The Los Angeles Lakers have won five of their last six games to climb over .500 for the first time in two years. One of the wins that sparked that run was a 114-110 road victory over the Portland Trail Blazers as the Lakers exorcised their demons.
Before that contest, the Lakers had lost 16 straight games to the Blazers, and now they’ll look for their second straight win against a team led by Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum who haven’t lost since that contest, winning four straight.
The Lakers are on their own three-game winning streak. “It’s going to be a tough challenge and great opportunity for us again,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton said at shootaround. “They’re playing as well as anyone in this league right now. We should know mostly what they’re doing, just like they’ll know what we’re doing. It’s going to be a fun opportunity.”
Obviously, things for the Lakers begin with LeBron James who has been as advertised so far this season. Just as important is that Kyle Kuzma seems to be emerging as that much-needed second scorer.
The second-year forward has scored at least 18 points in three of the last four games, and is shooting 50 percent from the field over his last five.
Of course, going against the Blazers, perimeter defense will be key in containing the outstanding duo of Lillard and McCollum, and the Lakers have done a solid job in defending the two so far this season.
In particular Lillard is shooting well below his season averages, especially from three-point range, against the Lakers. “We’ve got to be on our Ps and Qs every possession with Dame and C.J.,” James said. “They’re the head of the snake, they’re two of the best combo guards we have in our league. We have to be aware of them at all times.”
Plenty of Lakers will spend time in trying to limit the Blazers guards. Lonzo Ball, Rajon Rondo, Josh Hart, and Lance Stephenson will all be tasked with that job. But probably the most important will be Brandon Ingram.
Ever since returning, and moving to the starting shooting guard position, Ingram has become the Lakers’ primary defender against the opposing team’s top wing. Though he usually ends up guarding players quicker than him, his length can cause plenty of problems while challenging their shot.
Ingram has certainly had his issues, but his ability to contain one of those guards, as well as exploiting his size advantage on the offensive end, potentially getting them in foul trouble, will be huge for the Lakers in this contest.
Overall, the Lakers have done a good job of defending the Trail Blazers this year, holding them to 43.1 percent from the field in two contests. Unfortunately, where the Lakers have failed against the Blazers is controlling them on the glass. Portland is one of the league’s best offensive rebounding teams and they have exploited that against the Lakers.
The Blazers have grabbed 30 total offensive rebounds in the two games against the Lakers which has helped negate their struggles shooting the ball. L.A. can’t afford to allow Portland extra possessions as they are top-10 in nearly every offensive category.
The addition of Tyson Chandler should help in that regard as he provides a big body the Lakers were missing in battling with Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins.
One area the Lakers have been struggling with recently has been turnovers. L.A. had a season-high 22 against the Hawks, with James and Ingram combining for 10. Portland forces the fewest turnovers in the league, and rank dead last in steals as well as in the bottom-10 in blocks so they shouldn’t provide too much of an issue on that front.
If the Lakers can’t hold onto the ball it will very likely be a self-inflicted one which simply can’t happen.
Lastly, with another potentially close game on the horizon, free throw shooting will be key. Portland is the best in the league while the Lakers are next to last and it nearly cost them again against the Hawks. Getting to the line, and converting when there, will be crucial for L.A. on this night.
It is odd that the teams would meet three times within the first 14 games, but this provides the Lakers with a chance to gain a tiebreaker against a team they could be battling for playoff position with at the end of the year. Defense and rebounding will be key if L.A. hope to come out with the win.
Los Angeles Lakers (7-6) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (10-3)
7:30 P.M. PT, Nov. 14, 2018
Staples Center, Los Angeles, Calif.
TV: Spectrum SportsNet, ESPN
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Brandon Ingram
SF: LeBron James
PF: Kyle Kuzma
C: JaVale McGee
Key Reserves: Josh Hart, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Tyson Chandler, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Projected Blazers Starting Lineup:
PG: Damian Lillard
SG: C.J. McCollum
SF: Jake Layman
PF: Al-Farouq Aminu
C: Jusuf Nurkic
Key Reserves: Evan Turner, Seth Curry, Nik Stauskas, Meyers Leonard, Zach Collins