The Lakers are coming off an inspired win over the Celtics on Wednesday night. Did they play well because they wanted to honor Jerry Buss? Sure. Can they sustain that type of energy and intensity? That remains to be seen since the Lakers haven’t shown evidence that they can play at a consistently high level. Luckily for the Lakers they will be playing at home where they are 17-11, and their opponent tonight is a terrible road team.
The Trail Blazers are 8-20 on the road and are entering tonight’s game with a six game losing streak. Portland is only a half game behind the Lakers in the standings, and are an outside contender for the coveted eighth playoff spot. With that in mind, hopefully the Lakers come away with an emphatic win tonight to increase their chances of securing the eighth seed as well as distancing themselves from one of their competitors.
Frontcourt: Often overlooked power forward LaMarcus Aldridge is quietly chipping in 21.0 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. It’s a wonder why he isn’t more hyped because he is playing at a very high level. After participating in his second consecutive All-Star game, there are no signs that Aldridge is slowing down. He’s the leading scorer for the Blazers and will be a load for Earl Clark to handle. The primary rebounder for the Blazers is J.J. Hickson who is one of this season’s biggest surprises. He’s one of the candidates for the league’s most improved player due to his 12.9 point, 10.4 rebound nightly averages. Hickson is an absolute beast on the glass and will certainly give the Lakers trouble if Dwight Howard fails to box out. J.J.’s backup is a true seven foot rookie Meyers Leonard. The old adage, “you can’t teach size”, proves true in Leonard’s case. His height gives him genetic rebounding advantages, but thus far in his rookie season he’s struggled with consistency.
Backcourt: The leading candidate for rookie of the year Damian Lillard is averaging 18.4 points and 6.5 assists. Lillard can take over a game with his passing or scoring ability. He’s not afraid to shoot (15.5 attempts per game), but he still needs to work on his shot selection (41.8 percent shooting). As you all know, the Lakers have had trouble defending point guards, so hopefully they have devised a plan to limit Lillard tonight. Starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews missed the a recent game due to an ankle injury. It’s unknown if he will be available for tonight’s game; if he’s not, Victor Claver will fill in for him. Matthews is averaging 2.2 threes per game on 38 percent shooting, which is superb. He is also the Blazers’ best defender and leads the team with 1.4 steals per game. Claver is a 6’10’’ rookie from Spain who has potential but hasn’t proven himself yet. With Claver inserted into the lineup at the three, Batum is shifted to the two position. Batum has shown the team that he is worth the hefty four year, $46.1 million contract that he signed this past summer. He’s a great defender as evidenced by his 1.1 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. In isolation situations he’s holding his opponent to 30.1 percent field goals, which is bad news for Kobe Bryant.
Keys to Lakers’ Victory:
Take What the Defense Gives – Kobe shouldn’t predetermine his game plan as either pass-first or shoot-first. I know he tells the media that he plays to whatever the defense is giving him, but if you watch him play you would see otherwise. Kobe has gotten into phases this season where he is either overpassing or shooting every opportunity he gets. In the Lakers recent win over the Celtics, Kobe was actually playing within the flow of the game, passing and shooting depending on how the Celtics guarded him. He needs to keep playing within the flow of the game as his former Zen Master (Coach Jackson) advocated.
Don’t Gamble on Defense – The Lakers tend to cheat on defense, and take unnecessary gambles for steals that often don’t pay off. The result of cheating on defense is usually an easy bucket for the opposing team. Tonight the Lakers don’t need to take any risks on defense. Instead, they just need to play straight up since the Blazers are not a very offensively adept team averaging a meager 96.7 points on 44.1 percent shooting.
Share the Ball on Offense – Sharing is caring. When the Lakers move the ball on offense so that everyone is involved, good things tend to happen. The Blazers allow opposing teams to shoot 46.7 percent from the field, which is fourth worst in the league. Thus there is no reason the Lakers shouldn’t be able to score well over their 101.8 point average tonight.
Portland Trail Blazers (25-29) at Los Angeles Lakers (26-29)
7:30 PM PST, February 22, 2013
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: Time Warner Sports Network
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Trail Blazers Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Damian Lillard
SG: Wesley Matthews
SF: Nicolas Batum
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge
C: J.J. Hickson
Key Reserves: FC: Meyers Leonard GF: Victor Claver