Game Details: Rose Garden, Portland, OR. 7:30 PM. TV: KGW. Radio: KXTG (95.5 FM).
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6′2″, Utah), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6′5″, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6′9″, France), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6′11″, Texas), C Joel Przybilla (#10, 7′1″, Minnesota)
Projected Los Angeles Starting Lineup: PG Derek Fisher (#2, 6’1, Arkansas-Little Rock),SG Kobe Bryant (#24, 6’6″, Lower Merion High School), SF Ron Artest (#15, 6’7″, St. John’s), PF Pau Gasol (#16, 7’0″, Spain), C Andrew Bynum (#17, 7’0″, St. Joseph High School)
Odds are, this preview will be outdated by the time you read it. I’m writing it two and a half hours before tipoff, and as of now, Portland’s roster is exactly as it was last week. A Devin Harris deal looked likely until the Nets stunned the league by prying Deron Williams from Utah. The latest rumor for Portland is an imminent trade with the Charlotte Bobcats that would net the Blazers All-Star forward Gerald Wallace in return for, depending on whom you believe, Andre Miller or Joel Przybilla plus picks and cash. All we can do is assume that nothing will go down tonight, and that all of Portland’s active players will be available. This is crucial, because the team the Blazers are playing tonight is kind of good.
You know who’s counted among these “active players,” by the way? Brandon Roy. What the Blazers will get out of him, or how many minutes Nate McMillan plans to play him, remains to be seen, but they should exercise caution in his first few games back from his January double knee surgery. I’m already leery of the Blazers repeating the mistake they made in the playoffs last year—we just have to hope they know what they’re doing and didn’t make the decision to let him play lightly. He’ll come off the bench, of course, but McMillan has yet to announce a minutes limitation.
We know what the Lakers can do. With Marcus Camby still out for the time being, Portland is at a huge size disadvantage against LA’s front line of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom. Kobe Bryant is Kobe Bryant, and it will probably take the combined best efforts of Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews to contain him reasonably.
What I’m really interested to see in this game is how LaMarcus Aldridge 2.0 plays against these guys. So far he’s come off well against nearly every elite power forward he’s faced—Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, basically everybody except Amar’e Stoudemire and Kevin Garnett. The Lakers blew out the Blazers at Staples early in the season, but those were different circumstances. Bynum was hurt, Camby wasn’t, and Aldridge hadn’t started putting up 30 and 10 on a regular basis yet.
The other thing to consider is the Lakers’ lackluster recent level of play. Before the All-Star break, they dropped games to Charlotte and Cleveland. The common theory is that they will ratchet up the intensity down the stretch, and they looked pretty locked-in last night against the Hawks. The fact that LA will be coming to Portland on the second half of a back-to-back is a small comfort to the Blazers. The Lakers have struggled in Portland in the past, and you can bet the Rose Garden crowd will be fired up not only for facing their most hated opponent but also for the return of Roy. A win tonight wouldn’t tell us much about the Blazers in the long term (after all, they might not have the same team after tonight), but it’s not unwinnable by any stretch, and would certainly kick off the crunch-time portion of the season on a high note.