When the 2017-18 schedules were announced, many teams circle through their calendars to find out how the season would sort out. For the Los Angeles Lakers, the month of December stood out as the most difficult portion of their season.
While their record for the month reflects more losses than wins, the Lakers have remained competitive against playoff-caliber and elite teams. They nearly erased a 23-point deficit against the Golden State Warriors, and now return home to face the Portland Trail Blazers.
Both teams are facing a scenario in which Saturday’s game is the second of a back-to-back. The Blazers fell at home to the Denver Nuggets on Friday night.
Portland and L.A. are each dealing with respective injuries, as Damian Lillard and Brook Lopez will not suit up. Evan Turner stepped up in Lillard’s absence, and he and C.J. McCollum will be leaned upon.
Rookie Zach Collins and Maurice Harkless headline the second unit for Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, while guard Shabazz Napier resides as the first guard off the bench that can orchestrate the second unit.
With their .500 record, the Trail Blazers find themselves in the seventh spot in the Western Conference, just a game from jumping to fifth.
Andrew Bogut has started in each of the past two games Lopez has missed. Julius Randle has seen time as a backup center, but his minutes remaining a point of contention and frustration.
Coinciding with Bogut starting has been Kyle Kuzma supplanting Larry Nance Jr. in the lineup. Kuzma scored a career-high 38 points against the Houston Rockets, and with 27 points on Friday, is the first Lakers rookie since Jerry West in 1961 with three straight games of at least 25 points.
Meanwhile, Jordan Clarkson is battling through one of his worst stretches of the season, including a difficult showing against the Warriors Friday night.
Additionally, Brandon Ingram was ruled out due to multiple quad injuries. He’s averaging 16 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game this season.
The last two times the Lakers and Trail Blazers met serves as a reminder of how competitive the game can be. Lillard knocking down a game-winning 3-pointer with less than a second left. Portland has won 14 consecutive games over Los Angeles.
Keys To The Game
Rebound As A Unit:
Jusuf Nurkic, Ed Davis and the other Portland big men have a knack for attempting to get every rebound, whether to the benefit or dismay of their team.
If they crash in an attempt for an offensive rebound, a simple box out from Bogut and collective rebounding effort from the Lakers can translate into successful transition opportunities.
Let Ball Rotations Create Offense:
The Lakers have shined when they have been able to have multiple ball rotations during their half-court sets. Apart from their bad habit of isolated possessions, the Lakers flourish when using pick-and-rolls and a series of screens to find the best shot possible.
With some open looks early, it can bode well towards their confidence on offense and provide a strong start against a team that will likely play without their captain in Lillard.
Los Angeles Lakers (11-19) Vs. Trail Blazers (16-16)
6:30 p.m. PT, Dec. 23, 2017
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Corey Brewer
PF: Kyle Kuzma
C: Andrew Bogut
Key Reserves: Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr.
Projected Trail Blazers Starting Lineup:
PG: Damian Lillard
SG: C.J. McCollum
SF: Jake Layman
PF: Al-Farouq Aminu
C: Jusuf Nurkic
Key Reserves: Shabazz Napier, Ed Davis, Maurice Harkless