With the injury bug stinging more like a tarantula hawk, the Portland Trail Blazers limp into Los Angeles to face the Lakers.
About those the injuries: Anfernee Simons is still out, Robert Williams III won’t be back this season, Scoot Henderson will take another two-to-three weeks to even be reevaluated, and news came yesterday that Malcolm Brogdon was ruled out of today’s contest. Any analysis of Blazers games for the next little while needs to have a bold, large-font asterisk of “team projected to be bad in the first place is missing its best player and multiple key rotation pieces.” News that Ish Wainright has been upgraded to questionable and that the Blazers signed Jamaree Bouyea to a two-way contract doesn’t come close to making up for that, and while it’s great that Skylar Mays has earned a full NBA deal, that doesn’t add talent this early in the season when he still had plenty of NBA eligibility left.
With that context in mind, the Blazers may be facing a relatively healthy Lakers squad... or they might not! LeBron James sat out part of their last game with a soft tissue injury and is listed as “day-to-day” along with his co-star and the person LeBron was supposed to pass his Lakers torch to, Anthony Davis.
Even if the Blazers face the Lakers with their two stars, Portland will be playing a team that either hasn’t quite found its footing or is content laying low until the games matter more. Though the Lakers have the better record, they have the sixth-worst point differential in the NBA, a few ticks worse than the Blazers. Given that, the injury uncertainty, and how early it is in the season for a LeBron team to be at its best, its truly anyone’s guess whether this game will be a feisty scrap or a second-quarter blowout snooze fest.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Portland Trail Blazers - Sun. Nov. 12 - 7:00 p.m. PST
How to watch on TV: Root Sports, NBA League Pass
Trail Blazers injuries: Anfernee Simons, Scoot Henderson, Robert Williams III, Malcolm Brogdon; Ish Wainright (questionable)
Lakers injuries: LeBron James, Jalen Hood-Schifino, Gabe Vincent, Jarred Vanderbilt (out); Jaxson Hayes (day-to-day).
What to Watch For
- Jerami Grant chasing history. What does the following sequence mean to you? 13, 15, 17, 22, 24, 26, 27, 38. If you guessed “cursed locker combination,” you’d be right, but it’s ALSO Jerami Grant’s scoring totals in the first eight games of the season. According to Trail Blazers reporter Casey Holdahl, it’s also the first time in NBA history that someone has topped their scoring in each of the first eight games of a given season, and it’s nine if you count the last game of the last season. The NBA record for ANY stretch of games? 10 straight by Willis Reed, who played his last NBA game in 1974 when Nixon resigned from office in shame. Grant may not be able to go for 39 or better and put pressure on Reed’s record, but for the Blazers to have a chance to win this game, he might just have to.
- LeBron James’ availability. For an NBA player in his 21st NBA season, his productivity is a marvel. But LeBron is only human after all, and the Lakers championship hopes this season absolutely rest on his availability. To that end, Lakers Coach Darvin Ham tried instituting a 30-minute limit to start the season, a plan that LeBron agreed to... then swiftly tossed aside. He’s averaged over 35 minutes a game this season, and unfortunately suffered a non-contact left calf contusion in the Lakers’ win over the Phoenix Suns a few days ago, putting his availability against Portland in doubt. Even if he’s limited, James commands defensive attention when he plays and is both smart and strong enough to get position at will, especially against a Portland team with a thin frontcourt and a gaggle of players with little NBA experience.
- Young vs. Old... sort of. At first thought, you would assume the Blazers were MUCH younger than the Lakers. One team is just beginning a rebuild around a teenager, and the other is trying to squeeze one last championship out of a soon-to-be-39-year-old. But the data (beautifully visualized by Sravan NBA on Twitter/X) tell a slightly different story. Weighted by minutes played, the bulk of either teams’ rotations are similarly aged. On the other hand, this doesn’t capture injuries to Blazers veterans Malcolm Brogdon and Robert Williams III. Their replacements will all be 24 or younger, and beyond calendar age, the lack of NBA experience is very likely to contrast with the Lakers whose rotation is mostly players with five or more years of experience (Austin Reaves being the notable exception). The graph below showing the age distribution across the league may either confirm or challenge your preexisting notions of who the whippersnappers and the grizzled veterans are.
About the Opponent
After Cam Reddish’s somewhat surprising promotion from the bench to the starting lineup, Trevor Lane of Lakers Nation explores in a brief video whether the former Blazer will be starting for Los Angeles moving forward:
I do wonder however, and I don’t mean to rain on the Reddish parade here at all, because he played a hell of a game and he deserves a ton of credit, but Jarred Vanderbilt: Will he slide into that starting spot for the Lakers once he returns?... Wouldn’t shock me. ... I think for the time being, including [today’s] game against the Portland Trail Blazers, we should indeed see Cam Reddish [in the starting lineup].
Edwin Garcia of Silver Screen and Roll expands on a comparison of Austin Reaves to Hall-of-Famer Manu Ginobili made by Lakers coach Darvin Ham:
“First and foremost, it wasn’t a demotion for Austin, it was just a realignment. If anybody remembers those great San Antonio teams, everyone in the world knew Manu was a starter. But sometimes to balance out your lineup, you have to put a player of his magnitude in a reserve role, so now, when the starters go to sit down and take their break, you’re not totally falling off a cliff. You have balance in the second unit.”
Related: Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times dives into Ham’s lineup change, which was in response to the Lakers’ first-quarter struggles:
The idea took hold postgame Wednesday in Houston, the team staying overnight after their loss to the Rockets. Ham, his wife and members of his coaching staff had a late dinner at a seafood restaurant across from the team hotel. And as people filtered out, Ham turned to assistant coach Chris Jent with an idea.
“‘Man,” he said, “I’m thinking about changing the lineup, bro.”
While Ham and the coaches dined that evening, ESPN broadcast the ugly numbers. No team in NBA history had been outscored by more in first quarters in the season’s first eight games than his. The other teams on the list had all lost at least 50 games. The Lakers were spotting teams 74 points in the opening quarters over the course of the young season and the uphill climbs were getting too steep.