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Preview: Lakers vs. Trailblazers

It wasn't easy but the Lakers (41-27) worked to get the 8th spot back by defeating the Hornets last night at Staples Center, 104-96.

Tonight, they will have to do it all over again inside an arena where they've only won twice in their last 10 visits and on the 2nd night of a back-to-back.

The purple and gold have yet to win both games of a back-to-back all season long. Ironically, they will have to get their first on the final set of such a schedule against a Portland Trailblazers (33-44) team that has lost their last 8 games.

Which streak will end tonight?

The Lakers better make sure theirs do since they need to have at least a single win more than the Jazz when the regular season ends for them exactly a week from today. Utah only has 3 more games — 1 at home and 2 on the road. But they're playing Minnesota twice before heading to Memphis for the final game. They're undefeated against the Timberwolves this season, so their chances of winning their next 2 meetings are good.

In other words, a Lakers loss tonight and a Jazz victory on Friday could very well end any playoff hopes for L.A. unless Utah loses 2 of their final 3 games. That's unlikely going to happen.

What makes tonight's game in Portland a serious proposition, despite with all of their injuries, for the Lakers is their history in this building, this team and their fans. Regardless of records, the Trailblazers treat every game at the Rose Garden against the Lakers a playoff game, and the Lakers just can't seem to figure out a way to raise their level of competition to match the Trailblazers.

For playoffs sake, that better not continue tonight.

This is the 4th and final meeting of the season between these two teams and the last road game for the Lakers. L.A. is looking to win the season series, 3-1.

Matchup of the Game

Pau Gasol vs. LaMarcus Aldridge: No other Blazer has scored more against the Lakers than Aldridge, who averages 20 points on 48.2% shooting. If the Lakers are to win, Gasol's defense on Aldridge better come prepared and ready. He has to make Aldridge a playmaker and force him to put the ball on the floor. That happens when Pau crowds LaMarcus' right shoulder and stays on the shoulder even if Aldridge tries to take it to the rim.

Keys to the Game

> Contain Damian Lillard: In the previous 3 meetings, Lillard is getting 17.7 points and 7.3 assists. The Lakers will need to take care of at least one of those stats to get a victory. Which means they have to bring solid…

> Defense: Everybody knows you can't win without defense. But the Lakers, for some reason, need constant reminder. Against the Hornets last night, the Lakers defense was on off a lot longer than it was on. That can't happen against this opponent and in this building.

> Dig Deep: Just because the Trailblazers are bruised and battered, it doesn't mean they are not going to show for in this game. Portland will try to run them out of the building early and their fans will give their all to cheer for their team and jeer for anything L.A. The Lakers must fight back!

Watch Out For

LAKERS: Dwight Howard: D12 has dominated Portland in the post this season getting 24.3 points, 14.7 boards and 2 blocks while shooting at a 54.8% clip. Last time the Lakers were in town, Howard had a monster game with 33 points and 14 rebounds in just the 2nd game of the season. Wouldn't be such a bad idea if he decides to mirror that performance tonight.

TRAILBLAZERS: Nicolas Batum (if he plays): If Aldridge and Lillard aren't doing it, rest assured Batum will do his thing to hurt the Lakers on both sides of the court. He's averaging 19.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2 steals versus the purple and gold this year. This guy can score anywhere on the floor and loves to battle it out with Kobe Bryant on the defensive end.

Game Info

Tonight
@ Portland Trailblazers
Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. (PST)
Rose Garden
TV: TWC SportsNet (Southern California)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW

Injury Notes

LAKERS: Jordan Hill (hip) is out for the season. Steve Nash (hamstring) is out.

TRAILBLAZERS: J.J. Hickson (back) is questionnable. Nicolas Batum (shoulder) game-time decision. Wesley Matthews (ankle) and Elliot Wiliams (Achilles) are out.

Preview: Lakers vs. Trailblazers

Los Angeles Lakers v Portland Trail Blazers

Feb. 23, 2005. That is the most recent date the Lakers (28-7) flew out of Portland with a victory.

But I’m sure we, Laker fans, have heard enough about our team’s losing streak up there. It’s one of those enigma that even scientists and psychologists have a hard time coming up with a theory, let alone a real reason for it. But it is something that has gotten out of hand. Even Kobe Bryant have tried to break the “curse” by altering the team’s travel plans up there and pre-game rituals. Give him credit for trying though. In fact, give the Portland Trailblazers (22-15) credit for maintaining their 8-game winning streak against the Lakers at the Rose Garden.

