Portland Trail Blazers (13-21) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (17-19)
The Portland Trail Blazers are in a rough stretch, but could there by a small sliver of light peeking out from behind the door to 2022? Ben McLemore and Dennis Smith Jr. are returning, while the return of other rotation players seems like it might not be too far in the distance. Losers of three in a row and 13 of their last 16, the Blazers would like nothing more than to slam the door shut on 2021 with a win.
The Los Angeles Lakers are in a rough patch as well, losing six of their last seven, the lone win coming against the lowly Houston Rockets. While being without Anthony Davis for the last two weeks isn’t helping, the Lakers just aren’t coming together like the hoped. Trade rumors are flying, and it looks like a trade of some sort will happen soon, possibly before tip. Back on the court, the Lakers lost 104-99 to the Memphis Grizzlies in their most recent outing on Wednesday.
Friday, December 31 - 7:30 p.m. PT
How to watch on TV: ROOT Sports, NBA TV, NBA League Pass
Blazers injuries: CJ McCollum (out), Cody Zeller (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out), Robert Covington (out), Anfernee Simons (out), Trendon Watford (out), Keljin Blevins (out), Brandon Williams (out)
Lakers injuries: Anthony Davis (out), Kendrick Nunn (out), Rajon Rondo (out), Trevor Ariza (questionable), Avery Bradley (questionable), LeBron James (probable)
SBN Affiliate: Silver Screen and Roll
What To Watch For
Less of a height difference. Against the Dallas Mavericks and the Utah Jazz, the Blazers had no answer for their opponents’ seven footers. The good news is that the Lakers don’t currently have a seven footer on their game day roster. The bad news is that they still do have 6’11” DeAndre Jordan, 6’10” Dwight Howard, and 6’9” LeBron James. Still, the Blazers will take what they can get, and a somewhat shorter team that’s struggling for wins sure sounds like an improvement from the Blazers perspective.
Tactical fouling. The Lakers are terrible free throw shooters. Russell Westbrook is shooting 64.6%, Dwight Howard is at 60.7% and DeAndre Jordan comes in at 58.8%. Even LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony are below 80%. If the Blazers can stay away from dumb fouls, there is some real potential to get an advantage by committing strategic fouls. Portland could also make up some ground at the other free throw line as the Lakers commit the third most fouls of any team in the NBA.
Turnovers. The Lakers are third worst in the NBA at 15.9 turnovers per game. The Blazers aren’t particularly great at forcing turnovers, but the Lakers’ sloppiness presents an opportunity. Win the turnover battle and Portland gives itself a chance to finish 2021 with a win.
What Others Are Saying
Zach Buckley of Bleacher Report examines what the Lakers should be looking for in trades to right the ship.
Normally, a disappointment of this magnitude might lead to a flurry of trade activity, but that probably isn’t in the cards for the Lakers. They’re light on both trade chips and movable, significant contracts, especially if they aren’t interested (as they shouldn’t be) in the nuclear option of an Anthony Davis megadeal.
Having said that, the Lakers are surely on the hunt for upgrades, and they should have enough pieces to get something done. When vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka maps out his trade plans, the following three areas should be primary points of focus.
The Lakers haven’t figured it out and Rob Mahoney of The Ringer says that it didn’t have to be like that.
With almost half the season already behind them, the Lakers still haven’t figured out how to be a LeBron James team. It’s the damnedest thing; no superstar in the league comes with a clearer, more defined winning blueprint than LeBron, and yet nearly two decades of precedent hasn’t stopped the Lakers from constructing and running the kind of team that consistently works against its own best interests.
Dr. Rajpal Brar of Silver Screen and Roll makes the case that criticisms of Russell Westbrook play for the Lakers are overstated.