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Preview: Trailblazers vs. Lakers

It has been an emotional week for the Lakers (26-29) since the passing of Dr. Jerry Buss. His loss seems to have given the team the type of motivation that could propel them to capture at least the 8th spot in the west.

Against Boston on Wednesday, Laker fans saw a totally different team out on the floor. Not only were the Lakers active the entire court, they were helping one another on defense and challenging nearly everything that gets near the hoop.

Offensively, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard were collaborating more on pick-and-rolls. More importantly, those plays proved to be devastating even for a solid defensive team like the Celtics. Pick-and-rolls between Nash and Howard were one of the biggest things that were anticipated happening a lot on offense this season. But as assistant coach Dan D'antoni pointed out, those two guys were taught different on how to execute those plays causing a bit of confusion between them. Not anymore.

The Lakers know they will have to win all of their remaining home games and most of their road games the rest of the way if they are to qualify for the playoffs. Eventhough the Trailblazers are a half game behind them now, the Lakers still have to beat them tonight to get more leg room in the standings.

Like the purple and gold, the season hasn't been kind to Portland. They are 3-7 in their last 10 games and actually 6-14 the last 20 games. The Trailblazers are just too young of a team with no presence or size in the paint. But they do have talent.

LaMarcus Aldridge has been one of the most underrated power forwards in the NBA the past 3 seasons despite being one of the top 5 scoring power forwards during that time. He leads all bigs this season averaging 21 points per game and is naturally the go-to guy for his team in the halfcourt set. But he's not the only concern for the Lakers.

Rookie guard Damian Lillard and 5-year veteran forward Nicolas Batum are the other 2 players that's proven to be headaches for the Lakers this year. Lillard will most likely win the Rookie of the Year award because this guy can run an offense, shoot, and is one of the quickest guards around. He leads all rookies in points (18.4 PPG) and assists (6.5 APG).

Batum is averaging 15.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per game this year. This guy is one of the better perimeter defenders in the league, and loves to score attacking the rim or spotting up from distance. His length and athleticism have given Kobe Bryant fits before, but Bryant averages 28.5 points on a 50% clip against the Trailblazers this season.

In his speech at Dr. Buss's ceremony on Thursday, Kobe took the opportunity to give his teammates some words of inspiration…and some goosebumps.

"We're playing for something bigger than ourselves and bigger than one season," he said. "We are playing for the memory of a great man."

Truly a moving speech by The Mamba. We'll see how the rest of the team respond tonight.

This is the 3rd of 4 meetings between these teams and the last one at Staples Center. The next one will be at The Rose Garden and is actually the final road game of the season for the Lakers on April 10. L.A. is looking to lead the season series 2-1 tonight. The Lakers won last year's series by that same mark and have yet to lose at home versus Portland since April 11, 2010.

Matchup of the Game

Damian Lillard vs. Steve Nash: Nash has yet to play a complete game against Lillard this season. If you remember, Steve got injured on the first meeting of the year after colliding with Lillard trying to get to the ball. Tonight will be his first game against Portland since. If Nash is to get the better of this matchup, he'll have to continue to shoot the ball when he gets an opportunity and involve Howard on more pick-and-rolls. Defensively, he just has to fight through screens and bump Lillard whenever he tries to get into the paint.

Keys to the Game

> Dwight Howard: Portland had no answer for him in the last game when he posted 21 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocks. This is the time of the season when the Lakers have to rely more on him and allow him to dominate the middle.

> Continuation: The Lakers played with a lot of heart as a team on Wednesday. As Antawn Jamison said in his post-game interview, the Lakers have "no more excuses" left for the rest of the season. They have to continue to play like they want to get to the playoffs and do something about it once they get there.

> Bench: The Lakers 2nd unit cannot allow the worst-scoring bench in the league for Portland to even compete with them. Like the starters, they have to also play inspired basketball. If they do, the Lakers are going to be alright.

Watch Out For

TRAILBLAZERS: Wesley Matthews: He didn't play in the first meeting but sure made up for it last time. He had himself 22 points, shooting 7-for-11 — including 4-of-6 from deep — on Halloween. He's listed as questionnable tonight due to an ankle injury, but we'll see if Kobe defends him well if he plays.

LAKERS: Earl Clark: Can't say enough about how much Earl has made this season better than it should have been for the Lakers. He just gives his all on both ends of the floor without complaints. His defensive effort on Aldridge, however, is going to be one of the sub-keys for the Lakers.

Game Info

Tonight vs. Portland Trailblazers
Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. (PST)
Staples Center
TV: TWC SportsNet (Southern California)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW

Injury Notes

TRAILBLAZERS: Wesley Matthews (ankle) is questionnable. Elliot Williams (Achilles) is out.

LAKERS: Pau Gasol (foot) and Jordan Hill (hip) are both out.
 

