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.
Tonight vs. Portland Trailblazers
Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. (PST)
TV: TWC SportsNet (Southern California)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW
TRAILBLAZERS: Wesley Matthews (ankle) is questionnable. Elliot Williams (Achilles) is out.
LAKERS: Pau Gasol (foot) and Jordan Hill (hip) are both out.