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Game 65 Preview: Blazers vs. Lakers

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A Look at the Lakers

I try to avoid tooting my own horn TOO much but once again I must point out that in a recent edition of the About.com NBA Roundtable when asked what team was most likely to hit the skids in the latter part of the season my reply was "The Lakers!"  They have since gone on to lose 13 of their last 16 including the last 7 in a row as of today.  Making me look smart is one thing, but they're really overachieving.

It's not horribly difficult to figure out why they're losing.  They've only held their opponents below 107 points four times in the last month...their three wins and a 99-94 loss to Phoenix.  That's amazingly bad defense.  It hasn't helped that Lamar Odom and Luke Walton have been out for most of that stretch.  Besides Kobe himself you couldn't find two more important pieces of their attack.  (Unfortunately for us both returned against Denver last night.)  All the rest of their complementary players have been inconsistent as heck.  Kwame Brown has replaced Andrew Bynum in the starting lineup.  Point guard Smush Parker's scoring chart from the last five games looks like this:  3, 24, 10, 4, 2.  If you took Kobe off of this squad they might not win 10 games all year.

Of course Kobe IS on the team and he's been putting up huge numbers as always.  But I would guess this late-season collapse would finally put to rest the question of whether he can carry a team to the Promised Land all on his own.

Nevertheless, when healthy the Lakers can be a formidable team.  Both Bryant and Odom have the talent and skills to roast your giblets.  Guys like Parker and Bynum can get hot in any given game and make life miserable for you.  They're a roulette wheel but sometimes the ball bounces on the right number for them and if that's the night they face you, look out.

The Lakers' main strength is their scoring ability.  They shoot well from just about anywhere.  Basically they try to do everything else well enough to give their scorers a chance to determine the outcome.  They're a team of momentum.  If you take the emotion out of it for them they have a hard time playing.  But get them excited and energized and they'll go on enormous runs.  As is typical of such teams they tend to play up or down to their level of competition, which is bad for the playoff teams of the world but maybe good for us.

What I'd Like To See:

  1.  The main key, of course, is how you handle Bryant.  The two most effective measures seem to be making him play defense and keeping him off the line.  He's going to score, but keep him from scoring the cheapies and you have a chance.  He does get into foul trouble sometimes and if he's assigned to Brandon Roy I'd but the ball in Roy's hands.  This is another one of those cases where you're not going to stop him with a double team so I'd do it very selectively if at all and keep the rest of the team from scoring easy buckets.
  2.  Energy has been a large problem for the Lakers lately.  Beat them to every spot and give them an excuse to lose...maybe they'll take you up on it.  This has ALWAYS been a huge key in how we play them.
  3.  Two stats:  Points off turnovers and points in the paint.  They're not exactly expert defenders even at full strength.  Don't take the first shot that comes to mind.  Work it around, work it inside.  They also turn the ball over a reasonable amount.  If they give you freebies TAKE THEM.
  4.  They have some good offensive rebounders.  You have to box out!  This is where they'll get a lot of their cheap points.
  5.  If Kobe swings his off arm out wide on his jump shot, go down like you've been hit by a thunderbolt.  You've all seen the WWE at some point.  You know how it's done.
  6.  Speaking of, it would be nice if WE could be the physical team for a change, especially in the frontcourt.
  7.  Last words of warning:  If Kobe doesn't kill you, Lamar Odom will!  Even coming off injury this guy is as legitimate of an all-around scorer as you'll find.  We better have some kind of plan for him because he'll overpower our small forwards and out-quick our big ones.  Travis?  Lamarcus?  Anyone?
The Lakers are already plenty upset about losing all of these games.  If they lose to us tonight at home they'll commit ritual suicide.  Plus this is their first home game while at full strength.  Signs generally point to a loss.  On the other hand we usually respond pretty well after getting our butts kicked like we did the other night.  And they don't really have the horses to stop Zach...

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)