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Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Lakers Preview

Can the Blazers find a win on what will be an emotional night at Staples Center?

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Lakers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (21-27) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (36-10)

Friday, January 31 - 7:30 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Rodney Hood (out), Zach Collins (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out), Skal Labissiere (out), Carmelo Anthony (doubtful)
Lakers injuries: DeMarcus Cousins (out), Anthony Davis (questionable), Alex Caruso (questionable), JaVale McGee (probable)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, ESPN
How to stream: Blazer’s Edge Streaming Guide
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Silver Screen and Roll

The Portland Trail Blazers have an opportunity to win their third game in a row against a quality opponent. To do so, they’ll need to beat the first place team in the West. Of course, this game isn’t just about who makes more baskets. With the game against the Clippers scheduled on this past Tuesday being postponed, this will be the first game for the Lakers after the death of retired legend Kobe Bryant in a horrific helicopter crash.

The Los Angeles Lakers will take the floor with heavy hearts and the eyes of the world upon them. Looking beyond the obvious emotions and distractions, the Lakers have lost three out of their last six games. While that might seem to offer a ray of hope for the underdog Blazers, in their two previous meetings this season the Lakers have dispatched the Blazers without too much difficulty.

What to watch for

  • LeBron and Davis (if he plays) carrying the load. Pop quiz: How many Lakers are averaging double-figures? The answer is three, and if they traded Kuzma tomorrow morning that answer would go down to two. That’s unbelievable for a team with 36 wins in January. How do they do it? Duh. Davis and LeBron score a lot, 26.5 and 25.3 points per game respectively. Beyond that however, the Lakers are getting valuable contributions from other guys. The catch is that on any given night it’s hard to predict who else is going to contribute.
  • Highly efficient shooting from the Lakers. Los Angeles is tied for the lead with the Milawaukee Bucks in shooting percentage at 48.4% from the field. For comparison the Blazers are 20th in the NBA at 45.4%. That may seem like a minor difference, but in a typical NBA game that’s a difference of about 5 points. The Blazers must keep the Lakers below their average to have a realistic chance at winning.
  • Emotions. No one really knows how Kobe’s death will impact this game. Will the Lakers find their Mamba Mentality and destroy anyone in their path in tribute to Kobe? Or will the raw emotions be too much for Los Angeles to overcome? Of course, it’s not just the Lakers’ players who might be having a hard time. Some Blazers also have a deep love for Kobe Bryant, and being in the middle of a memorial service/basketball game might be the catalyst for unexpected performances. What we do know is that entire city of Los Angeles seemingly wants to be there. As of this writing, one of the major ticket sites has tickets starting at $828.

What they’re saying

Darius Soriano of Silver Screen and Roll writes a beautiful and personal piece on mourning:

I also learned that the hurt you feel is really just the embodiment of all the good there was. So we talk about that, too. A lot, actually. Those memories, they’re what will always survive and sharing those stories of what was so great keeps that part of you alive; that part you thought died when that person so close to you left. So, we talk fondly of those times, and relive them in our heads. And we smile and we laugh, and we hurt and we cry again, and then we smile again when the next story is told, because the reason we’re so sad in the first place is that it all mattered so much.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times has all of the details on the last few days for the team and the organization in the wake of Kobe Bryant’s tragic death:

Each day has offered a progression for the Lakers. Their first day together, they did light work on the court before gathering for a luncheon and sharing stories about Bryant. On Wednesday, they started with drills and conducted a light scrimmage. Thursday, the Lakers began preparing in earnest for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Meanwhile the business of basketball goes on. The Lakers are trying to trade Kyle Kuzma, but that might not be so easy according to Sam Quinn of CBS Sports:

Opposing teams will point to Kuzma’s below-average 3-point shooting numbers and suspect off-ball defense as reasons not to overpay for him. After all, most teams aspire to the sort of success the Lakers are currently enjoying, and the evidence this season suggests that Kuzma simply doesn’t fit on such a good team. He is a good scorer, but not good enough to lead a championship-caliber team, so functionally, he would be expected to be a role player on a team with such aspirations. If he’s struggling to produce as a role player in Los Angeles, why would that change elsewhere?