The 2012-13 regular season has officially kicked off for the Los Angeles Lakers. An incredible off-season has built high excitement in Lakerland and the expectations for the team are at the highest level. Opening night did not go as planned as the Lakers fell to the Mavericks 99-91. Tonight the Lakers look to rebound by finishing their season opening back-to-back series against the Blazers in the Rose Garden up in the Northwest. The Blazers will be starting their season tonight against the favorites to win the West and won’t get any schedule relief as they face Oklahoma City next on Friday.
Portland is a very young team with all of their players except Jared Jeffries (will turn 31 on November 25th) under the age of 30. This is a very different contrast to the veteran mix of the Lakers. Portland is 31-11 all-time in home openers, while they have won 11 consecutive home openers. Against the Lakers, the Blazers are 1-3 all-time in season openers.
J.J. Hickson will have the daunting task of covering Dwight Howard tonight. During the preseason, Hickson averaged 9.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.17 blocks per game while shooting 66.7 percent from the floor. In the 2011-12 season, he averaged 8.4 points and 6.2 rebounds in 23.0 minutes with Sacramento and Portland. In his 10 starts with Portland last season, Hickson posted 18.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game.
LaMarcus Aldridge is looking to continue his improvement as a big in the league, as he was named to his first All-Star team last year. The Blazers are definitely Aldrige’s team. This preseason he led the Blazers in rebounding (7.0 rpg) and finished second in points per game (15.3). In the 2011-12 season, he averaged 21.7 points (seventh in the NBA), 8.0 rebounds and a career-high 2.4 assists.
Nicolas Batum averaged 14.6 points and 4.1 rebounds per game during the preseason. Last season, Batum averaged career highs in points (13.9), rebounds (4.6) and steals (0.97), and led the team in blocks (1.02). He is also a three-point threat as he averaged 39.1 percent from the three last season, which should not be overlooked by Metta World Peace on defense.
Rookie Joel Freeland is a 25-year-old originally from England. He played overseas for Unicaja Malaga, where he led the team in scoring and rebounding in the 2011-12 season with 12.9 points and 7.5 rebounds in 28.2 minutes in 31 games. During the pre-season with Portland, Freeland averaged 4.6 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.
The sixth overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft, Damian Lillard, led the team in scoring (16.2 ppg) and assists (5.8 apg) during preseason play. Last year at Weber State, Lillard finished second in the country with a scoring average of 24.5 points, the best single-season average in Weber State history. Last year, Lillard received All-American honors from the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the Associated Press, became the first player in Big Sky Conference history to be named to an All-American team and was named the Big Sky Conference MVP.
Wesley Matthews averaged 14.6 points per game during the preseason, which was the third highest on the Blazers. Last season Matthews was the only Blazer to play all regular season games, averaging, 13.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.45 steals. Matthews tied for fifth in the NBA in 3-pointers made last season with 129.
Sophomore guard from Duke, Nolan Smith, got off to a slow start last season, but started to gel with the team during the final weeks of the season. In fact, Smith averaged 11.8 points per game during the last six games of the season. Overall in the 2011-12 season, Smith posted averages of 3.8 points, 1.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 12.3 minutes in 44 games. During the preseason, Smith averaged 4.5 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.
Keys to Victory:
Feed the Bigs: For the majority of the season, Dwight Howard will have the advantage in positional match-ups, that comes with the territory of being the best center of the league. However, for the second straight night, the center matchup is completely one-sided. After failing to capitalize on the advantage he had over the Mavericks’ Eddy Curry last night, Dwight Howard will get a second chance as he will be going against the 6’9″ J.J. Hickson.
Howard definitely has the advantage in size, power, strength and moves in the post. Expect Howard to get a lot of touches low in the post and with the pick-and-roll game with Steve Nash. Pau Gasol will also have an advantage on offense and can draw LaMarcus Aldridge out on defense to either shoot mid-range jumpers or open up the post for Dwight Howard.
Make Your Free-Throws: It is no secret that Dwight Howard has struggled from the charity strike throughout his entire career. However, the Lakers performance at the free-throw line was horrible to say the least against Dallas. They were unable to take advantage of the free points Dallas was handing to them on Tuesday night. The Lakers went 12-31 (38.7%), with Howard going 3 for 14 and Jordan Hill going 1 for 6. In addition, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant (the Lakers’ best free-throw shooters) did not get to the line once last night. Expect that to change.
Improve the Defense: The Lakers’ defense was pretty much non-existent last night as Dallas shot 47.1 percent from the field. There is really no reason for the Lakers to ever get out-rebounded by their opponent at any time during the season when they have talented rebounders on their roster, led by Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. Last night, the Lakers didn’t lose the rebound battle (46-40), but they seemed to get out-hustled by Dallas on the glass. Since the Lakers are not consistently effective with transition defense, their defense must step up tonight, beginning with rebounding.
Los Angeles Lakers (0-1) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (0-0)
7:30 PM PST, October 31, 2012
Rose Garden, Portland, OR
TV: TWC Sports Network, NBATV
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) 1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Trail Blazers Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Damian Lillard
SG: Wesley Matthews
SF: Nicolas Batum
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge
C: J.J. Hickson
Key Reserves: G Nolan Smith, F Joel Freeland
Injury Report: G Ronnie Price out (right ankle), G Elliot Williams out (left achilles tendon)