Game 6 Preview: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Portland Trail Blazers

Game Time: 7:30 p.m. Pacific TV: TNT

The season hasn't started out exactly as the Los Angeles Lakers would have wanted. They're 4-3 so far. Ask them if they're concerned. They'll flash championship rings at you and tell you important games are played in May and June, not the first month of the season. But their offense has been sputtering, making any defensive lapses (and they've had a few) more critical than usual.

The Lakers' issues have come in two varieties. They've been over-reliant on Kobe Bryant. At first that may seem impossible. He's one of the best players on the planet. He's scored 26 or more points in 5 of the Lakers' 7 outings. He's brilliance on a stick. But the brilliant 33-year-old Kobe is not quite the same as the brilliant 27-year-old Kobe was. He's taking more minutes and more shots to get his production. His shooting percentages are way down. His assists are up but so are his turnovers. He's still capable of carrying this team by himself but that's becoming a less desirable outcome as games and years tick by.

The second big issue has been the lack of production among the supporting cast, a familiar story for L.A. made worse by their loss of talent and depth over the summer. Pau Gasol is still playing well at 17 points and 8.5 rebounds per night. Unlike most of his teammates, his field goal percentage is way up. But overall production is less than the prior year. Nobody else south of Gasol on the roster can hit a shot outside of Josh McRoberts. He doesn't score enough to make a difference. Steve Blake's aim is off, Derek Fisher's worse. Matt Barnes is so-so, awful behind the arc. Ron Artest (Confidential to Metta World Peace: If your new name costs a blogger 32 keystrokes the entire interweb is just going to call you "Ron") continues to prove that his best days are behind him. Nobody on the roster outside of a couple deep bench players can hit a three. Only two people draw any fouls. The Lakers are 24th in the league in fast-break points. Nothing is coming easy for this club.

Except...except...except...in walks the Next Great Hope in the form of Andrew "Look, I Keep My Shirt On Now" Bynum. (Yes, Ron, I know that was 33 keystrokes, but he's relevant.) After serving a four-game suspension Bynum has taken the league by storm, averaging 23 points and 17 rebounds per game. He's shooting 62% from the field, drawing 7 foul shots per game (shooting 57% on them though...foul him!), throwing in a couple blocks, and staying out of foul trouble. He's been a monster. He's also been an inconsistent monster historically. But that doesn't keep him from being declared the Lakers' second best player right now easily.

Bynum is one of the reasons the Lakers rank in the top third of the league in Points in the Paint scored and Offensive Rebounding percentage. Both will be areas of concern for a Portland team that has to scramble to defend the interior and that depends on sure rebounding to fuel the fast break. On the other hand the Lakers allow a bunch of fast break points and are only so-so protecting the ball. Even when the Blazers were a glacially-paced, halfcourt squad they always benefited from energy and tempo when facing the Lakers in the Rose Garden. This year the statistical story matches the emotional one. Portland will want to get busy and run the ball down L.A.'s throat, drawing energy from speed and dunking. The Lakers will want to slow the game and let Bynum's size tell inside while Bryant's talent makes the difference one-on-one from the perimeter. It'll be interesting to see whether the Blazers can generate easy points against a team that rebounds and has an interest in slowing the pace. It'll be interesting to see whether the Lakers are smart enough to figure out the Blazers' weaknesses and to avoid their own in terms of turnovers and transition defense.

When the Blazers have won against L.A. at home--a frequent occurrence--it's been because of hard, opportunistic play. When the Lakers have won it's been because Portland has been forced to scramble so hard against one L.A. star (could be Bryant, could be Gasol, sometimes it was Odom) that the floor opened for all of the other L.A. players. Yes, Kobe Bryant has pasted a couple of last-second, painful memories in Portland's consciousness but more frequently Portland defeats have come at the hands of 22 from Artest, 18 from Fisher, and 16 and 10 from Odom. A single player warping the defense is a definite threat in this game...double-pronged at least with the advent of Bynum's dominance. The Blazers may have multiple defenders to throw at Kobe but they're going to be scraping the bottom of the barrel for a man to watch the middle. On the other hand L.A.'s ancillary players might not be able to perform to the level of their predecessors. The Blazers may want to throw three men at any star defender and watch everybody else try to win the game.

This will be interesting. Portland's home emotion versus L.A.'s experience. Portland's team commitment versus L.A.'s star power. Portland's running versus L.A.'s halfcourt. Both teams have clear paths to win this game. Which team will take better advantage?

Check out the thoughts at SilverScreenandRoll. I hate to say it, but they're some of the nicest folks around. Yuck! Ptooey! I just complimented a Lakers fan. LakersNation.com has a preview up too.

Also this is the first game for the 2011-12 Blazersedge Jersey Contest. Rules are simple:

  1. Click through the link below and fill out the form.
  2. MAKE SURE YOU USE YOUR BLAZERSEDGE USER NAME AND THE SAME E-MAIL ADDRESS FOR EACH GAME ENTRY, EVERY TIME. If you do not, your scores will not be added together properly. This cannot be fixed after the fact. Same name, same e-mail address every time.
  3. One entry per person or household.
  4. We'll provide links to the scoreboard following each game. Each month's winner will receive a Blazers jersey.

Here is The Link for the First Game! Have fun!

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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