The Los Angeles Lakers finally returned home from their longest road trip of the season, only to fall to Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday by a final score of 113-92. With less than two weeks to go, Los Angeles will look to finish a dreary season on a positive note. Next up is the playoff-bound Portland Trail Blazers, who will be coming in looking to bounce back from a 126-122 home loss to the Clippers.
Frontcourt: Four-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge has continued his stellar play once again this season, averaging a double-double with 23.5 points and 10.4 rebounds for Portland. While his overall shooting percentage from the floor is down, his free throw and three-point percentages are severely above his career averages. Aldridge is one of the more difficult players to defend in the league because he can score inside and possesses an outstanding ability to step away from the basket and knock down jumpers. Teams generally have to pick their poison in their approach to guarding him.
Robin Lopez is the man in the middle for Portland. He doesn’t put up monster numbers on a nightly basis like Aldridge does, but his contributions are vital to the team’s success. Lopez does all of the dirty work for Portland. He does so by anchoring the defense, rebounding and playing with high intensity and consistent effort. He understands his limitations on offense and rarely does anything outside of his comfort zone.
Small forward Nicolas Batum is the Trail Blazers’ Swiss Army knife, because he does a little bit of everything, as evidenced by his stat line of 9.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. He’s effective in a number of ways on offense, but serves as an exceptional defender as well. He can defend multiple positions because of his lateral quickness and length. Batum brings tremendous versatility to both ends of the floor, which is a major reason Portland will be playing postseason basketball.
Backcourt: The Blazers lost Wesley Matthews for the rest of the season to a devastating torn Achilles. Arron Afflalo was acquired at the trade deadline to provide greater depth, but now finds himself with a severely increased role with his new team. Afflalo is an excellent “three-and-D” guy because of his defensive prowess and ability to knock down perimeter shots, connecting on 39.4 percent of his three-point shots for Portland. Often times in his career, his role has been to guard the opponent’s best perimeter player — a job he does extremely well.
Damian Lillard is the other half of the team’s one-two punch, along with Aldridge. The 24-year-old earned his first All-Star Game appearance this season by producing 21 points, 6.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game. Lillard is a superb playmaker and can put up points in a hurry, especially when the fourth quarter rolls around. Many believe he is the best clutch performer the league currently has, and for good reason. The last time the Blazers were in town to play the Lakers, Lillard scored 17 of his 34 points in the final 8:16 of the game.
Keys to Victory:
Unleash Jordan Clarkson: The 46th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft continues to improve day in and day out, looking like an absolute steal in the process. Clarkson has thrived since he assumed a role in the starting lineup, launching himself into the NBA All-Rookie First Team discussion. He’s coming off a performance that saw him rack up 18 points (7-of-9 shooting), 10 assists and seven rebounds in 31 minutes of play. Many would like to see him get a few more minutes per game, and with Lillard matching up against him, it’d be another great test and learning experience for the rookie.
Continued Youth Development: With just eight games remaining in the season, the focus should be solely on developing the young players that are expected to be around next season, such as Clarkson, Tarik Black, Jabari Brown and Ryan Kelly. Byron Scott has done a good job with this as of late by increasing Brown’s workload, and moving Kelly back to his natural position at the four. Allocating the vast majority of minutes to the youth on the roster should be the continued trend for the final eight games.
Energy and Effort: There’s no question the Lakers are outmatched in the talent department in this contest. They’ll have to make up for that disparity by outworking the Trail Blazers. This task may be a bit easier since they’ll be in front of the home Los Angeles crowd, but the Lakers can’t afford to be complacent, or they’ll likely see Portland complete the season sweep.
Portland Trail Blazers (48-26) at Los Angeles Lakers (20-54)
7:30 PM PST, April 3, 2015
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Trail Blazers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Damian Lillard
SG: Arron Afflalo
SF: Nicolas Batum
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge
C: Robin Lopez
Key Reserves: PG: Steve Blake, C: Meyers Leonard, C: Chris Kaman
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jeremy Lin
SG: Jordan Clarkson
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Ryan Kelly
C: Tarik Black