It’s almost fitting that the Los Angeles Lakers will be playing in the dreaded Rose Garden on Halloween Night. It’s been a spooky venue for the team. Since 1996, the Lakers have just won seven of their 31 visits in Portland. In fact, they have just as many NBA Finals appearances as wins in Portland during that span. It’s highly conceivable that the Lakers might start off with a nightmarish 0-2 start. It’s extremely premature to press any sort of panic button if the Lakers lose, but it’s fair to say no one expected this team to start off like this.
Lakers at a Glance:
The Lakers are coming off a tough opening night loss at home against the Dallas Mavericks. If anything, the loss was a wake-up call for the Lakers. It’s easy to point at 19 missed free throws and blame that glaring stat for the loss, but it was clear just from watching the game that the Lakers were not in synch at all. They lacked team chemistry and this is a byproduct of having just three guys from the 2010 championship team. There is no familiarity between any of the players and this will take time to build.
Steve Nash and Dwight Howard clearly were a mess at times. Nash was oftentimes seen just standing around without the ball. Steve Blake netted more assists than Nash and it marked the first time in the two-time MVPs career where he had fewer than 10 points and five assists in a game. Meanwhile, Howard couldn’t buy a make from the charity stripe and was fouled out.
It wasn’t a surprise to see Kobe and Gasol, who are two of the three leftovers from the 2010 team, seem like the only players on the team comfortable on the court. Gasol had a double-double and had the best plus-minus from all the Lakers. Kobe, on the other hand, shot 10-for-13 from the field for 22 points. That being said, they both had their uncharacteristic lackadaisical moments on defense.
The Lakers must shake off this loss, regroup, and play against a hungry Portland team in an arena that will be rocking.
Portland Trail Blazers Breakdown:
The Portland Trail Blazers were idle on opening night and Wednesday night’s tilt against the Lakers will be their first game of the season. There is no doubt that the Rose Garden will be loud, and that’s an understatement.
The Blazers had a dismal 2011-12 season, finishing 28-38 and missing the playoffs for the first time in three years. Coach Nate McMillan was fired halfway throughout the season and he was replaced by Kaleb Canales. Canales was let go in the offseason in favor of Terry Stotts, who will be making his first coaching appearance since he was bench boss for the Milwaukee Bucks back in 2006-07. Stotts has a lifetime winning percentage of just 0.406.
The Blazers fate in the last half-decade has been tied to the incessant injuries of former No. 1 overall pick, Greg Oden. Unfortunately, Oden was never able to materialize in the big many thought he would become. He never stayed healthy and the Blazers chose not to bring him back this past offseason. They also suffered injuries to Brandon Roy throughout the last few years. Not surprisingly, Roy is no longer on the team.
It’s a new era for the Blazers, who are trying to not only get to the playoffs, but to get out of the first round. They haven’t been able to do that since the Aryvdas Sabonis days in 1999-2000 when they advanced to the Western Conference Finals and lost to the Lakers in an epic seven-game season highlighted by a remarkable Game 7 comeback by the Forum Blue and Gold.
That being said, the Blazers are being patient. They spent last offseason drafting guys like Meyers Leonard and Damian Lillard to build around team stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum. Lillard is a highly-touted prospect and is expected by some pundits to have a shot to win the rookie of the year award. Perhaps the playoffs isn’t in sight this year for the Blazers, but they know they have a bright future. And who knows? If things click early, the Blazers may find themselves in the mix in 2012-13. That’s why they play the games.
Expected Starting Fives:
C- Dwight Howard
PF- Pau Gasol
SF- Metta World Peace
SG- Kobe Bryant
PG- Steve Nash
Key Bench Players: Steve Blake, Antawn Jamison, Jordan Hill
C- J.J. Hickson
PF- LaMarcus Aldridge
SF- Nicolas Batum
SG- Wesley Matthews*
PG- Damian Lillard
Key Bench Players: Jared Jeffries, Luke Babbitt, Meyers Leonard
*Questionable to play
Surprisingly, this isn’t that great of a matchup for the Lakers. Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol will have their hands full with Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge, respectively. Also, the aging Steve Nash playing on the second game of a back-to-back might have some trouble against the young Damian Lillard, who’ll be playing in his first NBA game and will undoubtedly be amped up.
The Lakers have the advantage at shooting guard and at center. In fact, the matchup at center is a huge mismatch. The undersized J.J. Hickson will have a tremendous amount of trouble against Dwight Howard. The Lakers, once again, need to focus on getting their bigs the ball down low and take advantage of the undersized Blazers’ front court. They also need to keep it simple. This is only the second regular season this bunch is playing with each other. Don’t do anything fancy. Just play some basketball.
The Lakers got solid bench production on Tuesday night from Jordan Hill, Antawn Jamison, and Steve Blake. That should happen on a consistent basis in 2012-13. The Lakers may even go deeper down their bench because it is a second game of a back-to-back.
Finally, the Blazers are lucky that the Lakers haven’t gelled yet. The Lakers won’t be fine overnight. The spacing issues and lack of team chemistry will continue throughout the next few months. It’s not going to be an easy night for the Lakers.
This will be the 203rd regular season meeting between the Blazers and the Lakers. The Lakers lead the all-time series, 114-88. Last season, the Lakers took two out of three games against the Blazers.
Throughout the last two decades, though, this series has been a tale of two cities. While the Lakers are 24-6 since 1996 at home against the Blazers, they’re just 7-24 in the same time frame at Portland.
That being said, the Lakers have won two of their last four at Portland after they had lost nine straight in Rip City.
What Vegas Says
The Los Angeles Lakers are three point favorites at Portland. They also have a 58 percent implied probability based on their -150 money line. A $100 bet on the Lakers money line will yield a $66.67 return.
Last night, the Lakers were 78.5 percent favorites over Dallas, but lost.
The struggles will continue in Rip City. The match-ups don’t fall in favor for the Lakers. They’ll falter and sink to 0-2.