Blazers: 4-1 (1st Northwest Division)
Lakers: 4-3 (2nd Pacific Division)
Game Details: Rose Garden Arena, Portland, OR. 7:30 PM. TV: TNT. Radio: KXTG (750 AM)
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Raymond Felton (#5, 6’1”, North Carolina), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5″, Marquette), SF Gerald Wallace (#3, 6’7″, Alabama), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6’11″, Texas), C Marcus Camby (#23, 6’11″, UMass)
Projected Los Angeles Starting Lineup: PG Derek Fisher (#2, 6’1”, Arkansas Little Rock), SG Kobe Bryant (#24, 6’6”, Lower Marion High School), SF Matt Barnes (#9, 6’7”, UCLA), PF Pau Gasol (#16, 7′, FC Barcelona, Spain), C Andrew Bynum (#17, 7′, St. Joseph High School)
I didn’t pick Thursday night’s game with the Lakers as the game of the month when I previewed January basically for one reason. I thought the Oklahoma City game was going to be a bigger, and more important test. Having said that, this is a huge game, and because of the way Portland won my pick for game of the month, I’m revising. Portland versus the Los Angeles Lakers is now the game of the month.
Here’s why. As I predicted to myself, the national media has started to get wind of what’s happening in the Rose City. People are going to watching this game. The Blazers need to win because they need to prove that on a night in night out basis they can beat the best teams in the league.
And a second reason: This is the Lakers. Sure they aren’t the Lakers of old, far from it in fact, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous. In fact, it might make them more dangerous. Portland is supposed to win this game. They are the tops of the Western Conference for the first time in a decade. They are playing good team basketball. And for once they are the favorite in this match-up. All those things combined, and you have a recipe for overlooking a team that can still play.
Losing at home is not something Portland can afford to do if they want to stay hot beyond just the opening weeks of the season.
So what do they have to do? Well, watching game tape of the OKC win would be a good place to start. Go inside early, get the bigs in foul trouble, get to the free throw line, limit Kobe. Sounds easy, but it won’t be. One thing Portland should try hard to do is attack LA when their bench is in. That’s the best way to limit Kobe. He can’t beat you when he’s not on the floor.
I’m keeping my preview brief. The RG is going to be jacked up. After tonight we’ll know if Portland is going to be at or around the top of the conference, or if beating one of the best teams in the league at their house was just a fluke.
Here’s what I’m watching for:
- How the Blazers handle the moment: No doubt these dudes have been hearing the rumblings, and have looked at the standings. This is a big moment. First national televised game of the season, first and only meeting with the LA Lakers in Portland. If the Blazers can avoid getting starry eyed they’ll be in good shape. If they can feed off the raucous energy of the home crowd, they should have a huge advantage.
- Rebounding: Smack in the middle of all the pace talk is the fact that Portland has rebounded at a much better rate than they have in a long time. Andrew Bynum collected his first 20 points 20 boards game of his career in LA’s last game against the Houston Rockets. The Blazers need to attack the offensive glass, and they need to protect the defensive boards. The best way to beat Bynum in the rebounding game will be to get him in foul trouble early.
- Jamal Crawford: I have a feeling that Jamal is going to be an x-factor most nights. In OKC Jamal was not much of a factor. If what happened with Gerald Wallace between the loss against the Clippers and the win in Oklahoma City is any indication of how Crawford might adjust, look for him to have a good night tonight.
- Dealing with Kobe: Kobe’s going to shoot. A lot. Portland’s got to let him when he’s cold, and stop him if and when he gets hot. Figuring that out will be how the Blazers figure out this game.
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