Game Time: 7:00 p.m. TV: KGW
The L*kers come into this game with a 38-13 record, best in the West. They've lost two of their last three, however, falling to Memphis on the road and Denver at home. The big news surrounding them is that just when they got everybody else healthy--finally playing with Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Ron Artest, and Lamar Odom all at the same time--Kobe Bryant is struggling on a sprained left ankle. That didn't stop him from dropping 27 on the Nuggets in their last game but if he's hobbled the L*kers lose half of their heart and a whole bunch of their scoring punch. Those other four players are all good and at one point or another three of the four have been great in this league. But Gasol and Bynum combined are averaging 32 points this year. Artest and Odom combine for 21. Kobe averages 28 all by himself. Not relying on him would be a big change for that offense.
Even without Bryant at full strength the L*kers will be a handful for the Blazers. Bynum and Artest are big guys. Aldridge seems to get up to play against Gasol but Pau can be a powerful scorer and LaMarcus isn't always the best defender. That frontcourt will be imposing. Every once in a while Odom gets a burr under his saddle and makes life miserable for Portland too. When he gets rolling the Blazers have trouble stopping him. The L*kers are good shooters, decent three-point shooters, and excellent free-throw shooters. They share the ball but they can also score one-on-one with a mismatch advantage. There aren't too many holes in the offense. They're good rebounders and very good defenders as well.
Nevertheless L.A. hasn't won in Portland since the Herbert Hoover administration, largely because the Blazers have done a great job of rebounding and running the ball back fast enough that the bigger, slower defenders can't get set. The Blazers get possessed by a special energy playing at home against this team. They'll need it tonight, as there aren't many logical reasons to favor Portland in any head-to-head matchup against this team.
The other thing Portland will need is Brandon Roy. Even at 90% he would make a huge difference, stretching out the L*kers' defense instead of letting them key on a couple of scorers. Without him I fear that they'll pinch LaMarcus every time he touches the ball and assign a man to keep Andre Miller from penetrating. If they can accomplish those two things everybody else on the Blazers' roster combined would have a hard time denting their offensive advantage. The only exception to this would be if Kobe is out and Jerryd Bayless available and healthy. Short of that, a Roy-less effort may not cut it tonight.
If L.A. does lose they'll have another year to think about it. I'm not sure it bothers them in the big picture, as people with rings are beneath noticing this stuff. But the losing streak in Portland is an annoying fly at their otherwise pristine banquet. They're going to want to smash it. It would make all of us feel good if the fly escaped again to buzz around their collective heads for another season.
There's not much more to say than that. These games pretty much introduce themselves. No matter what the time, era, or status of the teams beating the L*kers is fun. Someday soon maybe it won't mean so much as there will be more important things to worry about. But I have a hunch that even then it'll make us feel a little better inside. Energy, hustle, and a devil-may-care attitude. For now those are the passports to victory. Go get 'em, tigers.
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[Update:] Jason Quick has Brandon Roy still out for this game. Jerryd Bayless will start.