Portland Trail Blazers (21-30) vs Los Angeles Lakers (24-27)
Heading into this matchup — the first of two against the Lakers in the next five games — there are several similarities between the two teams. Both have dropped four out of their last five games, with the Lakers losers of three in a row. The No. 10 seed Blazers sit three games behind the No. 9 seed Lakers in the Western Conference standings, so both teams would be bound for the Play-In if the season ended today. And both teams are without their franchise superstar. Portland remains without Damian Lillard and for the fourth consecutive game, LeBron James will likely not suit up for the Lakers.
Wednesday, February 2 - 7:30 p.m. PT
How to watch on TV: Root Sports NW, NBA League Pass
Blazers injuries: Damian Lillard (out), Larry Nance Jr. (out), Cody Zeller (out), Nassir Little (out), CJ Elleby (probable), Trendon Watford (day-to-day), Jusuf Nurkic (day-to-day), Anfernee Simons (day-to-day)
Lakers injuries: Kendrick Nunn (out), LeBron James (doubtful), Malik Monk (probable), Anthony Davis (probable)
SBN Affiliate: Silver Screen and Roll
What To Watch For
No LeBron, No Problem? In the last meeting between these two clubs — 139-106 drubbing by the Lakers on New Year’s Eve — LeBron James erupted for 43 points, 12 rebounds, and four assists. Luckily for Portland, that guy won’t be playing tonight, but can the Blazers capitalize on his absence? It remains a tall task. The Lakers still have stars Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis to hold down the fort and guard Malik Monk is fresh off a 33-point outburst against the Atlanta Hawks Saturday night. The Portland defense must hold the Lakers stars at bay. The Blazers must also manage to keep a player from the Lakers’ thin supporting cast from having an uncharacteristically-brilliant night. If another player not named Westbrook or Davis puts up numbers like Monk did a few nights ago, it could be the water that breaks the levee and turns this game into a blowout.
Bounce Back Opportunity for Blazers, Simons After a January filled with unexpected wins and prettier basketball from the Blazers, Monday night’s loss against OKC without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was a harsh back-to-reality moment. It was also the cap on a disappointing 1-4 end to the month. How Portland bounces back tonight — especially energy-wise — could indicate whether last month’s positive strides were the foundation of greater success going forward or just a flash in the pan on an inevitable journey to the draft lottery. This game also represents a bounce back opportunity for Portland guard Anfernee Simons. Simons’ rapid ascension in the month of January has been the feel-good storyline of Portland’s season thus far. The fourth-year pro averaged 23.1 points and 6.7 assists during January, but registered only eight points and two assists in the January finale against OKC. That was the only time Simons failed to score in double-figures in the past 15 games. It will be a good test for Simons to see how he can shake off that performance in an intriguing matchup against Westbrook.
Front Court Matchups Portland starters Jusuf Nurkic and Robert Covington will have their hands full all night trying to contain Davis. He scored 27 points while shooting an efficient 10-20 from the field in his last outing and could single-handedly win LA the game if he gets going. Looking to the bench, Portland faces other front court mismatches. With Larry Nance Jr. and Cody Zeller both out due to injury, the biggest reserves Portland can throw at the Lakers are six-foot-nine rookies Trendon Watford and Greg Brown III and six-foot-seven Tony Snell. Watford has performed admirably since being thrusted into the rotation, but a crafty, physical Carmelo Anthony is a tough cover for any player. The Lakers also have seven-foot center Dwight Howard coming off the bench who could be a problem on the glass for the undersized Blazers’ bench unit.
What Others Are Saying
Malik Monk’s big performance against the Hawks Saturday night has likely guaranteed him a spot in the starting lineup for tonight’s game against Portland. Silver Screen and Roll writer Jacob Rude explains how there’s a case to be made for Monk to keep the starting spot for the foreseeable future.
With LeBron James out and Monk healthy again after missing his return to Charlotte, Monk exploded for a near career-high, tallying 33 points with eight three-pointers. That the Lakers lost to the Hawks in that contest was no fault of Monk’s, who more than exceeded the expectations for him as he’s done all season.
Monk’s candidacy for the starting spot has been of much debate this season. In his 45 games played this year, Monk has started just 13 times. He’s performed markedly better as a starter, albeit in more minutes, averaging 18.2 points per game in 33 minutes per game in his 13 starts while shooting 46.4% from the 3-point line on 7.4 attempts per game.
In his 32 other games, Monk is averaging 10.3 points in 23.9 minutes and shooting a (still above average!) 38.0% from beyond the arc on 4.6 attempts per game. He’s been a productive player in either regard, but has clearly been more productive when given an expanded role.
Los Angeles is headlined by its big three of James, Davis, and Westbrook, but writer Zach Harper of The Athletic explains why James is the only Laker who deserves an All-Star invite this season.
Any All-Star fringes? Not this year. Maybe Anthony Davis could have put together a good enough campaign without getting injured. And Russell Westbrook certainly has been better than criticized, but he’s also been below the fold in terms of All-Star caliber guards in the crowded West player pool. Normally, those two would be locks to make the game, but it’s impossible to justify it this season.
Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report writes about LA’s desperate need to acquire a wing defender via a trade or the buyout market.
The Los Angeles Lakers have no shortage of weaknesses, but the one that would hurt them most in the increasingly unlikely event that they make a deep playoff run is their lack of a quality defensive option on the wing.
LeBron James has played a ton of center this season and will likely challenge for the minutes-per-game crown. Unless L.A. intends to further tax the 37-year-old by putting him on the opponent’s most threatening scorer, it needs to find someone on the trade market who can handle that job.