Hit the panic button?
The Portland Trail Blazers were supposed to come out of the All-Star break with new energy, new motivation and a new sense of urgency. Unfortunately, they came out looking just as sluggish as before, and they failed to take down the conference’s worst team, the Phoenix Suns.
Matchup: Portland (25-29) @ Los Angeles Lakers (26-29)
Venue: Staples Center
Time: 7:30 PM PT
Date: Friday, Feb. 22, 2013
Things aren’t getting any easier for Portland. It is set to travel down south, where it will take on the Los Angeles Lakers—a team that looks as if they’re ready to make a run at the postseason.
Game Notes/How They Match Up
Fans in Rip City have taken pride in the fact that their record has been better than the Lakers’ all season long. Unfortunately, with Portland quickly falling apart and Los Angeles slowing finding its groove, L.A. now owns the ninth spot out West with PDX sitting a half-game back.
The Blazers are in the midst of their second six-game losing streak of the season, while Los Angeles is .500 through their last six contests. The only good news Portland has is that its first six-game slide ended against a top-tier opponent (Indiana Pacers), and if history plays out again, it will find an unexpected win when it needs it the most.
The truth is, though, this team is going to need more than history on its side. The last time the Blazers faced the Lakers at Staples Center, they fell 104-87. The team was outscored 25-34 in the first quarter, and they were never able to recover.
What to Watch: Portland
The Blazers absolutely have to start playing defense.
Throughout the current six-game losing streak, they’re giving up a ridiculous 108.5 points per contest. This team has been known to struggle defensively, but that kind of number simply makes it too tough for the offense to work with.
Despite the Lakers’ troubles, they’re proving that they can get it done offensively. They’re averaging the sixth-most points in the NBA (101.8), and they’ve got their assists up to 13th in the league (22.2), proving that they’re starting to get into the flow of their system.
Portland has to pick up the intensity on defense. If it allows the Lakers to do what they want, it’s going to be a long night away from the Rose Garden.
What to Watch: Los Angeles
The big question when it comes to the Los Angeles Lakers is, how hungry are they?
This team has all the talent in the world to make the playoffs. Their bench, much like Portland’s, has struggled throughout the year, but a team comprising Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash—not to mention the injured Pau Gasol—should be able to win when it knows it has to.
L.A. and Portland are both making a push for the postseason, but it’s the Lakers who seemingly have the edge. If they come out with the same motivation we saw against the Boston Celtics (a 113-99 win following All-Star Weekend), they’re going to be tough to take down.
Specifically, it will be interesting to watch Howard down low. He has the physical edge over J.J. Hickson, but the Blazers’ big is coming off a 25-point, 16-rebound performance. Howard hasn’t looked like himself all year, so the matchup in the paint will be one to watch closely.
The key matchup in this game is going to be between Damian Lillard and Steve Nash. However, the real matchup is going to be between Damian Lillard and whoever the Lakers decide to throw the young point guard’s way.
The last time Portland traveled to L.A., Lillard had arguably his worst game of the season (at that point). He scored just 11 points on 4-of-17 shooting, he missed three of his four attempts from deep range and he only managed to collect four assists alongside his three turnovers.
Nash could never hold Lillard to such a dreadful performance, which is why Los Angeles threw bigger bodies at him from start to finish.
Lillard’s composure is going to play a huge role in the outcome of this game. Assuming the Lakers stick with what worked, they’ll keep Nash as far away from him as possible throughout the contest. He has to be ready, and he has to be willing to defer, if need be.
Portland: DAY-TO-DAY—Wesley Matthews
Los Angeles: OUT—Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill
Portland desperately needs a win, but so do the Lakers. This game should spark the final push for the playoffs, and unfortunately for the Blazers, L.A. should escape with momentum.