The Los Angeles Lakers have shown improvement over the course of the last several games, but have had major collapses in the fourth quarter in each of the last two contests. On Sunday, the Lakers played well against the Phoenix Suns, but ultimately lost control of the game in the fourth quarter. Similarly, on Friday night, the Lakers looked impressive against the Toronto Raptors, but gave the game away in the first few minutes of the final period.
Despite their fourth quarter struggles, the Lakers will look to carry their momentum of playing decent basketball into their game tonight against the Portland Trail Blazers. Just as the Lakers are in last place of the Pacific Division, the Blazers are in last place of the Northwest Division with a 5-9 record. The Blazers have struggled early in this season after losing key players in free agency, namely LaMarcus Aldridge, this past offseason. Both teams are still in search of an identity and are rebuilding, so it will be an evenly matched and competitive game.
As mentioned above, there is a major void that must be filled for LaMarcus Aldridge, who fled town to join the San Antonio Spurs. The frontcourt for the Blazers has been a weakness early in the season, as the team waits for second-year big man, Noah Vonleh, to develop. Vonleh, a versatile big man, has not been impressing thus far. The second-year big does start, but is only averaging 14 minutes per game so far this season.
Those extra minutes are being rewarded to Ed Davis, who will be making his return to Staples Center after spending last season with the Lakers. Davis is purely an energy guy who creates his own chances with his offensive rebounding and hustle. Although he is coming off of the bench, Davis is a key piece to the Blazers, because he can impact the game with his defense and hustle.
Another former Laker who will be making a return to Staples Center is Chris Kaman. Kaman did not have his best year with the Lakers two years ago, but he seems to have found comfort with the Blazers. Kaman can do damage in the paint with his craft post moves, so when he is in the game, the Lakers have to pay him close attention.
The Blazers backcourt revolves around Damian Lillard, who has been a polished point guard since his arrival in the league in 2012. Lillard has always been a handful, not only for the Lakers, but for the rest of the NBA. The All-Star point guard can control the game with his ball handling and his smooth jump shot. Lillard can create his own scoring opportunities as well as creating for his teammates, which makes him dangerous with the ball in his hands.
Also making a name for himself around the league for the Blazers is C.J. McCollum. The young shooting guard has been given an opportunity to shine, averaging twice as many minutes as he has averaged throughout his career, and he has done just that. On opening night against the New Orleans Pelicans, McCollum erupted for 37 points and shot 64 percent from the field. This is a guy that the Lakers backcourt will want to pay close attention to.
Keys to Victory:
Limit Points in Transition: Lillard and McCollum will be sure to attack the young Lakers guards in transition, especially because the Lakers do not move well from offense to defense. Everyone on the court needs to communicate when the Blazers are pushing the pace if they want to avoid a second-coming of the Phoenix debacle.
Fundamental Defense: This young Lakers team needs to focus on the fundamentals: boxing out, talking to each other on defense, and rotating correctly. It is important that everyone boxes out their opposition, so that they limit second chance opportunities. Ed Davis will be very active on the offensive glass, so the Lakers need to rotate quickly, communicate, and put a body on Davis to prevent second chance points.
Let Russell Run the Show: When D’Angelo Russell gets his game going early, his confidence seems to carry throughout the game. If Coach Byron Scott trusts Russell to be aggressive early against an All-Star caliber player such as Lillard, it will be a huge confidence boost for the rookie. Russell is coming off of arguably his best career night and will be looking to carry over the momentum of his impressive performance.
Los Angeles Lakers (2-10) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (5-9)
6:30 PM PST, November 22, 2015
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 (Spanish)
Trail Blazers Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Damian Lillard
SG: C.J. McCollum
SF: Al-Farouq Aminu
PF: Noah Vonleh
C: Mason Plumlee
Key Reserves: PF: Ed Davis, C: Chris Kaman, PF: Meyers Leonard
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Jordan Clarkson
SF: Kobe Bryant
PF: Julius Randle
C: Roy Hibbert
Key Reserves: SG: Lou Williams, SF: Nick Young, PF: Larry Nance Jr.