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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Los Angeles Lakers Preview

The Blazers open their season against LeBron James and the new-look Lakers.

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Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Portland Trail Blazers (0-0) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (0-0)

Thursday, October 18 - 7:30 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Maurice Harkless (probable)
Lakers injuries: Lonzo Ball (probable); Moritz Wagner (questionable)
How to watch on TV: TNT
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV, Sling Television, DIRECTV NOW
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Silver Screen and Roll

The Portland Trail Blazers will put two different winning streaks on the line when they open the 2018–19 NBA Season at home against the Los Angeles Lakers. First, Portland will look to add to their all-time NBA record 17 straight wins in home openers. Second, the Blazers hope to increase their 15-game winning streak against the Lakers.

You may have heard that Los Angeles went through some pretty dramatic roster changes this offseason. Starters Julius Randle and Brook Lopez, among others, are gone. More significant, however, is who they added. Any discussion of the new-look Lakers starts with LeBron James (more on him below). Los Angeles also added veterans JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley, and Rajon Rondo, who played a key role in the New Orleans Pelicans’ sweep of Portland six months ago. It may take some time for the new veterans to gel with Los Angeles’ young core, but this year’s Lakers should be much better than last year’s 35-win team.

What to watch for

  • New player rotation. While the Lakers had a much more dramatic overhaul, both teams have changes to their rosters that will affect substitution patterns. For Portland, key reserves Shabazz Napier, Ed Davis, and Pat Connaughton and their combined 57.7 minutes per game are gone. How those minutes will be filled remain to be seen. Seth Curry is likely to get a large percentage of the backup guard minutes, but how coach Terry Stotts will divide up the minutes between Nik Stauskas, Wade Baldwin, and rookies Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr. is an open question. In the frontcourt Zach Collins, Meyers Leonard, and Caleb Swanigan could all see an increase in minutes from last season. Another new wrinkle in Portland’s rotation this season: Stotts has said he plans to sit Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum together and have Evan Turner run the offense for the second unit.
  • Pace of play. Laker president Magic Johnson shared last month that the team plans to get down the court quickly this season: “We’re going to run. Whoever gets it, we’re gone.” The Lakers’ preseason play certainly backs up this plan. They led all teams in fast break points per game with 23.8. This isn’t a new emphasis for L.A. Last season they were second in the league in fast break point per game and third in pace of play. The Blazers on the other hand played with a much slower pace. Portland hopes to play a bit faster this season, but they were dead last in fast break points last season with 8.1 per game and were toward the bottom in pace of play.
  • Slowing down LeBron James. The King’s move from Cleveland to Los Angeles was the most significant moment of the NBA offseason. LeBron’s teams haven’t won fewer than 50 games since the 2007–08 season (excluding the lockout shortened 2011–12 season in which teams only played 66 games), and he has made the NBA Finals eight seasons in a row. There will likely be some adjustment as the new Laker roster comes together, but LeBron James finds ways to win. Slowing down the best player in the league will be a difficult task. The uncertain injury status of Moe Harkless—likely the primary defender for James if he plays—makes the task more difficult.

What they’re saying

Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post predicts that the Lakers will miss the playoffs. He cites the difficulty of the Western Conference among other reasons:

Of last year’s playoff teams, five — the Warriors, Rockets, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs — seem like locks to return, assuming health (which we have to assume in this scenario). That leaves the Lakers as one of six teams — along with the Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Pelicans, Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers — fighting for the final three playoff spots in the West.

From this vantage point, the Nuggets and Pelicans should finish ahead of the Lakers, which would turn it into a four-team race for the final playoff spot. Tack on the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies, both of whom should at least push to be around .500, and the Phoenix Suns, who have a lot of young talent and a sharp new coach in Igor Kokoskov, and that is 14 of the West’s 15 teams that will be difficult to play on a nightly basis.

An “anonymous scout” told Sports Illustrated that the Lakers have a better roster than last year’s Cleveland Cavaliers’ team:

The Lakers roster is better than Cleveland’s last year top to bottom. The Lakers we see in the first month will look different than the Lakers in the playoffs. They’re going to try to figure out what works best as they go along. Historically, LeBron handling the ball the majority of the game, that formula has been proven. The roster the Lakers have assembled will challenge a lot of what has made LeBron comfortable in the past because they want to play at a high pace and they don’t have that much shooting. 

The Ringer’s John Gonzalez wonders who will play center for Los Angeles:

The Lakers are short on big men in a conference loaded with them. (I have them easily in the bottom three in the West at the position.) In the offseason, the Lakers signed JaVale McGee away from the Warriors. It didn’t seem to require much convincing. It took only one year and $2.39 million to get McGee to flee NorCal for SoCal. McGee played 65 games and averaged fewer than 10 minutes for Golden State a year ago. The Lakers also have Ivica Zubac. It’s true. I had totally forgotten until I saw him just the other day in a scrimmage. After that, things get a bit dicey at center for a team that has high hopes now that the King makes his home in Los Angeles.

The Lakers have tinkered with putting Kyle Kuzma at center when they go small—and also because, as previously mentioned, they’re a bit thin there. The team’s first-round pick, Moritz Wagner, has been dealing with a knee injury since Summer League and has already been ruled out for the preseason, further decreasing the team’s depth. Large(ish), warm bodies are in short supply.