But would they make it 9 in a row tonight? History is on the Blazers’ side, but team health is against them. I know a lot of you are saying that the Blazers have too many players on the sideline. That’s true. However, Blazers head coach Nate McMillan (who is also recovering from a ruptured achilles’ tendon) seems to always have the perfect defensive plan against them, especially for Kobe.

McMillan is probably the best coach in the NBA at forcing Bryant and the Lakers to go elsewhere for answers. To top it off, Pau Gasol will not be playing for the third game in a row and Kobe’s injured right index finger is still bothering him to a point where even dribbling the ball poses a challenge for him. But challenge is and will always be a fuel for Kobe’s fire. So I don’t doubt he will give it all tonight. Believe me, no one wants to end this ridiculous streak more than #24.

But the real question is, will the rest of the Lakers help him out?

The Blazers have lost 2 of their last 3 but have won 6 of their last 10 with injuries. They are 13-6 at home. Meanwhile, the Lakers are 2-1 their last 3 games and have only lost 3 of their last 10. But their loss to the Clippers have dropped their road record to 8-4 — second best in the NBA behind Boston.

Portland’s list of injured players include: Greg Oden (fractured left kneecap — out for season), Joel Pryzbilla (ruptured right knee — out for season also), Travis Outlaw (fractured foot), Rudy Fernandez (back), and Nicolas Batum (shoulder).

Gasol has been responding well to all of his workouts and should be ready to go early next week, even as soon as Sunday, according to Phil Jackson. Luke Walton, who has been out since the middle of November, is also progressing well and has been participating in scrimmages and some drills. Phil expects him to fully participate in all of the practices early next week.

Phil always has something creative to say about playing in Portland, but he doesn’t deny the Blazers’ ability to dominate his Lakers up there. No one knows more than Phil what the Lakers need to do as a team to break that streak, but he did admits that it will take more than a solid effort to take out the Blazers.

So what exactly do the Lakers have to do besides working hard on both ends? First, they have to take the losing streak out of their minds. Second, they cannot rely on Kobe to carry them. Everybody and anybody who comes on to the floor must contribute and cannot be a liability on both ends of the floor. Third, the Lakers have to come out from the get-go with something to prove. They have to be more hungry and stay hungry throughout the entire 48 minutes of play.

That starting the game with no energy and focus have been one of their most frustrating habits for months now and have been the keys to all of their losses. There is no better game to finally start treating the first half of each game much more seriously than tonight.

They must also contain Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. Roy is one of those very few players in the league who loves going up against Kobe. He is averaging 22.9 points, 5.1 assists, and 4.7 rebounds per game for the season. Aldridge’s length and offense have been a torn on the Lakers’ side since his rookie season. He has been steadily improving on offense and defense every year and is averaging 15.9 points and 7.8 rebounds. He’s also leading the Blazers in three-point field goal shooting 71%.

It’s easier said than done, but the Lakers must make both Roy and Aldridge pass the ball and play defense. Roy is turning over the ball at least twice a game and Aldridge isn’t known to give up the ball often when he has his sights on the basket. Kobe’s size and offensive skills are too much for Roy, especially in the post. It would be unwise for the Blazers to make Kobe prove how often he can score on Roy one-on-one in the paint, so Bryant will be seeing a lot of extra defenders coming his way. Aldridge isn’t a shot-blocker by heart nor a bonafide post defender. He’s a better help defender and his footwork on defense leaves a lot to be desired. Still, he can make himself matter on defense if the Lakers allow him to.

On the other hand, the Lakers will need to make their open shots and share the ball if they want to see Kobe operate against a single coverage often. McMillan will not think twice about testing them early and continuously throughout the game. So they will have to make the Blazers pay for leaving anyone alone in the perimeter.

But it’s extremely important for the Lakers to take advantage of the Blazers frontcourt injuries by running the offense through Andrew Bynum first and often. He won’t have both Oden and Pryzbilla defending him tonight, so it’s an understatement when I say the Lakers must go inside. Having a solid floor-spacing on offense will provide an extra pressure for Portland to double anybody in the post for the Lakers. So the Lakers will have to employ that to their strategy as well.

