The Los Angeles Lakers have gotten off to a hot start as they have won two of three preseason games, getting contributions from various young players.
D’Angelo Russell had one of his best games as a pro Sunday night when the Lakers defeated the Denver Nuggets 124-115. He led all scorers with 33 points on 13-of-19 shooting while also adding three assists and three steals and only turned the ball over twice.
20 of Russell’s 33 points came in the first half. His backcourt mate Lou Williams also had a strong game, scoring 25 points on 8-of-15 shooting, and Jordan Clarkson led all Lakers bench scorers with 12 points and three assists in 19 minutes.
The Lakers backcourt faces their toughest test yet though on Tuesday as the Lakers host the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center. Portland features one of the best back courts in the league in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and that is where tonight’s preview begins.
Lillard and McCollum were the second highest scoring backcourt in the league last season behind only Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors. Lillard averaged a career-high 25.1 points and 6.8 assists last season to go along with 4.0 rebounds per game.
The 2012-13 NBA Rookie of the Year led Portland to a surprising 44-38 record and the fifth seed in the Western Conference where they defeated the Los Angeles Clippers in six games before losing to the Warriors in the second round.
McCollum won the 2015-16 NBA Most Improved Player award as he averaged 20.8 points and shot 41.7 percent from three-point range. His previous career-high in points was 6.8 the season before.
Clarkson, who has been particularly impressive at the defensive end of the floor this preseason, will likely see extended minutes Tuesday night.
Russell has been the teams leading scorer through the first three games, averaging 19.3 points on 53.7 percent shooting from the field and 47.1 percent from three-point range.
The Lakers front court has received contributions from mostly young players, as Larry Nance Jr. and Tarik Black have both been impressive off the bench. Black has averaged 8.7 points and 4.7 rebounds in limited minutes while Nance Jr. has been one of the team’s best defenders.
Julius Randle has led the team in rebounding at 5.7 per game while adding 9.3 points.
Former ninth overall pick by the Charlotte Hornets, power forward Noah Vonleh has been impressive for Portland through their first two preseason games averaging 14 points and 14 rebounds.
Former Laker Ed Davis is also a key contributor in the Trail Blazers front court. In his first year with Portland last season he averaged 6.5 points, 7.4 rebounds in 20.8 minutes per game.
Keys to Victory
Crash the Boards: The Lakers were out-rebounded 54-29 and 60-47 in their two games against the Nuggets. While the Nuggets feature the tallest front court in the league, the Trail Blazers also have size in Davis, Vonleh, Mason Plumlee and Festus Ezeli, among others. Randle, Black and Nance Jr. are all undersized front court players, so crashing the boards and boxing out will be key Tuesday night.
Limit Turnovers: Limiting turnovers will be a key all season long for a young Lakers backcourt. In Friday’s loss to the Nuggets Los Angeles had 18 turnovers, resulting in a loss. They improved on that Sunday as they only had 10 in a win. Russell’s ability to take care of the ball will help his team particularly at the defensive end as turnovers often lead to easy baskets.
Blazers Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Damian Lillard
SG: C.J. McCollum
SF: Al-Farouq Aminu
PF: Moe Harkless
C: Mason Plumlee
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Lou Williams
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Julius Randle
C: Timofey Mozgov
Los Angeles Lakers (2-1) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (2-0)
7:30 P.M. PST, October 11, 2016
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN/1330 KWKW (Spanish)