Trail Blazers vs Lakers Wednesday, 10/31/12 AT 07:30PM

Trail Blazers Open Regular Season Against Lakers On Halloween Night

10/30/12
  1. Written by: erikgundersen

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    After several weeks of games without consequence, the regular season begins for the Portland Trail Blazers against the new look Los Angeles Lakers on Halloween night. The game tips off at 7PM and will be on CSNNW and NBATV as well as broadcast on 1190 KEX.

    At the Trail Blazers practice on Monday, they announced that LaMarcus Aldridge was named the team’s captain.  When asked if he was glad that the Trail Blazers were starting off against the Lakers, their captain was frank saying, “I don’t care.” It’s clear that just like all of us, the players are ready to get the season under way.  

    The Rose Garden will certainly be a rowdy environment for opening night but the fact that it is the Lakers the Trail Blazers are facing will add to the atmosphere.

    “I think if you live in Portland, you have to say ‘I hate the Lakers,’ and there can’t be any grey area with that statement,” said Stotts.

    The Lakers will come into the Rose Garden for the first time with their shiny new point guard and center, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. Also, after years of the triangle offense, the Lakers have instituted a Princeton style offense brought in by new assistant coach Eddie Jordan, which involves constant movement off the ball. A signature play of the Princeton offense is the backdoor cut to take advantage of defenders overplaying on the wing.  The Lakers have only played one preseason game at full strength with their starting line-up of Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Gasol and Howard. Still, Coach Stotts knows patience defensively will be key to mitigating the success of the Lakers offense.

    “You have to be patient on defense, you have to stay below your man, you have to play 24 seconds because there is a lot of movement and the minute you let down they take advantage of it.”

    “I don’t think nobody really knows yet, you know, because they haven’t played any real games yet so I think they are going to be tough to guard,” said Aldridge on what he expects from the Lakers offensively.

    However, the Lakers are no normal team that will simply stick to a set system. They will, as Coach Stotts said certainly have a lot of movement, flares and back-cuts but they also have the type of players that can work outside of any system and create problems for any defense.

    “The Lakers offense is not going to be as Princeton dominant as I would say his (Jordan, who ran the Princeton offense during his time in New Jersey and Washington as the head coach) other teams were. Because Nash is going to do his thing and Howard is going to do his thing.”

    Nash is as good as there are in the league off the pick and roll and Howard was the second most efficient “roll man” on the pick and roll in the league, averaging 1.36 points per possession according to Synergy Sports Technology. The pick-and-roll game, although not normally associated with the Princeton offense will certainly be a part of the Lakers offensive game plan. Bryant was a game time decision with a foot injury for the Lakers first game against Dallas but he did play and should go against the Trail Blazers.

    The Trail Blazers lost in their final preseason game against the Utah Jazz and were pounded on the interior. It certainly did not help in their last game that Meyers Leonard was hurt five minutes into his stint. However, Leonard practiced fully and Coach Stotts said that Leonard would be the first “five” off the Trail Blazers bench.

    “I’m playing with full aggression now,” said Leonard about coming back from the head contusion he suffered against Utah.

    Leonard’s had major problems getting into foul trouble in the preseason. Against a team like the Lakers that possesses big men like Howard and Gasol, it’s very possible we will see Leonard, Jared Jeffries and Joel Freeland come in off the bench along with starter JJ Hickson, if fouls truly become a problem.     

    Although they lost their final preseason games, Coach Stotts did give us some clues as to how he is going to allot minutes, specifically at the wing spot. Sasha Pavlovic was the first player off the Trail Blazers bench in the final preseason game and played 22 minutes.  He did not commit to whether he would be the first man off the bench again, but Stotts explained why he liked Pavlovic so much.

    “I really like Sasha. I think he’s been overlooked, he started in the NBA Finals and averaged 32 minutes in the NBA Finals, there aren’t a lot of people who have averaged 32 minutes in the NBA Finals,” said Stotts. “He’s a solid player, he’s a very good defender, he’s a good shooter, he’s a smart player and he has stability. He’s not flashy, but I like what he brings to the table.”

    In the 2010-11 season the Pavlovic was signed to the Dallas Mavericks, where Stotts was an assistant, for two ten-day contracts in January of that season. Stotts mentioned Pavlovic started a game against the Lakers during that stint, which they won and he scored 11 points. Although Victor Claver did see a lot of action as one of the first wings off the bench and Will Barton showed high energy playmaking ability in the preseason, all signs indicate that Stotts will go with Pavlovic first to back-up Portland’s wing positions.
        
    A concern for the Trail Blazers bench is the ankle of back-up point guard Ronnie Price. Price hurt his ankle in the second preseason game against Phoenix and has not played since then. He participated in some practice drills on Monday but did not scrimmage and was not exposed to contact. If Price cannot go, it will likely be on Nolan Smith to carry the load when Damian Lillard is on the bench.

    “I don’t know,” said Price on his status for Wednesday night.

    “I would say, it’s the trainer, Ronnie and I’m the last to know,” said Stotts with regards to how the decision will be made on whether Price can go.

    Having an effective bench unit will be key, especially against a team with starters as good as the ones the Lakers have. With Bryant dealing with a foot injury and Dwight Howard still rounding himself into game shape, the Lakers bench could see a lot of playing time. If the Trail Blazers can find a way to exploit the Lakers’ most glaring weakness, they will have a shot to take the opener. The Trail Blazers will be playing a good amount of young players in this game and throughout the season. Assistant coach David Vanterpool gathered all of the rookies and Nolan Smith in a huddle on the far practice court on Monday to help prepare them for the game and season ahead.

    “He just said to be confident and just come out this season and work as hard as possible,” said Leonard on Vanterpool’s words.

    Finally, it’s the new start that Trail Blazers players, coaches and fans alike have been waiting for and it comes against one of the NBA’s title favorites. After practicing for four weeks, playing exhibition games for three weeks, the Trail Blazers can finally begin in their journey, only to see what lies ahead. This roster, coaching staff and front office has been talked about all summer and training camp as the future. The future, for Rip City, is now.
        

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