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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Los Angeles Lakers Preview

Portland looks to get a win against a LeBron-less Laker squad as fans return to Moda Center.

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

Portland Trail Blazers (37-29) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (37-28)

The Portland Trail Blazers are back at home in the Moda Center tonight taking on the Los Angeles Lakers in what may be the most crucial game of their season to date. With the play-in looming and the 6th seed on the line, this is a must win for Portland. The Lakers and the Blazers are currently only half a game apart and fighting for that 6th seed, which would guarantee a spot in the playoffs and keep them from the extra strain of the play-in.

Friday, May 7 - 7:00 p.m. PT
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA League Pass or see games all season on fuboTV
Blazers injuries: Zach Collins (out), Norman Powell (probable)
Lakers injuries: Jared Dudley (out), Dennis Schroder (out), LeBron James (out), Talen Horton-Tucker (out), Alex Caruso (questionable), Marc Gasol (probable), Kyle Kuzma (probable), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (probable), Anthony Davis (probable)
SBN Affiliate: Silver Screen and Roll

What To Watch For

  • Fans, Fans, and more Fans. After over a year of no fans in the Moda Center, they will be welcoming fans back in starting with the Laker game. It’s still a very small amount — only 10% of capacity. But for a team that’s used to playing for a 6th man audience, having fans back in the building is sure to make a huge difference. This season the home games have been a struggle, and the argument could be made that fans really do make all the difference.
  • Jusuf Nurkic. After injuring his leg back in 2019 and being forced to sit out the rest of the season and then some, Jusuf Nurkic was set to make his return in the Spring of 2020. Then coronavirus shut down the NBA — the very game he would have come back. After playing without fans this season, facing another injury and sitting out more games, coming back from that injury to play like the Bosnian Beast we all know and love, Nurkic will finally make his debut in front of fans at the Moda Center. Nurkic has been a difference maker for the team this season, and when he’s playing well the Blazers see good results.
  • Injuries. For once, they aren’t ours. The Lakers have struggles with injuries throughout the season, and currently have several key players, including LeBron James, out because of it. Trail Blazers fans know what it’s like to play an entire season plagued by injuries and try to just make it to the playoffs. Portland is matching up against the Lakers in the midst of their struggle to get healthy. Los Angeles will be forced to be creative with their line-ups, which could in turn result in good news for the Blazers.

What Others Are Saying

The Lakers are struggling with continuity in having to change their line-up often due to injury. Nicole Ganglani of Silver Screen and Roll addresses what they’re dealing with potentially going into the playoffs:

The biggest question mark for the Lakers is if seven games is enough time to put the puzzle together. The trio of James, Davis and Drummond will end this season only playing less than ten games together. Meanwhile, Schröder has only played 24 games with both James and Davis. To add to the challenge, the team has only practiced 15 times (twice with Drummond) this season. As head coach Frank Vogel has said, there won’t be enough time to find the chemistry necessary for the playoffs, so the best they can do is to make the most out of what they can build.

Jason Quick of the Athletic talks about how this year's team might actually be better than the one that made it to the Western Conference Finals in 2019:

The catch between this year’s team and the one that reached the conference finals is defense. It is almost certain the Blazers will finish this season 29th out of 30 teams in defense, and Curry, Turner, Collins and Harkless were better defenders than Simons, Anthony, Powell and Kanter.

But before you dismiss this year’s team, consider: In the 22 games since Nurkic returned to the starting lineup after missing 10 weeks with a broken wrist, the Blazers are 17th in defense, first in offense and have the sixth-best net rating (5.1) in the NBA. That conference finals team ranked 16th in defense and third in offense.

Damian Lillard commented about fans being allowed back in the Moda Center. Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian summarized:

“I’m super excited,” Lillard said after the Blazers won 141-105 at Cleveland on Wednesday night. “I think our record is much better on a road for a reason. We come into these other buildings, and just having that fan energy, that real energy in the building, it feels like a competitive NBA game when the crowd is there.”

Playing in front of fans on the road, Lillard said, has certainly been more fun that playing in front of an empty arena at the Moda Center.

“It feels normal,” he said. “It’s how the game is supposed to be played. And then we come home and it’s just an empty, dead building. It’s a noticeable difference. I think you can feel it in each game that we’ve played at home. I think you can also see it.”