Mar 3, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Los Angeles Lakers small forward Wesley Johnson (11) celebrates with shooting guard Jodie Meeks (20) after he hit the game winning shot late in the fourth quarter of the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center. The Lakers won the game 107-106. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Lakers

 

The Portland Trail Blazers (48-27) make their second visit of the season to L.A. to take on the Los Angeles Lakers (25-48) for the third and final time. To most everyone’s surprise, the season series currently stands at 1-1, with the away team winning in both meetings. The Trail Blazers enter the game on a three-game winning streak and are in pursuit of home-court advantage in the playoffs. The Lakers have been unimpressive this season (just the way us Trail Blazers fans like it) but lately have played considerably better at home.

Although the Trail Blazers finished with a win against Memphis on Sunday (105-98), the team had a serious scare in the fourth quarter. LaMarcus Aldridge, who sat out seven games with a lower back contusion, landed on his back during the game. He ended the game with 33 minutes logged and told Casey Holdahl in a postgame interview, “I’m a little sore. It definitely woke up my little contusion, but I’m OK.” Aldridge is currently expected to play tonight and the Trail Blazers will need him. Through the first two games against the Lakers, Aldridge has averaged 24.0 points while shooting 53 percent.

The Trail Blazers gained a lot of help in their race for prime playoff seeding on Sunday. They defeated the Grizzlies and watched both the Warriors and Suns lose. All three teams are chasing down Portland in the Western Conference standings. Portland now has a two-game lead over Golden State for fifth place and are only 2.5 games behind Houston for the four seed. Tonight’s game could have a huge impact on the standings as Houston plays at Brooklyn and Golden State plays at Dallas.

The last time the Trail Blazers had a winning streak of more than three games was between February 21 and March 1. On March 3, the Lakers rolled into the Moda Center and ended a five-game winning streak with a 107-106 victory. In the closing seconds, Wesley Johnson threw down an alley-oop that put the Lakers in front with 6.9 seconds remaining. The Lakers are hoping to win their fourth consecutive home game (which would be a season-high). Nick Young wants the Lakers to be “the player-haters of the year” and spoil playoff spots for more competitive teams. A win in Los Angeles is definitely not a guarantee tonight.

 

Injury News

Portland Trail Blazers:

  • As mentioned, LaMarcus Aldridge was sore after taking a hit to his low back but will play tonight.
  • Joel Freeland is out with a MCL sprain.

Los Angeles Lakers:

  • Steve Nash is listed as probable for tonight’s game. He has been dealing with nerve irritation in his back all season.
  • Pau Gasol will be back in the starting lineup tonight. Gasol sat out Sunday’s game against the Suns with signs of vertigo.
  • Jordan Farmar is out with a strained right groin. Farmar was supposed to be reevaluated this weekend but there has been no update on his status.
  • Xavier Henry is listed as probable after sitting out two games with soreness in his knee. He has already been playing through a ruptured ligament in his left wrist.
  • Kobe Bryant. We can’t leave him out of this injury report. Bryant has only played in six games this season after suffering a fractured lateral tibial plateau. I’m not a doctor but I’m told that is located below his left knee.

 

Keys To The Game

Robin Lopez vs. Chris Kaman. Robin Lopez has been a god-send for this Trail Blazers team. Lopez continues to anchor the defense and post double-doubles like they are easy to come by. Joe Freeman, Trail Blazers beat writer, wrote an outstanding article on Lopez yesterday. In the article, Freeman touches on many reasons why Lopez has been more than a “revelation in Portland.” Lopez is averaging 10.9 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks, which places him among the league leaders at his position in many categories. The most important facet of his game is his durability. He has played in every game this season, which no other center in the NBA can boast. He will have a tough match-up tonight against Chris Kaman. Kaman has yet to play against the Trail Blazers this season. He has been injured in the previous two games but will play tonight. He is coming off a fantastic game against the Suns, in which he posted 28 points and 17 rebounds. Kaman is very capable of impacting tonight’s outcome and Lopez will need to suppress him as much as possible.

Jodie Meeks. Meeks has been solid for Lakers all season. He’s been one of the few bright spots in the bleakness that is Los Angeles. He is averaging 15.4 points per game which is significantly higher than his overall career average of 9.5 points. Meeks has totaled 41 points in his two meetings against Portland, giving him an average of 20.5 points. Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum will probably switch assignments on Meeks. If they can hold Meeks below his season average, the Trail Blazers will have a great chance to win.

Impress The Rest. Tonight’s game will be part of TNT’s national broadcast. If you are a Trail Blazers fan, you’ve seen this team play lights out, and unfortunately, you’ve also seen some embarrassing outcomes. The national coverage for Portland is never very good. They are in a small market and haven’t been “relevant” for some time. With the season coming to a close, the jury is out on how good this team is. The Trail Blazers have an opportunity tonight to showcase their talent and maybe change a few critics’ thoughts about them. They also have a chance to gain on the fourth-seed in the West. We will see which team, either the Jekyll or Hyde, shows up tonight.

 

 

Tags: Chris Kaman Jodie Meeks LaMarcus Aldridge Portland Trail Blazers Robin Lopez

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