The Lakers struggled last night in facing the Hornets at home, but were able to pull out a 104-96 victory. Kobe Bryant took over in the second half and he and Pau Gasol continued to work well off of each other in working a two-man game. If the Lakers are able to get to the playoffs, the Lakers will likely continue to go to this combination in crunch time. The Lakers have yet to sweep a back-to-back this entire season, which is an amazing stat and shows how much inconsistency has plagued this team. They have never in their history failed to do this for an entire season.
The Portland Trail Blazers come into the game on an eight game losing streak and have injuries to several of their core players. All of this is irrelevant to them on their home floor with the Lakers coming to town, as the Lakers have struggled mightily in Portland in the past. The Blazers have one of the best fanbases in the league, and they will be sure to show up in full force for this one as their season is near its end. The Lakers must match Portland’s energy from the opening tip and take the crowd out of the game.
Frontcourt: Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge is a bonafide all-star and is one of the best power forwards in the league. He comes in averaging 21.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. Aldridge plays a finesse style on the offensive end and has an excellent face up game. He plays a similar game to that of Kevin Garnett, although he doesn’t quite possess Garnett’s athleticism. Aldridge’s pick and pop game serves as a tough matchup for the Lakers, who struggle mightily rotating on the defensive end. Nicolas Batum, an excellent all-around player who normally starts at small forward, is likely to be out tonight with an injury.
J.J. Hickson, once a promising young player on Lebron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers team, has a found his niche in Portland. He has been a double-double machine throughout the season and is the team’s leading rebounder. Hickson is a bit undersized for the center position at 6’9, but he is effective on the offensive glass. Hickson is questionable for tonight’s game after not practicing on Tuesday. If he does indeed play, the Lakers must be sure to focus on putting a body on him immediately when a shot goes up.
Backcourt: Rookie Damian Lillard out of Weber State starts at point guard, and he will likely be a nearly unanimous choice as Rookie of the Year. He is second on the team in scoring at 18.8 points per game and has the poise of a veteran point guard when making decisions out of the pick and roll. Lillard is more of a jump shooter at this point in his career, and the Laker guards must go over the top of all on-ball screens when guarding Lillard. Lillard is deadly from deep and shoots 37 percent from three on six attempts per game. Defensively, Lillard has much to learn and has struggled at times at that end of the floor. Wesley Matthews, the starter at the two, left Sunday’s game with an injury, further adding to the Blazers’ injury woes. Matthews is unlikely to play tonight, which is a big blow to Portland because he is their best spot up shooter as well as one of its best perimeter defenders.
Keys to Victory:
Stop “Other Guys:” Against a team that is unlikely to have play key players in Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and possibly Hickson, the Blazers only have two players that can create their own shot in the lineup in Lillard and Aldridge. The Lakers cannot allow the role players of Portland to get easy layups in transition or wide open looks from the perimeter. If these role players gain confidence in the early going, it could be a long night for the Lakers.
Ball Movement: The Blazers have arguably the worst bench in the NBA, which helps explain the team’s struggles with significant injuries to many of its key players of late. The Lakers have superior talent in this matchup, and they will be able to exploit this if they move the ball from one side of the floor to the other and work for good shots. Last night, each Lakers starter recorded at least four assists, and they will need to replicate this effort tonight.
Portland Trail Blazers (33-44) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (41-37)
7:00 PM PST, April 10, 2013
Rose Garden, Portland, OR
CA TV: TWC Sports Network
Blazers Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Damian Lillard
SG: Will Barton
SF: Victor Claver
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge
C: J.J. Hickson
Key Reserves: G Eric Maynor, C Meyers Leonard, F Luke Babbitt
VIDEO: Lakers vs. Trail Blazers Preview