Preview: Lakers host Blazers in rematch with playoff implications

The Los Angeles Lakers will have a chance to redeem a hard-fought loss in Portland last week as they host the Trail Blazers on Tuesday. For the Lakers, it’s an opportunity to win their third straight game, something they have not done since November 6th.

In the previous matchup between the two teams, the Lakers were not able to control the Blazers’ perimeter players. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum had predictably productive outputs; they were allowed 21 three point attempts, a number which is simply too large for two of the best shooters in the NBA.

Even Evan Turner, he of the comically large contract and comically low plus/minus rating, had success against the Lakers. He was able to use his size against LA, particularly when defended by Lou Williams, to score 20 points on only 11 shots.

How Luke Walton and company adjust to defending Turner will be a big key. Fortunately, LA will likely have Luol Deng back in the fold, a player whom they particularly missed when Turner was going off in the second half of that game. Deng brings size and experience in a matchup against a player who is not known for his athleticism and should be able to have a big impact.

The Lakers will also need to take better advantage of the Blazers’ porous defense. Although they scored 109 points in Portland, it was not a particularly strong offensive showing. D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle were able to salvage some efficiency by getting to the free throw line eleven times each but both shot it poorly from the field. Nick Young and Lou Williams had surprisingly pedestrian efforts.

The Lakers’ most efficient scorers were Jordan Clarkson (21 points on 14 shots) and Brandon Ingram (11 points on six shots). Both have recently appeared to turn a corner in their seasons. Clarkson looks much more like the player he was earlier this year than the one who was too often out of control as Russell was out with injury. Ingram looks much more comfortable and aggressive in the flow of the offense and his shot has been more productive albeit in a small sample size.

In order for the Lakers to win the game, they will need a more efficient offensive showing to make up for the star power opposite them. Defensively, they must force the Blazers’ star-studded back-court to put the ball on the floor and not allow them to have open three point attempts.

This is one of the biggest games the Lakers will play in during the regular season. The Blazers (16-23) are currently the possessor of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. With a win (and pending the Kings’ game against the Pistons), the Lakers (15-26) would pull within one game of that spot. Perhaps more importantly, it would even up the season series with two more games still left to play between the teams.

It’s too early to consider the Lakers a playoff team but they have played much better since the turn of the New Year. The Western Conference’s down year at the bottom of the playoff picture has given them a chance to put together a strong second-half showing to take that spot away.

That process could start with the 42nd game of the season. The match will be televised on Spectrum SportsNet at 7:30 PM PST.

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