Look for the Blazers to play with a lot of energy on defense. They will try to force a lot of turnovers by jumping in passing lanes, swiping at the ball in the post, and putting a lot of pressure on ball-handlers to get any fast break going.

Defensively, the Lakers will see a lot of guard penetrations, screens, pick-and-rolls, pick-and-pops, and isolations for Aldridge and Roy. With so many injuries, Portland is limited in the post, but that doesn’t mean you won’t see them try to score from there. Andre Miller and Roy aren’t too shabby in the paint, and Aldridge and Juwan Howard are more than capable of luring the Laker bigs out of the paint.

If the Lakers also fail to box out and rotate precisely on defense, that 9-game losing streak will become more of a reality for them each passing possession they forget to do those or any of the fundamentals.

In other words, the Lakers will have to make their own breaks tonight on both baskets because Portland isn’t the kind of a team that will give them anything without being forced.

The Blazers (and their fans) have zero remorse for them. None whatsoever. So the Lakers should also have that same kind of attitude towards them. At the same time, the elder statesmen of the team (Kobe, Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom) must take it upon themselves to lead by example. Portland is a different beast in their home turf because of their exuberant confidence over the purple and gold. Thus, the Lakers must also give an extraordinary effort to pull out a huge win, and it will be a ginormous victory should they pull it off.

I’ve labeled this game as one of the top 3 must-win games (behind beating the Celtics twice, of course) for the Lakers because the two games in Portland have always been in the back of the Lakers’ head. They don’t admit it, but finally ridding themselves of the gorilla on their shoulders means they, as a team, would transgress to something even better.

But even more significant in defeating the Blazers at the Rose Garden is it will take away that edge, that oh-so-important mojo Portland seems to treat as much as winning an NBA title over the Lakers when these two teams become storied rivals (and they will) once again in the near future.

I can’t wait for this game.

Tip-off is at 7:00. TV: KCAL-9  Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN

GO LAKERS!!!

Preview: Lakers vs. Trailblazers

Los Angeles Lakers v Portland Trail Blazers

Feb. 23, 2005. That is the most recent date the Lakers (28-7) flew out of Portland with a victory.

But I’m sure we, Laker fans, have heard enough about our team’s losing streak up there. It’s one of those enigma that even scientists and psychologists have a hard time coming up with a theory, let alone a real reason for it. But it is something that has gotten out of hand. Even Kobe Bryant have tried to break the “curse” by altering the team’s travel plans up there and pre-game rituals. Give him credit for trying though. In fact, give the Portland Trailblazers (22-15) credit for maintaining their 8-game winning streak against the Lakers at the Rose Garden.

But would they make it 9 in a row tonight? History is on the Blazers’ side, but team health is against them. I know a lot of you are saying that the Blazers have too many players on the sideline. That’s true. However, Blazers head coach Nate McMillan (who is also recovering from a ruptured achilles’ tendon) seems to always have the perfect defensive plan against them, especially for Kobe.

McMillan is probably the best coach in the NBA at forcing Bryant and the Lakers to go elsewhere for answers. To top it off, Pau Gasol will not be playing for the third game in a row and Kobe’s injured right index finger is still bothering him to a point where even dribbling the ball poses a challenge for him. But challenge is and will always be a fuel for Kobe’s fire. So I don’t doubt he will give it all tonight. Believe me, no one wants to end this ridiculous streak more than #24.

But the real question is, will the rest of the Lakers help him out?

The Blazers have lost 2 of their last 3 but have won 6 of their last 10 with injuries. They are 13-6 at home. Meanwhile, the Lakers are 2-1 their last 3 games and have only lost 3 of their last 10. But their loss to the Clippers have dropped their road record to 8-4 — second best in the NBA behind Boston.

Portland’s list of injured players include: Greg Oden (fractured left kneecap — out for season), Joel Pryzbilla (ruptured right knee — out for season also), Travis Outlaw (fractured foot), Rudy Fernandez (back), and Nicolas Batum (shoulder).

Gasol has been responding well to all of his workouts and should be ready to go early next week, even as soon as Sunday, according to Phil Jackson. Luke Walton, who has been out since the middle of November, is also progressing well and has been participating in scrimmages and some drills. Phil expects him to fully participate in all of the practices early next week.