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Preview: Trailblazers vs. Lakers

After the Lakers (6-0) put out their worst defensive and rebounding effort of the young season against Toronto Friday night, they get ready to take on an old nemesis from the Pacific Northwest, namely the Portland Trailblazers (5-2), for a Sunday night basketball showdown. The game is the tail-end of a back-to-back for the Blazers and will be the first meeting between the two teams. Last season, both teams saw each other only 3 times with Portland having homecourt advantage. The Lakers finally won and decisively at the Rose Garden on Feb. 6th for the first time since Feb. 23, 2005. But, Portland paid them back by ending their drought at Staples Center since Apr. 6, 2006 their very next matchup.

The Blazers are one of the very few teams in the league that matches up well with the Lakers. They’re long, athletic, and deep. Plus, they have a dynamic one-two punch in Brandon Roy and Lamarcus Aldridge. Last month, Kobe Bryant was on ESPN’s “John Thompson Show” and was asked which superstar is the toughest he’s ever defended, Kevin Durant or Roy. Bryant picked Roy because he “has no weaknesses in his game.” Offensively, Roy can shoot from anywhere and is skilled and strong enough to post-up here and there. Add his competitiveness and you’re looking at someone who can wreak havoc on the Lakers.

Roy is currently averaging 21.3 points per game and 3.5 assists per game. But in the average of 40 minutes a game, he’s only shooting 39.8% from the field and 38% from behind the arc. Still, the Lakers cannot underestimate this guy as he is one of the grittiest competitors in the Western Conference. Aldridge has steadily improved his shooting since coming into the league in 2006. He’s a career 48.9% mid-range shooter and is averaging 19.3 points per game so far this season. Lamarcus also happens to be one of the best rebounders in the west averaging 8.3 boards a contest.

Injuries have been a thorn on the side of the Blazers for at least a couple of years now, and this season is no different. Greg Oden, Joel Pryzbilla and Jeff Pendergraph are on the shelf, so Portland went out and signed Fabricio Oberto and Sean Marks in their places.

Portland as a team is only putting up 99.7 points per outing (18th) this season, but has the 6th best defense in all of the NBA allowing a stingey 94.7 PPG. Meanwhile, the Lakers have the best scoring offense (112.8 PPG) and the 14th best defense (101.2). The Blazers may matchup well with the Lakers and is one of the deepest teams in the NBA, but they are also one of many teams that have trouble beating the 2-time defending champs at Staples Center. But, don’t count on the Lakers to take their success over Portland at home for granted.

Thanks to their lackluster performance against Toronto last game, Phil Jackson gave the entire team an extended film session of that game on Saturday to stress out the importance of defense in a game-to-game basis rather than the quarter-by-quarter system in which the players have been steadily following since the start of the season. But, Phil is starting to think that fatigue may have contributed to both Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom playing with less zing on Friday. So, what’s his solution? Play rookie Derrick Caracter more.

The move will definitely give Caracter the necessary experience he needs to improve his game on both ends of the floor, but it’s also a potential risk for Jackson because Derrick isn’t exactly an impactful player by any stretch right now. However, I don’t expect Phil to use the rookie during a game’s most sensitive situations unless foul trouble for Odom is in effect.

The Lakers usually play well against the better and elite teams of the NBA. With Phil demanding a change in the way his players approach each game, maybe we’ll see a Laker team that will dominate early and often on both ends of the floor before the Blazers realize what’s happening. They’ve certainly fooled around enough on Friday for them not to.

GO LAKERS!!!

Matchup of the Game

Ron Artest vs. Brandon Roy: Yup, don’t expect Phil to put Kobe on Roy unless Bryant asks him to. Then again, I don’t anticipate Roy guarding Kobe as well. So, it will be up to Ron to keep Brandon out of the equation.

Keys for the Lakers

Offense

1. Share the ball: The Blazers are good at rotating defensively and has Marcus Camby patrolling the paint as a secondary defender all the time. But even the best defense have trouble guarding an unselfish offense.
2. Protect the ball: Portland are the 6th (9 SPG) best team in steals right now and is 9th (16.7 TPG) in the league in forcing turnovers. So, the Lakers must be extra careful with their passes or how they expose the basketball on the dribble.
3. Constant inside-out attack: Neither Aldridge nor Camby are good one-on-one defenders down the block, and no Blazer can stop Kobe by himself. In other words, Portland’s defense will be scrambling around if the Lakers don’t settle scoring from just one area on the court or from one superstar. Actually, I would love to see some screen-and-rolls between Pau and Kobe because that play just opens up the defense causing a lot of scoring options for the Lakers.

Defense

1. Energy: Portland may be young, but they’re a strict halfcourt team that can do damage in the paint or out on the perimeter. It’s an absolute must for the Lakers to play at the level of the competition Sunday night.
2. Control the boards: This is one of the Blazers’ biggest weaknesses on the road. So if the Lakers crash the boards the entire game, they will give Portland another reason to lose the game.
3. Pressure Roy: As good as Brandon is, he can be rattled into relying on himself exclusively to win games when faced with a good defense. This is why Artest, Matt Barnes and perhaps Shannon Brown will have to be extra focused defensively against Roy.

Game Info

Tip-off is at 6:30 p.m. (PST). TV: FoxSports West (regional) Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN

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