Welcome back, L.A.
Matchup: Portland (33-34) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (40-37)
Venue: Rose Garden Arena
Time: 7:00 PM PT
Date: Wednesday, April 10, 2013
The problem for Portland is that while L.A. may have the same roster as before—minus a few key injuries—it is looking like a brand new ball club with the playoffs officially on the line.
Game Notes/How They Match Up
The Blazers and the Lakers have faced off three times this season, and while the last two were losses in L.A., the most memorable was the season-opening victory on Halloween night.
The Rose Garden crowd showed up in anticipation of seeing a court full of stars. Dwight Howard and Steve Nash were the new guys for Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant was as polarizing as ever and Damian Lillard was set to make his debut in Portland’s new red uniforms.
Needless to say, the air has been sucked out of the building at this point in the season, but don’t be surprised if the crowd shows a little more excitement with the Lakers returning to town.
What to Watch: Portland
When Portland played L.A. the first time, we knew that its bench was going to be a problem. What we didn’t know is that the Lakers’ bench was going to be just as shallow, which is why it didn’t matter that PDX collected just 13 points from its second unit.
This time around, the Blazers are short-handed, meaning the reserves need to really step up.
With Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews both questionable heading into this contest, expect Will Barton and Victor Claver to possibly enter the starting lineup. Not only does that hurt the first five, but it also hurts the second unit, making it more shallow than it already was.
Portland needs to use its youthfull energy to run the aging Lakers out of the gym. If it makes the same boneheaded plays we’ve seen as of late, this depleted roster doesn’t stand a chance.
What to Watch: Los Angeles
The Lakers are in the middle of a heated race for the playoffs, and their trip to the Rose Garden will be their final road game of the year. With the season on the line, you’d expect Kobe Bryant to take over the scoring role from start to finish, but that hasn’t been his M.O. throughout parts of 2012-13.
Bryant has played two different styles this year. The first is the traditional scorer that we’re used to seeing. He puts up as many shots as it takes to get his points, and sure enough, he lands himself as the top scorer more often than not when he takes this approach.
The other is that of a distributor. Bryant has opened games by looking to get his teammates involved, which allows him to find scorers all over the floor when he faces inevitable double-teams.
Then again, there is a third style Bryant has adapted throughout this taxing season—a hybrid role, if you will. Bryant has shown us this year that he can score from start to finish while also taking smart shots and finding other scorers. That Bryant is the most dangerous of all, and that’s the one Portland needs to watch out for come Wednesday night.
It’s no secret that JJ Hickson is playing for a contract. His future with the Blazers is up in the air, and while he knows he has a hefty payday coming his way, every good game could mean another extra dollar this offseason.
This, of course, isn’t to say that money is JJ Hickson‘s only motivation. He appears to genuinely enjoy the Rose Garden crowd, and his teammates have adapted to his energetic style of play. The problem is that every young player wants that big paycheck, and it’s unlikely Portland will compete with its focus being a defensive center.
With Hickson highly motivated, he’ll be looking to find success against the game’s best center. Dwight Howard hasn’t been himself all year, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s still posting 16.7 points (on 57.3 percent shooting), 2.4 blocks and a league-leading 12.5 rebounds.
Howard certainly has the size and strength to take advantage on both ends, but Hickson has the energy to surprise even the NBA’s best big man.
Los Angeles: OUT—Metta World Peace, DAY-TO-DAY—Steve Nash
The Trail Blazers have dominated this series when games are played at the Rose Garden. Unfortunately, the Lakers are a team desperate for wins, while Portland is giving its reserves more minutes to close out the year.