Best jersey in the busines. You do you, Mr. World Peace. Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

Game 33 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Lakers

Blazers: 17-15 (2nd Northwest Division)

Lakers: 18-13 (2nd Pacific Division)

Game Details: Staples Center Los Angeles, CA. 7:30 PM. TV: TNT. Radio: 750 AM (KXTG)

Projected Blazers Starting Lineup: PG Raymond Felton (#5, 6’1’’, North Carolina), SG Nicolas Batum (#88, 6’8′’, MSB Le Mans, France), SF Gerald Wallace (#3, 6’7’’, Alabama), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6’11”, Texas), C Marcus Camby (#23, 6’11’’, Massachusetts)

Projected Lakers Starting Lineup: PG Derrick Fisher (#2, 6’1”, Arkansas-Little Rock), SG Kobe Bryant (#24, 6’6”, Lower Marion High Schoo, PA), SF Metta World Peace (#15, 6’7”, St. John’s), PF Pau Gasol (#16, 7′, FC Barcelona, Spain), C Andrew Bynum (#17, 7′, St. Joseph High School, NJ)

We’ve reached the official halfway point. Although we’re not where we all thought we might be following a 7-2 start, but all things considered it could be worse. Oden’s officially done now, so we can all kill our “Oden Returns in a Blaze of Glory,” piece, and rip-off one more rote and tired “Durant Goes for 51, Oden Goes Under the Knife,” story.

The Blazers have survived a brief injury to LaMarcus Aldridge, they’ve played poorly at best on the road, they’ve lost to Detroit in MoTown and Washington in PTown, and after all that they’re second in their division and eighth in conference.

Not great, but still, we could be in Charlotte right now. Portland closes out the first half of the season with a game that last week looked like a black hole on the schedule, but right now might just be this team’s biggest opportunity of the month.

The Lakers aren’t the same Lakers they once were–losing by double digits to the Phoenix Suns–and things for the Lakeshow might just be falling apart. The Blazers haven’t had too much success in LA, but now they’ve got a chance to build on a moral boosting 20-point blowout of the Hawks at home by beating a very very beatable team.

To say that Portland is on a hot streak is overstating the fact just a tiny bit. Alright, not a tiny bit, a HUGE bit, but in this season, futures can turn on a dime. One win here, a loss there, can lead to winning streak or a losing streak. One such streak can turn the Knicks into a contender or Memphis into a four seed or the Lakers into a lottery team. The Blazers are 3-3 in their last six, they’ve yet to win back-to-back games in February, they’ve lost four of their last five against Playoff-bound teams, all things being equal, this team has underperformed.

Hopefully beating Atlanta will be the spark that gets Portland on roll. Two more wins before the All-Star Break, and there’s a chance the Blazers’ second half well outshines its first.

How does Portland beat LA at Staples? The same way they beat Atlanta. In a lot of ways, the Hawks and the Lakers are pretty similar. Both teams have one guy that dominates the ball on offense–Joe Johnson for ATL, Kobe Bean Bryant for the Lakers–they also have a handful of other guys that can contribute when called upon but mostly just stand around. The Blazers didn’t let Joe Johnson beat them by himself, although that rarely happens ever, and they should play with the intention of not letting Kobe win alone. Ball denial, body-to-body defense, contesting jumpers, these are the things Portland needs to do to limit Bryant.

Also, rebounding. The Blazers put on a rebounding clinic in their last game. Doing that against the size of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol is going to be difficult. Luckily, Kobe takes all the shots so all Marcus Camby and company are going to have to do is block out a lot. Rebounding and defense. It sounds simple enough. But if Portland focuses on those two things, they’ll be able to get one in Tinsel Town, and maybe, just maybe do themselves a favor for the very first time this season.

Couple of things to watch for:

  • How gassed will Bryant and Gasol be: Kobe and Pau played 40 minutes and 36 minutes respectively in the Lakers’ losing effort in Phoenix. Neither of these fellas is a spring chicken. Kobe’s had injury problems already this year. Pau is more of a wild card, although he’s been less effective this year than in years past. The Blazers need to get out and run early in this game to try and get LA’s big two moving up and down the court and out of steam. Kobe’s going to chuck, he took 24 shots against the Suns, twice as many as Bynum who took the next most, and with tired legs he might miss, a lot.
  • Nicolas Batum: The Oregonian‘s Joe Freeman had a nice piece today about the development of Nicolas Batum. Nic is key. His aggressiveness is going to play a big role going forward, and it will play a big role in tonight’s game. He’ll spend some time guarding Kobe, which will limit his effectiveness offensively, but there’s a flip side to that too. If LA puts Kobe on Batum, he should be able to take advantage of that. If they choose to put MWP (the former Ron Artest for those uninitiated) on Batum and slide Bryant onto Gerald Wallace, well then LA’s going to be in a whole lot of trouble.
  • Raymond Felton: Anybody can do anything once. Felton might still be able to resurrect himself in the eyes of Blazer fans. The best way for him to do that is play well for the second game in a row.

Email me: [email protected]

Twitter: @mikeacker | @ripcityproject

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