The Portland Trail Blazers face off tonight against a Los Angeles Lakers team that just had it handed to them by the very same Brooklyn Nets team Portland recently beat. More than that, the Blazers are riding high on a two-game win streak that threatens to ruin their lottery odds and tank their season by un-tanking it!
In Los Angeles, the conversation has predictably turned again to their coach, which is a rhythm you can set your watch to with LeBron James teams (note: if the Lakers fire head coach Darvin Ham, they will have their fourth coach in five years). The Lakers find themselves under .500 in a year where they’re enjoying remarkably healthy seasons from their two best players, James and Anthony Davis.
Despite the Lakers underperforming, if LeBron and Davis play, they are the more talented team, and if I were a betting person I would probably bet against the Blazers finding their second three-game win streak of the season tonight.
How to watch on TV: Root Sports, NBA League Pass
Trail Blazers injuries: Anfernee Simons, Scoot Henderson (questionable); Shaedon Sharpe, Robert Williams III, Moses Brown (out)
Lakers injuries: Cam Reddish (probable); LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Taurean Prine (questionable); Gabe Vincent (out).
Lakers SBN affiliate: Silver Screen and Roll
Blazer’s Edge Reader Questions
As has been Blazer’s Edge tradition since bagels gained popularity in the 14th century, we’re asking you all to toss some questions at us for the game previews! Look for posts just like this one the night before the game, and we’ll plan to pick one or two (or more!) every game and answer them as best we can.
At the end of last year, the Lakers made their late-season push with a starting lineup of Davis/James/Vanderbilt/Russel/Reaves. All of them are on still on the team, why isn’t that the starting lineup this year?
Great question, and one that MANY people smarter than me have been asking! It’s even something that Ham himself has said he would consider, but couldn’t go to early this season due to injuries. My best guess: Since Ham was roasted for switching up his lineups faster than Miami Heat fans went from being convinced Dame would save them to being convinced their team is good enough as is, he’s feeling a bit gun-shy about moving the pieces around too much yet again.
I really hate watching us play the Lakers these days. The whistles are completely one sided and the stadium filled with more Lakers fans than Blazers fans. It’s depressing. We’re supposed to have one of the best home crowds in the league. What are the chances we hear a loud “Beat LA” chant coming from our crowd?
Yeah, it’s always rough to see Portland filled with California transplants when some of the better and/or more popular teams from out of state come to town. While the Blazers and Lakers had a legit rivalry - both in spirit and in the standings - it’s been tough to recreate since the Blazers haven’t been at their best for a few seasons, and going back further it was the Lakers who missed the playoffs five consecutive years before LeBron got there, plus his first year in LA. Unless both teams are playing for something, I’m not convinced the chants are going to be particularly loud, but I’d love to be wrong. Also this game is being played in Los Angeles, so I really doubt we get some good “Beat LA” chants tonight.
I am really happy Walker is starting and made such a positive impact on the win, but where is the Matisse love? Matisse also started and Indy’s hot shot Math went 00fers!! And does this mean more Matisse in the starting lineup?
Let’s give some love to ‘Tisse!! The problem with him has always been that while he provides All-Defense level impact on one end of the floor, you can basically ignore him on the other. That HAS changed a bit with Portland: Since he got here, he’s been shooting about 37% on threes on slightly higher volume, and that’s despite a recent 6-game slump where he’s shooting just 16% from deep. Billups has mostly used Thybulle as a starter out of injury necessity, and if you’re goal is to maximize the effectiveness of your starting lineup, you’d probably hope that Sharpe can continue developing into Anfernee Simons’ running mate. If the day comes that Thybulle’s offensive impact can come even close to his defense, he will be a solid starter.
About the Opponent:
Edwin Garcia of Silver Screen and Roll writes about the Lakers’ recent loss against the Brooklyn Nets, which included some strong words from Anthony Davis (who, by the way, is their best defensive player by a country mile):
“Our defense was terrible, in the third quarter especially,” Anthony Davis said after the game. “Second half overall but third quarter especially. Once them guys started getting confidence and playing free, it’s tough for us to come back, especially when we’re missing shots.” This late in the season, with so many blown defensive assignments and the Lakers being unable to stop even the worst teams from shooting lights out, is the team concerned this can’t be fixed? “I wouldn’t say concerning,” Davis said. “Frustration, for sure. Concern is when you know you’re not a good team and you can’t do it. Frustration comes from the point where we know what we can do – we’ve shown it – and we’re not doing it. So, it’s more frustrating than concerning for me.”
Jovan Buha of The Athletic (subscription required) dives into the disappointing morass that is the Lakers’ 2023-24 season, emphasized by their latest loss against Brooklyn:
The Lakers lacked the resiliency they had shown over the past week or so, failing to run their offensive sets through second and third actions, jogging and walking back defensively after misses and turnovers and largely looking lost within their half-court defense, whether they were playing man or zone. When things go wrong with the Lakers, their body language speaks volumes more than even the scoreboard. Shoulders slump. Teammates glare at one another after mistakes. Players stop to argue with officials instead of running back on defense. The game plan becomes fuzzy. “Just felt like we got disappointed,” Ham said of the second-half malaise. “Some calls we felt we should’ve gotten, didn’t go our way. They made some shots. We slowed down, start holding the ball, becoming indecisive. And the result was what it was.”
Others appear in only one of the two, but if you have been checking the rumor mill for the past few days and weeks then you know there is at least some level of interest from both franchises. Players such as Zach LaVine, Malcolm Brogdon, Jerami Grant, and Alex Caruso find themselves among those in this group of common targets. Adding wood to the fire, a few reports emerged on the verge of the weekend talking about Los Angeles and Atlanta inching closer to a trade for Dejounte Murray pending a third team facilitating the transaction by landing D’Angelo Russell, per Mike Scotto of HoopsHype. “Trade talks with the Lakers and Hawks involving D’Angelo Russell, Jalen Hood-Schifino, and a 2029 Lakers first-round pick for Dejounte Murray would be contingent on Russell being flipped to a third team,” wrote Scotto.