As the Los Angeles Lakers continue to slide in the standings, head coach Luke Walton is left with a difficult situation. With point guard to D’Angelo Russell out for the next few weeks, the Lakers lineup must once again go through some shuffling, as players compete for playing time.
The 16–32 Lakers traveled to the Moda center for a Wednesday showdown against the Portland Trail Blazers. During their last meeting, the Blazers secured a 108–87 road victory over the Lakers.
Upon a 108-96 victory over the Indiana Pacers, fans and media members thought the young and three-point happy Lakers might have hit their stride. However, that notion was thrown out the window upon their worst road loss in franchise history, a 122–73 beat down courtesy of the Dallas Mavericks. Walton stated after the game that his young team tends to get complacent after victories.
Walton, Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram need to forget the loss and move forward with the next game at hand, as they attempt to progress with each and every contest. The 49th game this season is one of only two this week, as the team is currently ahead in terms of the game played than most of the other teams in the NBA.
The backcourt is the Trail Blazers’ bread and butter, as they have one of the top-tier duos of guards in the NBA. Shooter and competitor Damian Lillard headlines from the point guard position, while 2016 NBA Most Improved Player C.J. McCollum has already torched the Lakers this season.
The backcourt of the Trail Blazers averages 49.7 points per game, as that duo is always capable of going off each and every night. The two guards should certainly be the main focus for the incoming Lakers, as containing them likely translates to a victory.
Allen Crabbe provides productive minutes off the bench, so look for Terry Stotts to give him action replacing the two star guards.
Starting shooting guard Nick Young has benefitted from a new approach, as his attention to detail on both defense and offense has translated into productive minutes.
Either Ingram or Jose Calderon will start in place of Russell, as Ingram ran Walton’s offense during their previous game. At times, the Lakers have really benefitted from the execution of their sets, as their up-tempo offense turns stagnant at times.
The bench of the Lakers continues to lead the NBA in scoring, as the guards off the bench have steadily been up to the scoring tasks. Lou Williams leads the team in scoring while coming off the bench, as he hasn’t been shy in creating opportunities while on the court. Third-year guard Jordan Clarkson is a constant burst of energy off Walton’s bench, creating his shot with the ball in his hands.
Small forward Evan Turner is the main scoring threat in the frontcourt for the Trail Blazers, with multiple good games in his career against the Lakers. Turner isn’t afraid to use his height and size as an advantage, scoring points from the paint.
Mason Plumlee fights around the rim for Stotts, while also being a ball handler at times. Noah Vonleh, who was recently inserted into the starting lineup, provides athleticism and length at the power forward spot.
Al-farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless were recently moved to the bench. Each is a good athlete, but are more known for their defensive exploits than being offensive threats. Depending on what he needs, Stotts can go to either Meyers Leonard or Ed Davis as the center off the bench. Davis provides rebounding and energy while Leonard can space the floor with his shooting.
Upon sitting out a few games with an injury, Luol Deng has now returned to the starting lineup. The offseason acquisition got in some good minutes against the Mavericks, scoring eight points on 4-for-7 shooting in 19 minutes of play.
Julius Randle will likely matchup against Vonleh on both ends of the court. The two athletic power forwards get up and down the court, especially when Randle controls the rebound and takes it coast-to-coast. Randle has shown at times that he can be a triple-double threat, especially when his teammates are knocking down their shots.
Timofey Mozgov continues to hold down the center position for the Lakers, but not without controversy. With the team going through their recent losing ways, basketball aficionados are calling for Ivica Zubac to receive an opportunity. Although he has produced in limited minutes, his game won’t necessarily translate if he were to start.
Mozgov has continually provided a defensive presence, not that the Lakers have had much of one this season. His ability to stay vertical, while getting occasional blocks has helped the interior defense of the Lakers, but the young squad still needs to get acclimated to playing complete help side defense for one another.
Backup center Tarik Black has also shown that he can produce when given playing time, as he provides protection around the rim, while giving constant energy towards rebounds and loose balls.
Three Keys To Victory
Help The Helper:
The Lakers have been one of the worst defensive teams all year, as the up-tempo team hasn’t clamped down for a consistent stretch this season. Pick and roll situations have been a constant problem for the defense this season.
The guards haven’t done a great job of containing penetration, while the big men have struggled with secondary rotations often leaving the first man out to dry. Mozgov has been the victim of this on numerous occasions as his man winds up with an easy dunk after he rotates to stop the initial guard from getting to the rim. Randle especially must do a better job of rotating early.
Trust In Your Shot:
The guards have not been shy in getting their shots up this season, but the recent struggles shouldn’t deter them from doing what they do best. This team must maintain a confident approach when shooting the ball, especially when they get opportunities through the offense.
This back and forth game will see a good amount of three-pointers and open shots, so a strong start will set the stage for a competitive game. The Lakers haven’t done well in Portland recently, but this young core has shown resiliency at times this season.
Create For Your Teammates:
The tendencies for 1-on-1 situations have happened too often this season, as possessions have continually been wasted via a lot of dribbling. The Lakers, especially the young players, need to use this experience to build chemistry with each other.
The Lakers rank 25th in the NBA this season in terms of assists, as Walton’s squad is only averaging 20.7 assists per game. While many players have the ball in their hands on this team, drives down the lane should be used to set up teammates and not just solely to score at the rim.
Los Angeles Lakers (16-32) @ Portland Trail Blazers (19-27)
7:30 P.M. PST, January 25th, 2017
Moda Center, Portland, Oregon
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Brandon Ingram
SG: Nick Young
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Julius Randle
C: Timofey Mozgov
Key Reserves: Jordan Clarkson, Lou Williams, Larry Nance Jr., Tarik Black, Jose Calderon, Ivica Zubac
Projected Trail Blazers lineup:
PG: Damian Lillard
SG: C.J. McCollum
SF: Evan Turner
PF: Noah Vonleh
C: Mason Plumlee
Key Reserves: Allen Crabbe, Moe Harkless, Meyers Leonard, Al-Farouq Aminu