Trail Blazers vs Lakers Friday, 12/28/12 AT 07:30PM

Trail Blazers Look To Beat Lakers For Second Time

12/28/12
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    On Friday night, the Trail Blazers (14-13) will be under the bright lights of the Staples Center taking on the Los Angeles Lakers (14-15). The game tips off at Staples Center at 7:30 PM and will be shown on KGW and can be heard on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM.

    Two months ago, these teams met at the Rose Garden. That was the first night that Damian Lillard caught everyone's attention for real as he scored 23 points and dished 11 assists in a Trail Blazers victory over the most talked about team in the NBA. There after, both teams ended up surprising people in different ways. The Lakers, by way of their struggles without the injured Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and the still-not-100 percent Dwight Howard and an ever efficient Kobe Bryant, struggled, shocking many who had essentially given them the Western Conference title. The Trail Blazers have surprised in a positive way with Lillard's jump from Weber State to putting up All-Star level production in his first 25 games taking most of the headlines. The Lakers are different with Nash back and the Trail Blazers are far more than just Lillard. Lillard admitted that he's seen the Lakers play since Steve Nash returned on the same night that the Trail Blazers won game five of their five-game winning streak.

    "They seem a lot more in sync with him out on the floor," Lillard said of the Lakers with Nash. "He's getting guys in position to score the ball. They look good."

    Obviously nothing has really changed since then. Whatever the records say, the Lakers are still clearly the team expected to win as they have gone 2-1, beating quality opponents in the Warriors (19-10, 5th in the West on the road) and the Knicks (21-8, 2nd in the East) before losing to the Nuggets on Wednesday, where Dwight Howard was ejected for a flagrant two foul. Howard was fined $35,000 but was not suspended and will start against the Trail Blazers.

        
    •    Portland dominated the Lakers in the pick and roll. Howard and Gasol couldn't keep up with Portland's ball handlers and Lillard especially took advantage. The Trail Blazers scored over 30 points in two of the quarters. As Lillard and usually LaMarcus Aldridge would run pick and rolls, it resulted in lots of looks for Aldridge but also lots of threes for Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews. With the Lakers struggling to rotate quick enough, Batum and Matthews totaled for 15 of the Trail Blazers' 20 three-point attempts. That resulted in an explosion from the wings with Batum (26) and Matthews (22) combining for 48 points, out scoring the tandem of Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace (43 total).  These defensive breakdowns by the Lakers could present themselves again if they don't find a way to stop Lillard and Batum's penetration. Obviously not having Matthews will put pressure on other Trail Blazers (Sasha Pavlovic, Luke Babbitt, Victor Claver, Will Barton) to make open looks, because they will get them. Howard has gotten better and looks a little bit better than he did in the previous meeting but is still not moving the same way he did before his back surgery. The Trail Blazers need to hit their open looks again. However, Nash got hurt towards the end of the first half and was out after one play in the second. They've been very different offensively with Nash and Lillard will be faced with the tough task of slowing him down as Nicolas Batum will likely be asked to take the challenge of guarding Kobe Bryant rather than Metta World Peace.
        
    •    There are obviously a lot of intriguing match-ups in this game such as Damian Lillard against Steve Nash but the match-up between the two front courts will certainly be interesting. LaMarcus Aldridge had 19 points and JJ Hickson had a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds, the first of many he would have. Hickson and Aldridge were able to put together a monster tandem performance against the Kings who were without DeMarcus Cousins. Not only how they play offensively against Gasol and Howard will be a big determinant in who wins the game but their pick and roll defense and their ability to show well on screens and scramble to guard the roll men will be will be just as important.
        
    •    The Trail Blazers forced the Lakers into 25 turnovers, something they do very often as they rank 25th in the NBA in turnover percentage. The Trail Blazers must also be ready to get back defensively as the Lakers play at the 4th fastest pace in the NBA. The Trail Blazers managed to keep the match-up between the benches close but that was before the team started to see players on the bench step-up. The loss to the Kings was one where the Trail Blazers were caught sleeping and this game in Los Angeles presents one of their biggest challenges of the  season. The month of December has been quite kind to the Trail Blazers and it saw them achieve a season long win streak and a couple of defining moments along the way. Now they must take on a revamped Laker team, one that's fully loaded once again. The Trail Blazers, too, are different now. They've achieved more balance and players have started to play crisp basketball. The players and Coach Stotts will tell you it's just another match-up, but the fact that Stotts referred to the previous Laker win in the post game of their San Antonio win tells you something. It's not just another game, it's a Laker game.

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