Portland Trail Blazers (34-38) at Los Angeles Lakers (21-51)
March 26, 2017, 6:30 PST
Watch: KGW, NBA TV; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Ed Davis (out), Festus Ezeli (out)
Lakers injuries: Luol Deng (out), Timofey Mozgov (out)
SBN Affiliate: Silver Screen & Roll
After two decisive victories, the Trail Blazers head back on the road to face the Lakers in the Staples Center. While Portland has rallied to compete for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, LA has moved in the opposite direction in hopes of keeping their top-three protected first-round pick.
The Lakers aren’t shy about blatantly tanking down the stretch of the season, which is made clear by their two wins since the All-Star break. Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng have both been shut down for the season, allowing coach Luke Walton to get a long look at some of the talented youngsters on the roster.
The Lakers have inserted a pair of rookies into their starting lineup over the last month, and both Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac have shown they have potential worth cultivating. Ingram, the No. 2 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, has the type of length that translates immediately on the defensive end. Zubac on the other hand, might already be the best center option Los Angeles has at its disposal.
Zubac fits the mold of a traditional center, averaging 12.3 points per game in the month of March. The 20-year-old will be surrendering at least 40 pounds to Portland’s Jusuf Nurkić in this contest, which could be a problem for the paint-heavy rookie.
Outside of the two first-year players, Walton will lean heavily on his backcourt duo of D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson. Both guards are capable of creating quality looks for themselves and their teammates. Clarkson has had success against the Blazers in the past, and his minutes increase should be a cause for concern for coach Terry Stotts.
With the Lakers’ record in mind, the biggest threat facing the Blazers is the scheduling of this game. Normally playing on the road in a back-to-back would be a bigger issue, but Portland was able to rest Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in the fourth quarter of their victory over the Timberwolves on Saturday night.
Portland claimed three wins over Los Angeles in January, and that trend will likely continue with Lillard at full strength. Fresh off an ankle injury, the former Weber State standout hasn’t crossed the 25-point threshold in three clashes with the Lakers so far this season. Lillard appears to be healthy now, and has been averaging 30.2 points per game this month.
The Lakers’ biggest focus is on keeping their draft pick, making this a favorable matchup for the Blazers. If Portland and New Orleans come away with wins today, the race for the eighth seed will be tied when the Nuggets visit the Moda Center on Tuesday.