The Lakers play for their second consecutive night as the visit the Blazers in Portland. Coming off a tough loss to the Hawks, the Blazers will be looking to prey on the struggling Lakers. They boost a stellar 15-3 home record and sit comfortably atop the Northwest Conference with a 26-8 overall record. Without a doubt, the Blazers are in the hunt for a championship this year. Meanwhile the Lakers are pretty much destined for the lottery. It’ll be especially tough for the Lakers to earn a win tonight on the road, without Kobe (who will be resting), in a back-to-back against a very tough opponent. However the Lakers were able to upset the Warriors earlier this season without Kobe, so there’s always a chance! On that hopeful note, let’s jump into the analysis of tonight’ match-up.
Frontcourt: It’s utterly surprising to me that LaMarcus Aldridge has only been named an All-Star three times in eight year career despite playing superbly since his sophomore year. There’s no question that Aldridge will earn another All-Star berth this season and his numbers speak volumes – 23.1 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. Aldridge has a very advanced post-game and will present a big challenge for the Lakers frontcourt. He’s a do-it-all forward who can dominate on both ends of the floor. Don’t be surprised if he ends up being one of the best power forwards of his generation when it’s all said and done.
Since losing their starting center, Robin Lopez, to injury the Blazers have opted to play center-by-committee. Joel Freeland and former Laker Chris Kaman split time at the five. Freeland is a solid defender and rebounder but his offense is sorely lacking. Kaman is more dangerous on offense, but his rim defense is well below average.
Backcourt: Damian Lillard is enjoying a stellar year and will likely earn an NBA All-Star invitation for the second straight year. His eye-popping averages of 21.9 points, 6.4 assists and 1.5 steals don’t even begin to tell the complete story. This season Lillard has proven that he’s arguably the most clutch player in the NBA at the moment. He’s had multiple game-tying buzzer beaters and game winners thus far. Lillard is a match-up nightmare for the Lakers with his ridiculous speed and shooting ability.
At the two, Wesley Matthews has quietly reaped the benefits of Lillard’s dynamic playmaking abilities. Matthews averages nearly 17 points per game on 47.4 percent shooting. He’s also pouring in 3.1 three-pointers per game at 40.1 percent from distance. Kobe would be foolish to cheat off Mathews and allow him to get open.
The Blazers small forward, Nicholas Batum, has been plagued with injuries and inconsistency this year. Statistically he’s regressed from his career averages, but he still fills an important role for the Blazers as an elite wing defender and glue-guy. Batum has started to heat up on offense lately and has four consecutive double-digit scoring games.
Keys to Victory:
Attack The Paint: The Blazers are missing their best rim defender – Robin Lopez – so the Lakers should look to exploit the paint. Lopez’s replacement, Freeland is only a third year player and the Lakers challenge him early to see if he’s able to defend the rim. When Kaman comes in the game, the Lakers should look to attack even more and exploit Kaman’s slow feet. If there’s one potential weakness in the Blazers defense it will be in the interior as long as Robin Lopez is out.
Lakers Guard Play: Kobe is scheduled to sit out tonight’s game, so the Lakers guard will need to step things up in his absence. That means Lin and Price will have a chance to facilitate the offense and dictate the pace of play. Young and Ellington will need to provide scoring from the wing position. The Blazers have very elite guards in Lillard and Matthews, so the Lakers will need to do their best to keep up with them.
Energy: The Lakers will surely be tired after their game last night at Staples. If the Lakers come out flat then expect tonight to be a blowout. But, if they can come together and bring energy to tonight’s game then it maybe they can make things interesting.
Los Angeles Lakers (11-23) at Portland Trail Blazers (26-8)
7:00 PM PST, January 5, 2015
Moda Center at the Rose Quarter, Portland, OR
TV: TWC SN
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Trail Blazers Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Damian Lillard
SG: Wesley Matthews
SF: Nicholas Batum
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge
C: Joel Freeland
Key Reserves: PG: Steve Blake C: Chris Kaman PF: Thomas Robinson
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Ronnie Price
SG: Wayne Ellington
SF: Ryan Kelly
PF: Ed Davis
C: Jordan Hill
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