At 2-3 on the preseason following their 85-70 win over the defending champion Golden State Warriors, the Los Angeles Lakers look to maintain some of the positive momentum against a new-look Portland Trail Blazers (3-2) team that has replaced four-fifths of last year’s starting lineup in tonight’s contest.
Their previous game may have been shortened due to extreme court conditions, but there were several positive developments that can now be built upon as they face an almost entirely revamped 2015-16 Blazers team. Kobe Bryant may still be out due to precautionary measures, but it appears his teammates could be rounding into form and learning how to play alongside one another.
Three-point shooting big man Meyers Leonard has worked his way throughout the ranks within the organization and now replaces Robin Lopez (New York Knicks) at the starting center, while Mason Plumlee and a familiar face in Ed Davis look to split time at the power forward position (depending upon the lineup) in order to offset the production lost with LaMarcus Aldridge’s (San Antonio Spurs) departure.
Their frontline also features another replacement as small forward Al-Farouq Aminu was signed to fill the void left by Nicholas Batum (traded to the Charlotte Hornets). Between Plumlee and Leonard’s mobility and athleticism, look for the Blazers bigs to get out in transition whenever possible and to try to force Roy Hibbert into defending (especially Leonard) around the perimeter and on the move. On the flipside, the Lakers bigs could have an advantage on the backboards and beneath the rim if they are able to establish position against a more slender Portland frontline.
Portland is still led by its explosive point guard Damian Lillard, but he is now joined by Wes Matthews’ replacement at shooting guard, C.J. McCollum. It will be interesting to see what type of defensive pressure Coach Terry Stotts is able to get from his backcourt, as both Lillard and McCollum have traditionally been known for their individual offensive contributions.
As most coaches do in the preseason, Stotts has mixed-and-matched his rotations in order to see how effective some of his small-ball options can be which has permitted guys like Allen Crabbe and free agent additions Gerald Henderson and Maurice Harkless to shift between several positions around the perimeter. Even in Bryant’s absence, this matchup could ultimately boil down to which backcourt can collectively play the most efficiently and effectively.
Keys to Victory:
Defend the Three-Point Line: The Blazers have attempted 155 three-pointers through just five games (31 attempts per game) and even though they’ve made just 36 percent over that stretch, it is clear how Portland wants to attack. Even in transition situations, they are liable to find a shooter camping out behind the arc, so the Lakers will have to pay specific attention to running shooters off the line and recovering to the open man once a teammate adjusts or provides assistance. The defensive rotations and all-around communication will be key.
Continue to Move the Ball on Offense: Regardless of the lineup, the offense simply looks better when players elect to move the ball rather than settling for isolation plays. It’s much easier to do that when you have multiple playmakers to spread throughout the game, as the Lakers have when D’Angelo Russell and Marcelo Huertas are each available. Russell and Clarkson continue to develop chemistry while on the court together, so the staff could conceivably begin tentatively setting what their eventual rotations will look like with Huertas appearing to have a good chance of making this roster.
Limit Turnovers and Create Points Off Takeaways: Turnovers are generally a concern for any young team, but these Lakers generally do a good job of taking care of the ball (13 or less turnovers through four of the six preseason games). With the Blazers in their own state of transition, this could be the perfect opportunity for the Lakers to actually look to create turnovers and get out on the break as well.
Portland Trail Blazers (3-2) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (2-3)
7:30 PM, October 19, 2015
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet / NBA TV
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Trail Blazers Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Damian Lillard
SG: Allen Crabbe
SF: Al-Farouq Aminu
PF: Mason Plumlee
C: Meyers Leonard
Key Reserves: PF: Ed Davis, SG: Gerald Henderson (out), SF: Maurice Harkless
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Jordan Clarkson
SF: Anthony Brown
PF: Julius Randle
C: Roy Hibbert
Key Reserves: SG: Lou Williams, PG: Marcelo Huertas, SG: Nick Young, C: Robert Upshaw