The Portland Trail Blazers (41-18) will host the Los Angeles Lakers (20-39) tonight at the Moda Center. This is the second of three regular season meetings between the teams. On December 1st in Los Angeles, the Trail Blazers defeated the Lakers 114-108.
The Trail Blazers enter tonight’s game on a five game winning streak. Since losing three games in a row last month (their worst skid this season) they have turned things around. While the offense continues to excel, it’s the defense that has put them back in third place in the Western Conference.
On Saturday the Trail Blazers held Denver to 39.8 percent shooting, which marked the fourth straight game in which they’ve held an opponent to 40.0 percent or less. During their current win streak the Trail Blazers are also allowing only 92.4 points, 10.5 below their season average. Saturday also marked the return of LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge looked off at times but finished with 16 points and seven rebounds.
The Los Angeles Lakers are coming off one of their best games of the season. The Lakers ended a three game losing streak Friday with a 126-122 win against the Kings. The Lakers set a franchise record for three-pointers made in a game with 19. Since acquiring MarShon Brooks and Kent Bazemore, the Lakers have gone 2-3 but have scored at or over their season points average four out of those five games. After scoring a season high in points on Friday, the Lakers will come into Portland with a little bit of confidence.
Portland Trail Blazers:
- Thomas Robinson is out as he continues to nurse a left patella tendon strain.
- Joel Freeland will also be out as he continues to struggle with an MCL sprain.
Los Angeles Lakers:
- Kobe Bryant remains out with a fractured left knee. He will be re-evaluated in a couple of weeks to see how he’s progressing.
- Steve Nash hasn’t played since February 11th but is technically considered day-to-day. He will most likely not play tonight due to nerve root irritation.
- Chris Kaman will be probable after he played four minutes on Friday. Kaman has been suffering from a sore back.
- Nick Young has been ruled out of tonight’s game with a sore left knee.
- Xavier Henry will join the team in Portland tonight. Henry played in his second D-League game on Saturday in his first action since dealing with a bone bruise and abnormality in his meniscus in late December.
Keys To The Game
LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Pau Gasol. Aldridge had a solid performance on Saturday after missing five games. I don’t think anyone expected him to be in early season form but he was able to provide points and leadership. With one day of rest, I expect Aldridge to be fully prepared for tonight’s game. Pau Gasol played well on Friday as well. Gasol was 10-17 from the field for 22 points and clocked a team high 39 minutes of play. It’s no secret that Gasol hasn’t been happy all season but he is still one of the most efficient big men in the league. Aldridge and Gasol will be leaned upon heavily by each of their teams tonight. In the first meeting of the season against the Lakers, Aldridge had 27 points and nine rebounds.
Damian Lillard. Lillard had a relatively quiet performance on Saturday. He shot 53.8 percent from the field but was 0-5 from behind the arc. Lillard had 26 points and nine assists last time he faced the Lakers. Having LaMarcus Aldridge back will take some attention away from Lillard. It will be important for him to stay confident, aggressive, and be able to score at will. He has proven that when the team needs him, he can deliver. Aldridge won’t have a great game every night and Lillard will need to be able to pick up the slack.
Defense. What a blanket key to victory, Ryan. Well I would have to agree with you on that. But as mentioned, the driving force behind the Trail Blazers five game winning streak has been defense. Enter the Lakers. They are not playing for a playoff spot and have struggled to stay healthy all year. However, they did just score 126 points (against the lowly Kings) and they will be ready to play. The history between the two teams is deep and rich. The fans in Portland hate the Lakers as much as any other team in the league. The Trail Blazers must center their focus on defense tonight in order to secure the win. I’m sure the fans will be loud and supportive of the hustle and determination the Trail Blazers put in on defense.
One last thing: Beat LA!