Game 57 Preview: Lakers vs. Trail Blazers

Game Time:  7:30 p.m.   TV:  KGW

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Injury Updates

The Portland Trail Blazers have informed the media that guard Brandon Roy has been upgraded to "probable" for tonight's game against the Los Angeles Lakers. Center Marcus Camby is still listed as "out" and center Sean Marks is listed as "probable" with an injured "left ring finger" sustained at practice yesterday. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian reports that the finger injury a "fracture." -- Ben

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Let's get real.  People are down on the Lakers because they posted a three-game losing streak before the All-Star break, falling to Orlando, Charlotte, and Cleveland.  This is like saying you got beat up by someone on the school wrestling team, a guy in a leather jacket, and a 3rd-grader.  Despite that, the Lakers just pummeled the Hawks on their first game following the break and now sit at 39-19.  Only 10 of those wins have come against good teams (of which Portland, by record, is one) but L.A. doesn't blink at the prospect of playing on the road, tallying a 19-11 mark away from Staples Center.   Any intimation of this team "falling apart" is relative to championship expectations, which, by the way, are still in force.  Let's put it this way:  L.A.'s "collapse" is still six wins better than Portland's unbelievable overachieving at this point.  They're not in stride but they're not to be taken lightly.

 

Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom need little description.  Bryant's scoring (25.1 ppg) is slightly down this season but that's by virtue of fewer shots per game.  Every aspect of his game save three-point percentage remains as strong as ever.  I'm not even going to suggest that the Blazers try to push him outside because he'll just rattle off 21 points from beyond the arc including the buzzer-beating game-winner if I try.  Portland's best hope there is that he remains passive in the offense, as has been his tradition in the early quarters of Rose Garden games.  You can talk all you want about the other Laker scorers but Bryant has been the back-breaker in L.A. wins in Portland.  Gasol and Odom are both rebounding well and shooting outrageously high percentages.  That part of the lineup is intact.

The rest of L.A.'s lineup is spotty.  The biggest current issue for the Blazers is Andrew Bynum.  He's back, he's got legit size, and he's flirting with double-doubles nightly.   Marcus Camby returning would be a huge boon to Portland.  He can't stop Bynum single-handedly but he can make him work.  Camby would also pull Bynum out of the middle on the other end, freeing up potential offensive rebounds for the Blazers.  Ron Artest has traditionally been a thorn in Portland's side but he's more cotton candy than briar bush this year.  He's averaging 8 points, 3 rebounds, and his shooting percentage is sub-40.  The rest of L.A.'s supporting cast is composed of defenders and three-point shooters.  If you don't leave them open beyond the arc they have a hard time hitting.  Derek Fisher, Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, and Shannon Brown are the big names among them.

The Lakers rely heavily on points in the paint and free throws.  They're in the middle of the league in fastbreak points and three-pointers.  They're either going to go through Kobe Bryant or try an inside-out game with the big men and shooters.  Offensive rebounding is their not-so-secret weapon.  Gasol, Odom, Bynum, and Barnes will kill you with second chances.  Combine this, stir for a second, and you end up with an effective, efficient offense with enough star power to bail them out of most tough nights from the field.

L.A.'s big man size, small man mobility, and defensive depth allow them to get in front of most shots for 48 minutes.  They're less imposing than incessant defensively.  They're 5th in the league in shooting percentage defense, 6th in three-point defense, and 1st in opponent free throw rate.  They'll concede two-point shots to you but you'll not get those extra points off of threes and foul shots.  

Portland will need to manufacture energy points tonight in order to fare well.  Offensive rebounds are a strong possibility.  Portland has often overwhelmed the Lakers with turnovers and/or run-outs in the Rose Garden.  Staying strong on the boards will be a key.  LaMarcus Aldridge will need to own the matchup with Gasol.  The Blazers have a strong set of defensive wings to send against Bryant but they'll need to watch Bynum carefully.  Basically the Blazers have a decent chance in these emotion-packed home contests as long as they don't spring a leak against L.A.  As soon as Bryant or Gasol or someone unguessed starts going crazy and the defense has to shift to compensate everything opens up for the guys in purple and yellow.  When the ball is going through the net for Los Angeles, Portland can't create any of the opportunity/energy buckets they need.  At that point the Blazers are on the ropes and Kobe Bryant alone is enough to provide the knockout blow.  On the other hand we've seen several games where the Blazers do get those effort points, L.A. falls behind and is forced to go to Bryant, then the Blazers as a team match Kobe in the fourth.  That's Portland's recipe for victory.

One of the underlying issues tonight will be focus.  Rumor has it this may be Andre Miller's and Marcus Camby's and Joel Przybilla's last game in Portland's uniform.  Everybody else on the team outside of Aldridge will be looking over their shoulders as well.  The Blazers have to suit up for this game as if it were any other, letting the rumors take care of themselves.  Any kind of halfheartedness will spell a quick end to Portland's chances.  Don't forget the Lakers know their sorry record in this building over the past few years.  Don't think they remain unaware of the standings and the potential for a first-round matchup with the Blazers whether they finish 1st or 4th in the currently-crazy conference.  Open the door a crack for L.A. and they're going to bust it down.  Portland's only recourse is to do the busting before the Lakers even hit the porch.  Jump them, whip them with the garden hose, sick the dogs on them, crank up the riding mower, and finish this game before they even think about knocking on victory's door. 

One of the Laker blogs it's a pleasure to link to:  Silver Screen and Roll

Tonight's Jersey Contest form

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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