Last night was an embarrassment, plain and simple. With that said, it’s only one game and there were some things the Lakers did that should get fans excited, but there were many more flaws that will get all the attention. Tonight the Lakers look to redeem themselves against a Portland Trailblazers team that most analysts expect to miss the playoffs. If their sensational rookie point guard, Damian Lillard, continues to produce as he did in the preseason then I can see them sneaking into the playoffs with the 8th seed. Another newcomer to Portland is their head coach Terry Stotts who previously held NBA head coaching gigs in Atlanta and Milwaukee. His most recent stint was with the Dallas Mavericks as an Assistant coach to Rick Carlisle, as he helped orchestrate the Dallas offense during the Championship run they had two seasons ago. Tonight’s game will be tough; the Lakers are 10-8 against Portland since the Kobe/Pau era and have always had a tough time at the Rose Garden. And after last night’s performance I am not very confident in the Lakers pulling this one out.
This Lakers squad will obviously look much better as the chemistry builds throughout the regular season. My guess is that by All-Star Weekend, barring any major injuries, the Lakers will be clicking on all cylinders. However, something must be done about this Princeton offense because the only players benefiting are Pau and Kobe.
Pau thrives in the offense because he has an extremely high basketball IQ and excellent court vision. Dwight Howard, though, does not play like Pau Gasol. Dwight Howard and/or Pau Gasol need to be involved in a pick-and-roll set every half court offensive possession the Lakers have. The only times Dwight and/or Pau shouldn’t be running a pick and roll are when they are on the bench or when the Lakers get a fast break. A Nash and Dwight/Pau pick-and-roll is the best offensive possession possible for this team because you have the best point guard to run it as well as the two best big men to run it. I believe the Lakers are better suited to have Kobe on the wing spotting up, cutting to the basket, or creating his own shot if the pick-and-roll doesn’t work, rather than having Nash dump it in the post and stand around. That’s not his game, that’s not smart basketball.
On a side note, it’s funny how a bad game from Dwight Howard equates to 19 points and 10 rebounds. Last year we used to rave about Andrew Bynum when he had a game like that. That’s the beauty of Dwight Howard –he can get so many “clean up” points, meaning tip-ins, put back dunks, and alley-oops. He missed 11 free throw attempts: a blessing and a curse. If Dwight ever develops a proper shooting release under the tutelage of Assistant coach Chuck Person (even Pau chipped in with some advice last night), then the league better watch out.
Back to tonight’s game. There is a decent amount of talent on this Blazers squad, much more than last night’s Mavericks team had. Power forward Lamarcus Aldridge is entering his 7th season in the league and is one of the few big men in the NBA with a deadly combination of post moves, and touch. Frenchman Nicolas Batum is a small forward with range who can cut to the basket well, and he is no slouch on the defensive end either. Shooting guard Wesley Matthews is a quality player that can shoot and defend well. Rookie center Meyers Leonard is a big body that has some upside, but should not be able to hold his own against Pau or Dwight tonight. Same can be said about athletic, yet undersized, forward/center J.J. Hickson.
The talk of the town in Portland is rookie point guard Damian Lillard, who had quite the preseason averaging 16 points and 6 assists per game. Many analysts have him penciled in for Rookie of the Year honors, but I believe there’s a rookie with one eyebrow down in New Orleans that will have something to say about that. Coming out of a small college like Weber State, Lillard ran a pick-and-roll heavy offense so he should be very productive with Stott’s system in Portland. I’m sure he has yet to play with someone as talented as Aldridge so it will be interesting to see how they mesh during the year.
WHAT 2 WATCH 4:
-Gasol versus Aldridge has always been a great battle because they are so similar. Pau has a higher IQ and is a better passer, while Aldridge is the tougher, more athletic big. Look for these two to duke it out as usual and most likely negate one another production-wise.
-Dwight should dominate against the inferior tag-team of Meyers Leonard and J.J. Hickson. However, as I mentioned yesterday, it’s going to take time for Dwight’s back to reach 100%. It was obvious he was still uncomfortable last night when he tried to bend over for loose balls or go straight up for a dunk attempt. Many have speculated that Dwight’s back will be an issue for him given that tonight is the second game of a back-to-back, but c’mon…it’s Meyers Leonard and J.J. Hickson.
-Steve Nash pick-and-freaking-roll. I don’t know how much more I can emphasize this point: If the Lakers continue to dump the ball in the post and have Nash stand in the corner or hover around the top of the key, this team will never reach its full potential. Let Nash be the court maestro that he is and let him have the ball and run his offense.
-As Charles Barkley stated on TNT last night, when Nash is in the game the Lakers need to run on fast breaks. Many times we saw the other Lakers jogging back and Nash running up the court by himself just so he could bring it back and run the Princeton. The Princeton offense should be plan C, not plan A.
The Rose Garden will be packed and loud as usual for their Trailblazers home opener. The Blazers will come out firing and the Lakers will need to weather the storm. I look for the Lakers to show some veteran pride and edge out the Blazers in a close one. Final Score: Lakers 95, Trailblazers 91.
Tip-off: 7:30 PM PST
LAL: S. Nash, K. Bryant, M. World Peace, P. Gasol, D. Howard
POR: D. Lillard, W. Matthews, N. Batum, L. Aldridge, J.J. Hickson
-NBATV (Mike Barrett & Mike Rice)
-LAL: TWC SN (Bill Macdonald & Stu Lantz)
-POR: KGW (Mike Barrett & Mike Rice)
-LAL: 710 AM ESPN (John Ireland & Mychal Thompson)
-POR: 1190 AM KEX (Brian Wheeler & Antonio Harvey)
-Kobe Bryant: Will Play (Strained Right Foot)
-Dwight Howard: Will Play (Back)
-Jordan Hill: Will Play (Back)
-Earl Clark: Questionable (Strained Left Groin)
-Ronnie Price: Probable (Right Ankle)