The best chance to win a game in October comes for the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday when they host the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Trail Blazers are in theory the least likely team to make the playoffs among L.A.’s remaining October opponents as two games against the Denver Nuggets and a clash with the Minnesota Timberwolves will come next for the Purple and Gold next week.
Still, the Blazers be a difficult matchup as they are coming to town with a 2-0 record after beating the Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns over the last few days. Gary Payton II, Olivier Sarr, and Trendon Watford will miss the Sunday clash.
Meanwhile, the Lakers have received a huge injury boost in the lead-up to the game as they have Anthony Davis starting at the 5 again. Davis seemed to have aggravated his back injury after taking a hard fall in the loss to the L.A. Clippers but was listed as “probable” going into the clash and is playing.
Also, Troy Brown Jr. is making his season debut after featuring with the same status as Davis on the injury report. Dennis Schroder and Thomas Bryant are still unavailable after both have had thumb surgeries.
Brown’s availability is a significant roster reinforcement, joining the Lakers’ undermanned wing corpus and providing the Purple and Gold with another shooting option. The 6-foot-7 forward knocked down 34% of his 3-point attempts over the last three years; he should be able to capitalize on the many open looks L.A. generates but can’t convert to points.
The Lakers head into the game dead-last in both field goal rate (36.5%) and 3-point percentage (22.4%), relying heavily on the defense-generated chances in transition. Those should come in plenty again as Portland gives up the third-most steals per game (11.0) while L.A. leads the NBA with 12.5 steals.
However, the Trail Blazers have a top-10 transition defense, giving up just 1.26 points per possession on the break. After the addition of Jerami Grant, they also boast an improved interior defense, committing the second-fewest fouls and giving up the fewest free throw attempts.
And on offense, Damian Lillard is seemingly back to his best self, averaging 30.5 points through his first two games of the season. The Lakers should expect blows coming from all directions as the entire Trail Blazers starting 5 averages 14.0 points or more at the start of the season.
The Lakers’ defense has shown they can handle the best NBA players. However, the spotlight will be on the offense and whether it can finally improve its efficiency.
LeBron James and Co. should again enjoy plenty of chances to score on Sunday — but if they keep wasting them at a similar rate, they could end up discussing their offensive potential with little to show for it again.
Portland Trail Blazers (2-0) @ Los Angeles Lakers (0-2)
12:30 p.m. PT, October 23, 2022
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Patrick Beverley
SF: Lonnie Walker IV
PF: LeBron James
C: Anthony Davis
Key Reserves: Austin Reaves, Kendrick Nunn, Troy Brown Jr., Damian Jones, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Wenyen Gabriel
Projected Trail Blazers Starting Lineup:
PG: Damian Lillard
SG: Anfernee Simons
SF: Josh Hart
PF: Jerami Grant
C: Jusuf Nurkic
Key Reserves: Justice Winslow, Shaedon Sharpe, Nassir Little, Drew Eubanks
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