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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Los Angeles Lakers Preview

The Blazers hunt for a big win against a suddenly-slumping Lakers team.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (14-18) vs. Los Angeles Lakers(24-7)

December 28, 2019 - 7:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Rodney Hood (out), Zach Collins (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out), Mario Hezonja (questionable)
Lakers injuries: LeBron James (questionable), Anthony Davis (probable), Kyle Kuzma (probable), DeMarcus Cousins (out)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW
How to stream: Blazer’s Edge Streaming Guide
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Silver Screen and Roll

The Portland Trail Blazers will try to avoid losing their third game in a row when they face the leaders of the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers. The Blazers almost pulled off the miracle comeback against the Utah Jazz, eventually falling 121-115. The Blazers whittled a 20-point deficit after three quarters down to next-to-nothing, but they just couldn’t get over the hump.

The Los Angeles Lakers find themselves in unfamiliar territory, having lost four games in a row for the first and possibly last time this season. Injuries have played a role, as has the quality of recent opponents. Most recently, the Lakers lost 111-106 on Christmas Day to the Los Angeles Clippers. LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma combined for 72 points, but it wasn’t enough to beat Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers.

What to watch for

  • Who is going to suit up for the Lakers? It is quite possible that LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma will all play normal minutes for Los Angeles. However, if one or more of them are in street clothes, or even if they suit up but are limited in some way, the Lakers are a different team. These three guys are the only Lakers averaging double figures, with James and Davis each averaging over 25 points per game. With the Lakers on the front end of a back-to-back, it isn’t impossible that the Blazers could catch a tremendous break, either in terms of the starting lineup or in how many minutes L.A.’s three scorers play.
  • Pick and roll defense. Hassan Whiteside has done many things exceptionally well this season, including the sheer volume of rebounds and blocked shots. On the other hand, defending the pick and roll is not one of the things he has done exceptionally well. In fact, much of the time his pick and roll defense has been painful to watch. No team has exploited that weakness better than the Utah Jazz did on Thursday, and one of the results was Whiteside sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter. It will be interesting to see if the Lakers decide to challenge Whiteside with the pick and roll, and how well he responds if they do.
  • Making baskets. If it seems like the Blazers haven’t been shooting well lately, the Lakers really haven’t been shooting well, especially from deep and the free-throw line. Since Tuesday the 17th, the Lakers have lost four games in row, shot 30% from deep and made 69.9% from the charity stripe. Over that same period, the Blazers have shot a middle-of-the-road 35.2% from behind the arc and an exceptional 84.4% from the free-throw line. If the Blazers want to pull off the upset, dominating from downtown and making foul shots must surely be part of the winning recipe.

What they’re saying

Tania Ganguli of The Los Angeles Times writes that injuries are starting to become a concern for the Lakers, especially with LeBron:

The Lakers have him listed on the injury report as having a strain in his back’s thoracic muscle. James also said postgame that he has been dealing with a groin injury, which is different from the torn left groin he sustained last year on Christmas. Last year’s injury kept him out for five weeks, and James later said he didn’t feel truly recovered from it until the offseason. His latest groin injury is on the other side of his body, and it’s unclear how it will affect his availability.

Keeping LeBron James able to preform at his best has got to be the top priority for the Lakers according to Dan Devine of The Ringer:

AD or no AD, the way the Lakers win a championship is with LeBron being Peak LeBron come mid-April. The best way to improve the chances of that happening is for the Lakers to do whatever’s in their power to get LeBron to springtime in one piece. As Leonard told reporters earlier this season, “My health is no. 1, and that’s gonna make us a better team.” The same is inarguably true for LeBron, and for a Lakers team that’s not as deep as Kawhi’s Clips.

AnthonyIrwinLA of Silver Screen and Roll has the Lakers perspective on the Anthony Davis trade after Davis revealed that it was about a year ago that he started thinking about forcing his way out of New Orleans to Los Angeles:

Davis did what was best for him and, because of his trade demand, New Orleans was able to net a pretty nice haul of young players and draft assets. Had Davis played out the rest of his contract and waited for the end of this season to make his way to L.A., New Orleans would have been left completely out of the cold and likely would have not have won the Zion Williamson lottery.