Phil always has something creative to say about playing in Portland, but he doesn’t deny the Blazers’ ability to dominate his Lakers up there. No one knows more than Phil what the Lakers need to do as a team to break that streak, but he did admits that it will take more than a solid effort to take out the Blazers.

So what exactly do the Lakers have to do besides working hard on both ends? First, they have to take the losing streak out of their minds. Second, they cannot rely on Kobe to carry them. Everybody and anybody who comes on to the floor must contribute and cannot be a liability on both ends of the floor. Third, the Lakers have to come out from the get-go with something to prove. They have to be more hungry and stay hungry throughout the entire 48 minutes of play.

That starting the game with no energy and focus have been one of their most frustrating habits for months now and have been the keys to all of their losses. There is no better game to finally start treating the first half of each game much more seriously than tonight.

They must also contain Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. Roy is one of those very few players in the league who loves going up against Kobe. He is averaging 22.9 points, 5.1 assists, and 4.7 rebounds per game for the season. Aldridge’s length and offense have been a torn on the Lakers’ side since his rookie season. He has been steadily improving on offense and defense every year and is averaging 15.9 points and 7.8 rebounds. He’s also leading the Blazers in three-point field goal shooting 71%.

It’s easier said than done, but the Lakers must make both Roy and Aldridge pass the ball and play defense. Roy is turning over the ball at least twice a game and Aldridge isn’t known to give up the ball often when he has his sights on the basket. Kobe’s size and offensive skills are too much for Roy, especially in the post. It would be unwise for the Blazers to make Kobe prove how often he can score on Roy one-on-one in the paint, so Bryant will be seeing a lot of extra defenders coming his way. Aldridge isn’t a shot-blocker by heart nor a bonafide post defender. He’s a better help defender and his footwork on defense leaves a lot to be desired. Still, he can make himself matter on defense if the Lakers allow him to.

On the other hand, the Lakers will need to make their open shots and share the ball if they want to see Kobe operate against a single coverage often. McMillan will not think twice about testing them early and continuously throughout the game. So they will have to make the Blazers pay for leaving anyone alone in the perimeter.

But it’s extremely important for the Lakers to take advantage of the Blazers frontcourt injuries by running the offense through Andrew Bynum first and often. He won’t have both Oden and Pryzbilla defending him tonight, so it’s an understatement when I say the Lakers must go inside. Having a solid floor-spacing on offense will provide an extra pressure for Portland to double anybody in the post for the Lakers. So the Lakers will have to employ that to their strategy as well.

Look for the Blazers to play with a lot of energy on defense. They will try to force a lot of turnovers by jumping in passing lanes, swiping at the ball in the post, and putting a lot of pressure on ball-handlers to get any fast break going.

Defensively, the Lakers will see a lot of guard penetrations, screens, pick-and-rolls, pick-and-pops, and isolations for Aldridge and Roy. With so many injuries, Portland is limited in the post, but that doesn’t mean you won’t see them try to score from there. Andre Miller and Roy aren’t too shabby in the paint, and Aldridge and Juwan Howard are more than capable of luring the Laker bigs out of the paint.

If the Lakers also fail to box out and rotate precisely on defense, that 9-game losing streak will become more of a reality for them each passing possession they forget to do those or any of the fundamentals.

In other words, the Lakers will have to make their own breaks tonight on both baskets because Portland isn’t the kind of a team that will give them anything without being forced.

The Blazers (and their fans) have zero remorse for them. None whatsoever. So the Lakers should also have that same kind of attitude towards them. At the same time, the elder statesmen of the team (Kobe, Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom) must take it upon themselves to lead by example. Portland is a different beast in their home turf because of their exuberant confidence over the purple and gold. Thus, the Lakers must also give an extraordinary effort to pull out a huge win, and it will be a ginormous victory should they pull it off.

I’ve labeled this game as one of the top 3 must-win games (behind beating the Celtics twice, of course) for the Lakers because the two games in Portland have always been in the back of the Lakers’ head. They don’t admit it, but finally ridding themselves of the gorilla on their shoulders means they, as a team, would transgress to something even better.

But even more significant in defeating the Blazers at the Rose Garden is it will take away that edge, that oh-so-important mojo Portland seems to treat as much as winning an NBA title over the Lakers when these two teams become storied rivals (and they will) once again in the near future.

I can’t wait for this game.

Tip-off is at 7:00. TV: KCAL-9  Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN

GO LAKERS!!!

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