Team Records: LA Lakers (4-3) at Portland (4-1)
Game Info: 7:30 p.m., TV on TNT, Radio on 750 AM the Game
Vegas Line: Portland -3.5
Refs: Monty McCutchen, Kane Fitzgerald, Josh Tiven.
The Skinny: Fresh off of an impressive road win over the Thunder, the Blazers are in first place in the West for the first time in a decade. This is perfect timing to welcome in their longtime rivals from LA for their only Portland visit this season. The Lakers have been up and down this season, but seem to have found their groove following Andrew Bynum’s return to the lineup after he served his four game suspension for his takedown of JJ Barea in last year’s playoffs.
Last season: The Lakers won the season series 3-1. It was their first season-series victory over the Blazers since the 2004-05 season.
Projected Lakers Lineup:
PF: Pau Gasol (Spain, 11th season) – 16.9 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 2.1 APG
SF: Matt Barnes (UCLA, 9th season) – 5.6 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.2 APG
C: Andrew Bynum (St. Joseph (HS), 7th season) – 22.7 PPG, 17 RPG, .3 APG
SG: Kobe Bryant (Lower Marion (HS), 16th season) – 25.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 6 APG
PG: Derek Fisher (Arkansas Little Rock, 16th season) – 5.4 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.7 APG
Player to Watch: Andrew Bynum (pictured at right) – Before the season began it seemed a near certainty that Dwight Howard would be traded, probably to the Lakers, and probably for a package centered around Andrew Bynum. After Orlando decided not to trade Howard for now, and following Bynum’s return from his season-opening four game suspension, it appears Bynum took the trade rumors as a challenge because he is playing the best ball of his career. Bynum is a ferocious force inside, seemingly grabbing every single rebound available and finishing extremely well at the rim. When Bynum plays angry, he can be especially dangerous, both to his own team and to the opponents. He has a tendency to commit hard fouls and is constantly walking that line between hard and dirty play. He will be a key factor the Blazers will have to control if they are to beat LA.
Did You Know?: Ex-Laker, Oregon State alum and Portland native AC Green holds the NBA record for most consecutive games played at 1,192. The streak began in 1986 and lasted until 2001.
Portland: Out – C Greg Oden (knee)
LA Lakers: Out – PF/SF Derrick Caracter (meniscus); Doubtful – PF/SF Josh McRoberts (toe and thumb); Probable – SF Matt Barnes (hip), PF Pau Gasol (shoulder), SG Kobe Bryant (wrist)
These Lakers may still have Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, but they are a significantly different team from the one we are used to seeing the past several seasons. Gone is perhaps the best coach in NBA history, Phil Jackson, as well as Sixth Man Lamar Odom. In their place is new head coach Mike Brown and a seemingly random collection of misfit bench parts such as Jason Kapono, Troy Murphy and Josh McRoberts. These Lakers hang their hats on the defensive end, allowing only 89.7 points per game on 40.3% shooting. On offense, they rely on either Kobe, Pau or Bynum to run the offense most nights. Most of their offense comes close to the basket this season as the team is shooting a pathetic 24.5% from beyond the 3 point line. With a bench that consists primarily of streak shooters such as the lovingly renamed Metta World Peace, if their shots are not falling, it can be a long night for LA. It will be Portland’s job to make sure that happens Thursday.
The Bottom Line:
Portland wins if: They make Kobe selfish. Look, Kobe is a very good player, there is no doubt about that. Yet as dangerous as he is one-on-one, he is far more dangerous if opponents let him play distributor rather than scorer. If the Blazers can make Kobe try to beat them on his own, they will probably pull of the win Thursday.
LA Lakers win if: They control the boards. Portland is one of the league’s best rebounding teams so far this year, but Bynum has become one of the league’s best rebounders by himself. If he has another monster game on the glass, it will be hard for Portland to either get second chance points of their own or stop the Lakers from scoring easy putbacks. This would be a recipe for a Lakers win in Portland.