The Lakers face the second best team in the West tonight after coming off of another win without Kobe Bryant. The Lakers seem to find more offensive balance when Bryant sits as six players scored in double figures in their last win. The big challenge for the Lakers this season is maintaining that balance when Bryant is on the floor. This will be absolutely critical tonight against one of the West’s best teams and a team that boasts a pair of tough perimeter defenders.
Frontcourt: With Robin Lopez out with a broken hand, Chris Kaman will likely get the start at center tonight. He will continue to split time with some combination of Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson and should finish at around his average of 20.0 minutes a game over his last five. That said, the former Laker has been very effective in his limited minutes, posting 8.6 points, 8.8 boards, and 1.4 blocks during that span. At this point in his career, he isn’t a major threat offensively, but the Lakers still need to keep him off of the offensive glass to limit his easy put backs.
LaMarcus Aldridge gets the start at power forward and will be a tough assignment for Ed Davis. Aldridge is the Blazers’ leading scorer at 23.1 points per game. While he has a sweet stroke, he can at times fall in love with the jump shot as opposed to driving to the hoop. He shoots the ball at just a 45.9% clip, which is pretty pedestrian, especially for a big man. The Lakers will have to take away his drives to the rim and force him into taking long jump shots. Aldridge is also a great rebounder and his average of 10.7 a game is good for seventh in the league.
At small forward, Nicolas Batum has been having a tough year. A fantasy darling in years past, he has been disappointing thus far. He is averaging just 9.4 points a contest, which is his lowest average since his rookie year. He has also struggled with his shot, shooting just 40.1% from the field and 26.1% from deep – numbers that are far below his career averages of 44.9% and 36.2%, respectively. That said, he has continued to be a masterful set up man, dishing out 4.7 dimes a game.
Backcourt: A four year college player, Damian Lillard has had an immediate impact in the league. However, unlike other four year college players, Lillard’s production hasn’t tapered off in the slightest. He is shooting a career best from the field and has become arguably the Blazers’ best player. He is an absolute gunner from beyond the arc who is more than capable of burying handfuls of three’s, as shown by his average of 2.8 makes a game this season. He is deadly from all over the floor, but his proficiency from long range makes him an especially tough cover as he can also blow by his defender for a vicious dunk. The Lakers point guards will struggle defending one of the league’s best young floor generals and timely defensive rotations will be important in containing him.
Wesley Matthews has quietly become one of the better shooting guards in the league over the last several seasons. Like Lillard, he has a green light from beyond the arc and has been especially hot from there in his last five, making 3.8 a game in that span on 40.4%. He is also a valuable perimeter defender and with Nicolas Batum, they form an imposing defensive tandem. The league has no shortage of perimeter talent, and having two high quality perimeter defenders has been huge for the Blazers’ defense. In fact, the Blazers lead the league in three point field goal percentage allowed at a paltry 29.0%.
Keys to Victory:
Don’t Settle for Threes: As a middling long range shooting team, the Lakers cannot afford to settle for threes against the league’s best three point shooting defense. Furthermore, the Blazers are particularly vulnerable inside as they are missing their best rim protector in Robin Lopez. Jeremy Lin has shown an ability to get into the paint and will need to do so tonight. He is coming off of a big game against Orlando, scoring 18 points and dishing out 6 dimes. The Lakers also need to get the ball into the post against LaMarcus Aldridge as he is one of the Blazers’ more vulnerable interior defenders.
Rebounding: The Blazers are a top ten team in rebounding differential at +2.0 a game while the Lakers are bottom ten at -1.8. The Lakers out-rebounded the Magic on Friday by a whopping 24 boards and while that was largely due to the Magic’s poor shooting, several Lakers made some surprising contributions. Ryan Kelly and Tarik Black grabbed a combined 17 rebounds and if Byron Scott isn’t getting energy and effort from his usual rotation of bigs, he should not hesitate to turn to these players.
Los Angeles Lakers (12-25) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (29-8)
6:30 PM PST, January 11, 2015
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Blazers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Damian Lillard
SG: Wesley Matthews
SF: Nicolas Batum
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge
C: Chris Kaman
Key Reserves: PG: Steve Blake, C: Meyers Leonard
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Ronnie Price
SG: Wayne Ellington
SF: Wes Johnson
PF: Ed Davis
C: Jordan Hill
Lakers Rookie Tarik Black After Breakout Performance