After two straight impressive showings including a win over the Memphis Grizzlies, the Los Angeles Lakers to make it two straight wins on Thursday. This time the opponent is the Portland Trail Blazers in a prime-time matchup on TNT at 7:30 PM PST.
The Lakers’ biggest challenge will be to slow down the Blazers’ explosive backcourt. Damian Lillard is probable to start after missing the previous five games with an ankle injury. He will be joined by CJ McCollum, a similarly great shooter and ball handler in the backcourt.
The Lakers have often given up huge nights to opposing guards due in part to D’Angelo Russell’s (and other perimeter players’) individual defense and in part due to the lack of elite rim protection. But on Tuesday, they had a decent showing to at least slow down Mike Conley and turn him into an inefficient scorer.
When Russell comes into the game with defensive focus and effort, he has the potential to at least bother star point guards. Tonight needs to be one of those nights against a player who is capable of lighting anybody up.
Offensively, the Lakers should be able to continue the success they showed against the Memphis Grizzlies. In that game, LA scored 116 points against the league’s best defensive team. Tonight, they will matchup against the NBA’s second worst defense (the only team worse is the Lakers themselves).
Julius Randle should be able to continue his recently strong play as the Blazers do not boast much rim protection; Mason Plumlee is their best player in that respect. Russell should also have a strong game against Lillard and the combination of those two players could be a huge key to the game as it was against Memphis.
There should be plenty of scoring in this game and the ability of a superstar like Lillard to go off makes the Blazers a slight favorite in this game. However, they are far from being an unbeatable team. They surprised everyone by making a run into the second round of the playoffs last year, but this season Portland has struggled mightily with a 15-22 record that is only 2.5 games ahead of the Lakers.
Nevertheless, Portland will be one of several teams fighting for the eighth seed in the Western Conference this season. The Lakers’ recent slide may have put them out of realistic contention, but if they want to give themselves an opportunity, tonight’s game is a great start.