Once again into the breach. We've got our bayonets fixed, our infantry rifles sighted in, our back-up sidearms at our belt, and we're about to go up against a tank of monstrous proportions.
A Look at the L*kers
Unless you've been living in a Blazers-only cave for the whole season (hey...some of us like our little nooks, especially when they have ancient Drexler and Walton petroglyphs on the walls) or have avoided any publicity about them on general principle, you already know that the L*kers are one of two legitimately super-elite teams in the league. They are every bit as good as the Celtics in just as many ways. The two teams shade in inverted fashion. The Celtics are an overwhelming defensive team whose offense is so good that you have almost no hope of defending them in like fashion. The L*kers are an overwhelming offensive team whose defense is so good that you have almost no hope of scoring alongside them. It's like asking whether you prefer to get beheaded with a guillotine or a huge axe. Couldn't we just play the Timberwolves again instead? That's like being beheaded with a Nerf bat.
Since the axe is going to fall, you might as well know that its sharpest edge is the number of field goal attempts L.A. takes and the high percentage they shoot. There's a line in this league where shots are maximized without having to employ gimmicks that compromise your defense and/or rebounding. The L*kers are just about as close to that line as you can get without going over it. They shoot a lot, they hit a lot. The stout handle on that axe--and the camel-breaking straw that spells most teams' doom--is their great offensive rebounding. You can count the teams better in that category on less than one hand. (Portland is among them.) Oh, and if that isn't enough they're also 4th in the league in both free throws attempted and made. That offensive combination is enough to overcome your average team and most of your better-than-average ones as well. At 26-5 that's just what the L*kers have been doing.
On the other end the L*kers manage to play good percentage defense while forcing turnovers...no mean feat as the legion of teams that can only do one or the other demonstrate. They're average defensive rebounders, which is good enough. They have some shot-blocking ability as well, mostly from Andrew Bynum.
Honestly, it's hard to find things the L*kers don't do well, and when you do it's like finding a mole on Jessica Alba's shoulder. Ummmm...so what? They allow latitude to opposing guards to shoot and pass, preferring to bar the middle. They'll allow lesser teams to play with them or get back in the game. Complacency is pretty much their biggest enemy.
You should know enough about Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum by now not to need much of a primer on them. Luke Walton has been playing token minutes as the starting small forward and the venerable Derek Fisher has been playing big minutes as the starting point guard. Trevor Ariza has started fulfilling some of his early-career promise by giving them a huge lift off the bench at small forward. Lamar Odom is another key bench guy who always gives the Blazers trouble. Jordan Farmar, Vladimir Radmanovic, and Sasha Vujacic round out the main rotation. Of the lesser lights Fisher and Ariza have been having the best seasons, though you can't sleep on Odom and you can't let Radmanovic or Vujacic have open shots.
Keys to the Game
Honestly there aren't any keys that are reasonably going to turn a defeat into a victory, especially without Brandon Roy playing. The Blazers just have to hope that the L*kers have an off-night and that we can provide more energy and drive. L.A. has lost exactly one game at home this season, a 106-95 defeat at the hands of the Pistons back on November 14th. They just don't back down on their home turf. Nevertheless, if we are to have any chance some of the following will be important.
1. Hustle always helps underdogs pull through. We have to want it more and we have to play hard all game. The beginning and ending of quarters are particularly important. You can be 2 minutes out from halftime and cruising but if you let up L.A. will paste 10 points on you in that 2 minute span. Focus, attention, and energy are the order of the evening.
2. I don't see any way we win this game without dominating efforts from Lamarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden. We need points, rebounds, and defense. If this is just the Kobe show maybe we have a shot. If Kobe, Gasol, and Bynum are all open on the offensive end and don't have to work defensively you can just pencil in the blowout loss now.
3. We must, must, MUST find a way to limit the L*kers offensive rebounds. It's bad enough having to defend them once each trip. Giving up a ton of second-chance points is going to put the game out of reach.
4. Rudy Fernandez has to figure out a way to make Kobe work. I'm not expecting a bad offensive outing for Bryant. I just want him to work up a sweat and put up a lot of shots to get his 32 points.
5. Since we're calling out individual players here, the not-so-hidden offensive spark may be Travis Outlaw. If he came out with a 20+ point game all of a sudden the point deficit doesn't look so bad.
With Roy out this game doesn't have quite the luster of the normal Portland-L.A. contest. I'm just hoping the Blazers play hard and don't get obliterated...or at least don't get obliterated until really late in the game.
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