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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Los Angeles Lakers Preview

The Blazers look to snap a three-game losing streak against the suddenly-competent Lakers.

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NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (16-16) at Los Angeles Lakers (11-19)

Saturday, December 23rd - 6:30 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Damian Lillard (out)
Lakers injuries: Brook Lopez (out)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Silver Screen and Roll

The Blazers wander into Staples Center Saturday night on the heels of their third straight loss. While they kept up against Minnesota and San Antonio, Dame-less Portland was a disaster against Denver. One thing is for sure: the 85 points they scored against the Nuggets won’t be enough to beat LA.

The Lakers are feeling pretty good about themselves despite their subpar record. They’ve played Cleveland, Houston and Golden State (twice) recently, and stayed competitive in all four games while netting one win. A rematch with the Blazers provides a chance to get revenge for Lillard’s previous buzzer-beater.

What to Watch For

  • Lots of Blazer pointsmaybe. The Lakers give up 109.8 point per game. That in a nutshell is why they’ve lost eight more games than they’ve won. It’s not all doom and gloom for the Lakers, though. Los Angeles allows the second-lowest 3-point percentage in the NBA at 34.4 percent. And on the other side of the court, they can light up the scoreboard. They are averaging 111.4 points over the last seven games, including a 122-point outburst in a win against Houston. CJ McCollum won’t have too many better opportunities to break out of his recent shooting woes than this; the Laker defense might be just what the doctor ordered for a Blazer offense that lacked mightily against Denver.
  • The Lakers’ length. The Blazers have struggled at times against teams who are tall and have big wingspans. Lonzo Ball will have a height advantage over anybody the Blazers might play at point, and Brandon Ingram has a 7-foot-3 wingspan he isn’t afraid to use. The Lakers are third in the NBA in blocks and 10th in steals. Portland will need to put extra emphasis on protecting the ball and working for the open shot or this game could spin out of control.
  • Can Portland win the battle of the boards? The Blazers had been one of the best rebounding teams in the league, but they’ve fallen off recently. The Blazers are now seventh in rebounds while the Lakers sit third. Portland will need to pay special attention to keeping the Lakers off the offensive boards if they want to head on Christmas break with a win.

What They’re Saying

Patrick Redford at Deadspin talks about the Lakers’ best rookie. No, not that one:

After last summer’s draft, the Lakers boasted about selecting someone who would quickly turn into be a star, someone whose versatility made them ideal for the positionless NBA orthodoxy of the day. They drafted that player in the first round, and also they drafted Lonzo Ball 25 picks ahead of him.

Kyle Kuzma isn’t nearly as famous as Ball, and his role on the team wasn’t as obvious as Ball’s (he was part of the D’Angelo Russell trade). Kuzma spent three years at Utah and joined a team replete with other power forward types, like Nance and Julius Randle, who figured to be ahead of him in the rotation. But as soon as he touched hardwood at the Summer League, his talent was obvious.

After surprising showings against Cleveland and Golden State and beating Houston, Tania Ganguli of the LA Times says the Lakers aren’t the same team as last year:

In their history, the Lakers have lost 15 games by 39 or more points and one third of those happened last season. This year’s team is a little bit different.

“I think our group just mentally is getting stronger as far as the way we go out and play,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said Thursday. “We are not scared of other teams, we are up for the challenge each night and when you lose, it makes you hungrier and hungrier and I think they came out and said enough was enough and made plays all night long.”

Julius Randle is on the trading block according to Drew Garrison of Silver Screen & Roll:

All the Lakers want for Christmas is a trade partner for Julius Randle. Randle, in a contract year, is averaging the lowest minutes per game of his career despite playing the best basketball of his life.

The writing on the wall is becoming clearer as we move closer to the Feb. 8 trade deadline. Randle played just eight minutes against the Houston Rockets Wednesday night, something Luke explained away as the rest of the team playing well. Maybe there’s something to that, but it’s the same verbage Walton’s used all season to explain Julius’ lack of minutes. That he can’t get more than eight minutes with Brook Lopez out for weeks, or the fact that Luke gave the starting nod to Kyle Kuzma during Larry Nance Jr.’s own injury problems, is fairly telling.

Randle is averaging 19.6 points (career-high), 9.9 rebounds and three assists per 36 minutes, on a career high .594 true shooting percentage. He’s improved leaps-and-bounds as a defender, quickly adjusting to life as a small-ball center that can defend positions one-through-five.“