Game 8 Preview: Trail Blazers vs. Lakers

Once they get up by 15 or more the Lakers forget basketball and immediately begin practicing for Dancing With the Stars. This is the beginning of the world's sexiest pasodoble.

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Brandon Roy speaks to Blazersedge about his new offensive outlook.  See our coverage of last night's game for details.

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Game Time:  6:30 p.m. Pacific   TV:  CSNNW

6-0 isn't a bad start to the season.  I mean, it's not the 12-0 start that people predicted Miami would have after 6 games, but you know, for teams that don't have the benefit of The Decision, I guess it's OK.

The discouraging part of the Lakers' early success if you're a prospective opponent is that this hasn't been a Kobe Bryant tour de force.  Technically Bryant isn't even the leading scorer on the team.  That honor belongs to Pau Gasol by 0.1 points right now.  Gasol has been taking candy from every baby he's seen so far this season.  53% shooting, 25 ppg, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 1.7 blocks.  Forget what you've seen before, this is Gasol Unleashed.  Turn away and only look at his backside lest ye perish.  Lamar Odom has also been performing optimally, shooting 62% (67% from the arc) and grabbing 11 rebounds with 3.5 assists.  You can do whatever you want to try to stop Kobe but it's not going to work while these two are performing like this.

Speaking of Bryant, he's at 25 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists himself.  In case you're wondering that makes the total production of their top three players 65 points, 27 rebounds, and 13 assists on 52% shooting.  They might as well post an "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here (unless you're here to play the Clippers)" sign at the end of the visitor's tunnel in Staples Center.

Well, maybe not all hope.  In the past Ron Artest has had some success taking over the game against the Blazers, pummeling Portland into submission by dint of his physique and three-point shooting.  That's still an issue for the Blazers.  They don't have anybody who can deal with him when he gets rolling.  But this year Artest trying to dominate would be the equivalent of Will Smith, Justin Timberlake, and Justin Bieber chatting up a table full of ladies only to have Gilbert Gottfried crash in and start making small talk.  Though still quite able on defense, Artest's offensive game has exploded on the launching pad this year.  He's shooting 35.5% from the floor and a somewhat more passable 37% from distance (aided by a stellar performance against the Kings).  Part of that is deference to the players we just mentioned but Ron-Ron is fully capable of blasting apart the carefully-crafted L.A. offense.  Also he's averaging a paltry 3.5 rebounds per game.

That's about the only crack in the door, however, as the Lakers supporting cast is performing superbly.  Derek Fisher knows when to shoot and when not...mostly not.  He's been excellent from the floor and out of his mind from beyond the arc.  Ditto Steve Blake.  Shannon Brown provides energy, hops, efficient scoring, and more stellar outside shooting.  Matt Barnes hasn't been shooting well at all but who cares?  He's a rebounder, a runner, a bowling ball among pins.    Each of them knows their role and each of them clicks.  Nobody else on their bench is that great but it doesn't matter because they'll never commit enough fouls to let you get that deep.  In short, everywhere you turn a new problem awaits.  You just can't cover all the bases and they're going to score on you.  Your only choice is whether you want it fast or slow, inside or out.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the Lakers lead the league in scoring at 112 per game.  They've not played defensive-oriented teams but how much are you really going to shave off if they're clicking?  What do you stop when they shoot 46.6% from the floor, 44.7% from the arc, 81.3% from the line?  They're a good offensive rebounding team as well.

Their defense is good, but less iron-clad.  They're around 7th in the league in field goal percentage allowed, mediocre in three-point percentage allowed, defensive rebounding, and turnovers forced.  They don't make a ton of mistakes and can lock you down on a given possession if needed.  They're just not as accomplished on that end as they are on offense.

Obviously the Blazers' plan can't involved hope abandonment.  When they've had success against the Lakers before it's been because they've rebounded well, blitzed the ball down the court for successful, quick-strike looks, and then gotten back like mad to prevent fast breaks the other way.  Superior muscle and getting down the floor first both ways are the keys to this game.  Once again we're likely to see the Big Oden-Shaped Hole become apparent, even in the absence of Andrew Bynum.  Without a post presence it will fall on LaMarcus Aldridge to keep Gasol or Odom busy.  Nicolas Batum will also need to stay in motion or risk giving Artest or Bryant a night off defensively.  Whomever Kobe is guarding should probably go at him in order to try and get him into foul trouble...also a trait of Portland success against the Lakers.  The Blazers must hit open shots when they have them, particularly threes.  They have to play for 48 minutes as well.  Portland has often gone up on L.A. in Staples, only to find the Lakers charging back and taking the game with ease.  If the Lakers take this game for granted early on Portland must make them pay and then not let up, picking their spots for the iso looks but mostly making L.A. run all the time on defense trying to catch up with Portland's motion.  Go hard, be consistent, hit shots, and hope somebody over there is having an off night.

You can read all about the L.A. perspective at Silver Screen and Roll.

You can enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.  Please note that even though our contest creator couldn't bring himself to say print even one letter of their name, this game is against LAL.  Also note the 6:30 start.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)  

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