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