Pre-Game Report: Lakers Face Tough Challenge in Portland

Los Angeles Lakers (4-3) at Portland Trail Blazers (4-1)
7:30 PM PST, January 5, 2012
Rose Garden, Portland, Oregon
Radio: 710 AM (English), 1330 AM (Spanish)

Blazers Projected Starting Line-Up:
PG: Raymond Felton
SG: Wesley Matthews
SF: Gerald Wallace
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge
C: Marcus Camby

Key Reserves: F Nicolas Batum, G Jamal Crawford

It’s back to the road tonight for the Lakers after their bounce-back victory over the Rockets on Tuesday night. The team will rendezvous with the Trail Blazers in Portland, a team that is off to a very respectable 4-1 start this season. The Blazers are ranked fourth in the league in points per game (102.0) and second in rebounds (47.2), a huge reason for their great start.

Frontcourt: Portland relies heavily on forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who will see the court for the majority of the game. Aldridge comes off of a 30-point, eight rebound effort against the Thunder. He looks to keep that hot start going in a season that has seen his scoring average rise to 22.2 points per game; nearly five points better than his career average. Alongside Aldridge is Gerald Wallace, who has disappeared in this new year. After averaging 19.6 points through the first three games of the season, he has struggled in the last two; averaging just 6.5, including being held scoreless against the Clippers in a Blazers defeat. The Blazers have Marcus Camby at center, a strong defensive presence. He might not be the double-double threat he once was, but is a sure bet to grab rebounds, and block his share of shots.

In relief, the Blazers have the young and exciting Nicolas Batum, who in my opinion is just aching to break out. For now, he resides on the bench for Portland, averaging 11.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. Kurt Thomas takes Camby’s place as merely a defender for about 15 minutes a contest. Lastly, Craig Smith will see some filler minutes in the event of a comfortable lead or a sizable deficit.

Backcourt: The Lakers will oppose their second North Carolina Tar Heel point guard in a week (Denver’s Ty Lawson) as Raymond Felton mans the point in Portland. Offensively, Felton is off to a poor start this season, seeing his numbers drop from just over 17 points per game last season to just under 13. He is averaging seven assists per game, two fewer than a season ago. Granted, the Blazers have played just five games, and are 4-1, so something is working, right? When his teammates take the night off, he can come to life, as evidenced by his 23-point effort last Thursday night against the Nuggets. Felton is good for about a three-pointer a game, and hits about one-of-three attempted shots from distance. His running-mate is Wesley Matthews, a hungry player. He is averaging 15.4 points per game, which is right on par with last season’s average of 15.9. He is also grabbing two rebounds more (5.2) than he did last season.

Just when you think you have Felton/Matthews down and out, the third head of this strong backcourt comes off of the bench in Jamal Crawford. While true that his scoring average has declined in each of his last six seasons, Crawford still possesses the ability to score at will, but now off of the bench, which makes him all the more dangerous. Guard him well, and do not put him on the line; he will make you pay. He is 19-for-20 from the charity stripe this season.

Fun Facts:

  • Tonight is the 200th regular season meeting between Portland and the Lakers. The Lakers hold a 112-87 edge.
  • Kobe has a scoring average of 27.3 points against Portland. He boasts a higher average only against Charlotte (29.6) and Toronto (27.9).
  • The Lakers traditionally do not do well in Portland, where they have won just twice since 2005.

Keys to a Laker Victory:

Pressure the Frontcourt
In their lone defeat against the Clippers, Portland saw it’s frontcourt trio shoot just 34 percent, while scoring just 22 points; 19 of which was from Aldridge. Two nights later in Oklahoma City, those three shot 10 percent better, and scored 50 of the team’s 103 points in a victory over the Thunder. Big difference, so stay on it.

Let Kobe Shoot
The fourth team on the fun fact list was in fact the Houston Rockets, who Kobe lit up for 37 points. While the Lakers have not played well in the Rose Garden, Kobe has in fact been a thorn for Portland, especially in late game situations. Look for Kobe to score big again.

– Box Out and Fight for the Boards
The Blazers have out-rebounded their opposition in each of their games. But now a new challenge with Andrew Bynum breaking through in three games, even despite limited minutes in the first two contests. A rebound-war may ensue, and the Lakers must win it to have any sort of success.

Prediction: Lakers 102, Blazers 100

For the Portland pre-game report be sure to check out our friends at BlazersEdge for their analysis on the match-up.

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