou Williams have been pretty consistent throughout the season and bring a lot to the Lakers off the bench. Williams is still the Lakers’ best scorer in the fourth quarter while Clarkson is probably the only Lakers’ guard capable of sticking with Lillard or McCollum on defense.
None of Portland’s frontcourt players are big time offensive threats, but they defend well and do all of the little things.
Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless, and Mason Plumlee are the starters for the Blazers. Aminu is the best of the bunch as a top flight defender and rebounder who does the dirty work for this team. Harkless is a better offensive weapon and decent shooter, but has struggled recently.
Plumlee is a great athlete who really hurt the Lakers in the first matchup with his all-around game. He finished with 15 points, seven rebounds, and five assists and the Lakers can’t afford for him to have another night like that.
Off the bench Portland has an offensive option in Meyers Leonard who can stretch the floor, and a defensive option in Ed Davis, who is great at crashing the boards and finishing.
Russell isn’t the only Lakers young player to step his game up recently as Julius Randle has been stellar recently, averaging 17 points, 9.4 rebounds, and six assists over the last five games. Randle becoming one of the team’s best playmakers has really changed the ceiling for this team and he has arguably been the most consistent Laker this season.
Luol Deng has seemingly found his groove again as he has scored in double-figures in each of the last two games and is hitting open jumpers at a much higher rate. Timofey Mozgov’s minutes fluctuate depending on the matchup, but he has produced when given playing time and didn’t miss a shot against Orlando on Sunday. He played only 11 minutes against the Blazers in the first game so it will be interesting to see if Luke Walton changes things up.
Brandon Ingram is seemingly turning a corner as he has scored in double-figures three straight games. If the Lakers go small again, Ingram will likely get plenty of minutes and he continues to make an impact on both ends of the floor.
The combo of Tarik Black and Thomas Robinson has been productive thanks to their non-stop energy and ability to crash the glass, but like Mozgov, neither played much in the first game as Walton preferred to matchup with Portland by going small with Randle at center.
Three Keys To Victory
Russell and Randle Keep Leading The Way
The tandem of Russell and Randle have been stellar the last couple of weeks and have really taken a step up. Those two have led the charge for the Lakers’ recent surge and seem to be turning a corner. They must keep up their level of play as each is capable of making the rest of the team better as well.
No New Stars
The Lakers actually did a decent job against Lillard and McCollum, holding them slightly below their combined season average. Unfortunately Evan Turner, Mason Plumlee, and Allen Crabbe combined for 49 points, something the Lakers can’t allow to happen again. The Lakers have a bad habit of allowing role players to have superstar outings and it cost them in the first game.
Win The Bench War
Portland’s bench played the Lakers’ subs to a stalemate with each unit scoring 39 points. The Lakers have the best bench in the league and that advantage is crucial to the team’s success. They must dominate Portland’s reserves.
Los Angeles Lakers (15-26) Vs. Portland Trail Blazers (16-23)
7:30 P.M. PST, January 10th, 2017
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Trail Blazers Starting Lineup:
PG: Damian Lillard
SG: C.J. McCollum
SF: Al-Farouq Aminu
PF: Maurice Harkless
C: Mason Plumlee
Key Reserves: Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe, Ed Davis, Meyers Leonard
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Nick Young
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Julius Randle
C: Timofey Mozgov
Key Reserves: Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson, Lou Williams, Tarik Black, Thomas Robinson