The Los Angeles Lakers are finally getting a majority of their players — and head coach Frank Vogel — back from health and safety protocols as they prepare to face the hugely shorthanded and struggling Portland Trail Blazers.
L.A. is finally getting healthy after nearly two weeks of a cobbled-together rotation. Kendrick Nunn, Anthony Davis and the soon-to-be traded Rajon Rondo are all out, while Trevor Ariza, Kent Bazemore and Austin Reaves are all returning after missing the last handful of games in health and safety protocols.
The Blazers, meanwhile, will be without CJ McCollum (right lung pneumothorax), Anfernee Simons, Jusuf Nurkic, Cody Zeller, Robert Covington, Brandon Williams, Keljin Blevins, and Trendon Watford (health and safety protocols). They are getting Nassir Little, Dennis Smith Jr., and former Laker Ben McLemore back after their stint with COVID.
The Trail Blazers were hopeful to undergo an identity change this offseason when they hired Chauncey Billups to take over head coaching duties. Instead, they have faced the same defensive issues that have plagued them in years past, and have not been helped by injuries and health and safety protocols.
Without Nurkic and Zeller, the Trail Blazers could turn to another former Laker, Larry Nance Jr., to take on center duties. This gives L.A. another chance to take a look at LeBron James in the center position, something they had success with against the Houston Rockets.
Damian Lillard is, by far, the biggest issue for the Lakers’ defense. He’s averaged more points per game in his career against the Lakers (28.3) than all but one team. Hopefully, some combination of Talen Horton-Tucker, Stanley Johnson, Avery Bradley, Reaves and others can do a serviceable job on Lillard.
For the Lakers, games like this are absolutely essential to win. January presents a treacherous schedule filled with road trips and difficult opponents. Getting a win against a severely shorthanded team that has already seen massive defensive issues is a must.
Their advantage in this matchup is that with the Trail Blazers being so ravaged by injury and COVID, Lillard is nearly their entire offensive attack. If they can slow him down, it should make for a winning formula that brings them into 2022 with some confidence.
Lakers (17-19) vs. Trail Blazers (13-21)
7:30 p.m. PT, Dec. 31, 2021
Crypto.com Arena, Los Angeles, California
TV: NBATV, Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Malik Monk
SF: Wayne Ellington
PF: Trevor Ariza
C: LeBron James
Key Reserves: Talen Horton-Tucker, Austin Reaves, Carmelo Anthony, Darren Collison, Kent Bazemore, Stanley Johnson
Projected Trail Blazers Starting Lineup:
PG: Damian Lillard
SG: Nassir Little
SF: Norman Powell
PF: Tony Snell
C: Larry Nance Jr.
Key Reserves: CJ Elleby, Cameron McGriff, Reggie Perry
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