Lakers return to Staples Center to host the Blazers

Photo by Harry How | Getty Images

It’s February 20, 2012 and the (18-13) Los Angeles Lakers return to the Staples Center to face the (17-15) Portland Trailblazers. The Lakers had a disappointing and forgettable performance against the Suns in Phoenix. It appears that the team that beat the Suns easily on Friday at the Staples Center was not the same team that showed up in purple and gold jerseys the following Sunday in the valley of the sun.

The Lakers are a poor road team and what ails them appears to be mental. The Lakers can overcome this issue by playing better defense, playing with more focus, intensity, a higher energy level, execute on offense and play with a sense of urgency.

What was surprising was the fact that the Suns won the game without a phenomenal shooting percentage, Phoenix did not knock down a high percentage of three point shots and the Lakers bench outscored the Suns bench. The difference in the game was the Lakers defense or the lack thereof. L.A. did not get back in transition; the result was 21 fast break points for the Suns.

The Lakers trail their season series against the Blazers 1-0, after winning last season’s series (3-1) against Portland for the first time since the 2005-2006 and overall, just the third since 1989. At Staples Center, the Lakers are 7-5 all-time against the Blazers. L.A. has won seven of their last eight games in Los Angeles.

The key player for the Lakers to slow down is LaMarcus Aldridge who is coming off a career year. Aldridge is an elite low post scorer with an unblockable turnaround jumper. Aldridge runs the floor well, possesses a good mid-range game and excels at spinning out of post for lob passes at the rim.

Gerald Wallace and Nicholas Batum are tough match-up’s that always seem to have stellar performances against the Lakers. The Blazers are a long team, but Portland does not have anyone to match up with Andrew Bynum’s width. Bynum is 285 lbs. and has a significant weight advantage over 37 year old Marcus Camby listed at 235 lbs.; and has more in his back pocket than both Aldridge & veteran reserve Kurt Thomas.

The Lakers defense has had its moments, but there is a lot of room for improvement. It is imperative that the Lakers do a much better job of defending the pick-and-roll play, stop the dribble penetration of the guards, get back in transition, control the tempo and quickly rotate out to open shooters. The Lakers have to use their size advantage to out-rebound, out-hustle and out-work the Blazers.

Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol have both been averaging 14 shots or less, that number needs to increase. The Lakers need to establish both Bynum and Gasol inside and allow them to go to work. The Lakers have to do a good job of moving the basketball and moving bodies to find high percentage shots going to the basket.

If the Lakers are aggressive and make it a point to use their size and attack the basket their free throw attempts will increase.  The Lakers reserves are producing points, but the second unit has to score 35+ points consistently to be effective.

Starters
Lakers: D. Fisher, K. Bryant, M. Peace, P.Gasol, A. Bynum
Blazers:
R. Felton, N. Batum, G. Wallace, L. Aldridge, M. Camby

Tip-off: 7:30 PM PST

Television -

  • Los Angeles: TNT
  • Portland: TNT

Radio -

  • Los Angeles: 710 ESPN (John Ireland & Mychal Thompson)
  • Portland: 95.5 FM (Brian Wheeler & Antonio Harvey)

Injuries -

Lakers:

  • Steve Blake (Costochaondral fracture) Probable

Suns:

  • LaMarcus Aldridge (Sprained Ankle) Probable

 

Jeff Little is the pre-game writer for LakerNation.com. Follow him on Twitter.