The Portland Trail Blazers head down the Pacific coast to take on the Los Angeles Lakers in Staples Center Friday night. The two teams are in a race for the eighth seed in the Western Conference, with the Lakers recently jumping ahead of Portland in the standings when they defeated the Boston Celtics Wednesday night.
For the Lakers, this is a must-win for their playoff hopes. With the Houston Rockets maintaining a 3.5 game lead over the purple and gold, they must win games on their home court against teams that are under .500. Kobe Bryant isn't worried about the Lakers making the playoffs at all, though, and expressed supreme confidence they would make it to the postseason dance. When the Lakers took the floor Wednesday and honored Dr. Jerry Buss with a statement game over the rival Boston Celtics they looked crisp in their execution on both ends of the floor.
This will be the third time that the teams meet this season, with the season series split. The Blazers made a minor adjustment to their roster in acquiring point guard Eric Maynor from the Oklahoma City Thunder at the trade deadline. In Maynor, the Blazers receive a low-risk, potentially high-reward player who is coming off of ACL surgery, without having to give up much in return.
Coming into the game Portland will be riding a six-game losing streak. They share the same situation as the Lakers: a team just outside of the playoffs that would like to get a taste of the postseason action. LaMarcus Aldridge had hoped that the team would find a trade to improve the teams chances of making the playoffs, and while Maynor could help them in the short-term, they also kept key-contributor J.J. Hickson. The Blazers had been shopping Hickson for as little as a second round draft pick, but his upcoming free agency cooled teams on adding the big man. Hickson is averaging a double-double with 12.9 points per game and a team-best 10.4 rebounds. Over at Blazers Edge, the community believes it was a good thing that Hickson wasn't moved prior to the deadline.
To emerge victorious, the Blazers must attack the Lakers suspect defense. Damian Lillard will be lined up against Steve Nash, a defensively challenged player that he will be able to dribble and penetrate against at will. It would be in the Lakers' best interest to hide Nash behind Bryant, but even then Lillard is a great ball-handling talent that could cause chaos both in isolation and team defense.
Aldridge, on the other hand, will need to stretch the floor for the Blazers a bit and keep Howard away from the rim. Without Pau Gasol on hand, the Lakers don't have the luxury of two big men, and Earl Clark is simply too small to guard the 6'11 big man. The Lakers will have to rely on the "75%" Howard to slow down Aldridge, which could open up the paint for Portland.
The inverse is that the Blazers will have a hard time dealing with Howard on the other end. The Blazers are 27th in the league in points in the paint allowed so the Lakers will look to their center to guide them to victory. When the teams last played, Howard put up 21 points and tore down 14 rebounds.
This is a big game tonight for both teams, with major playoff implications in the Western Conference.
Odds: Lakers favored +10, via OddsShark.com
Game time: 10:30 p.m. EST
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