Lakers - Blazers Preview: Silly distractions

LOS ANGELES CA - FEBRUARY 22: Shannon Brown #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket past Al Horford #15 of the Atlanta Hawks for a dunk in the first half at Staples Center on February 22 2011 in Los Angeles California. The Lakers defeated the Hawks 104-80. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and or using this photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)


It's been a crazy day out there in basketball land, folks.  Quite a few people are finding themselves employed in new locations, including some major, major players.  With the trade deadline still a day away, you can count on the next 24 hours being as hectic as today was, but in the meantime, the Lakers have a basketball game to participate in.  I don't know about you, but I could just as soon deal without the distractions.

I mean, how the hell am I supposed to keep up to date on whether the Trailblazers really have traded a bag of potato chips for Gerald Wallace or not, or whether Deron Williams' anger scale at being dealt to the New Jersey Nets is closer to "slightly peeved" or "my laser eyes are set on 'Kill'", when I have to pay attention to 48 minutes of Los Angeles Laker basketball?  Why should people playing basketball take precedence over the rampant speculation about where certain people will be playing basketball?  If you ask me, it's SHEER MADNESS!!

All kidding aside, the members of Lakers Nation likely will have little investment in the trade deadline.  Our role is to watch from the sidelines and stare in awe as some of the bigger names in this league change their places of residence, taking short breaks to quietly snicker about what happens to guys who leave a championship team to do what's best for their personal career.  Irony is hilarious, even if it isn't actually ironic.

Tonight's contest pits the Lakers against one of their pseudo rivals, the Portland Trailblazers; rivals because, until last season when both teams managed to break the cycle, the relationship between the Lakers and Blazers was as predictable as a Matthew Mcconaughey movie.  The Lakers won in Los Angeles every time, and the Blazers won in Portland every time, and that balance is the first step towards a rivalry.  The pseudo part stems from the fact that the regular season does not a rivalry make, and there are very few holdovers from the last time these two teams met in the playoffs.

Either way, on the surface, this looks like a devil of a contest for our home team.  It's a back-to-back contest, with about 800 miles of air travel stuffed in the middle.  Meanwhile, the Blazers will be playing their first contest post All-Star break, after entering the break white hot.  They've won six straight games coming in, and 12 of their past 16.  There is zero doubt about which of these two teams has been better over the past month, and you won't like which one comes out on top.  On January 14th, the Blazers were a .500 team.  Now, they are 8 games over .500, and firmly entrenched in the Western Conference playoff picture (especially with Denver and Utah likely to fall out of the picture).  That Portland has attained all this success in the midst of yet another injury decimated campaign is absolutely amazing.  The way their stars have fallen could be equated with God's attack on Sodom and Gomorrah, but only if the fire and brimstone cleared away to reveal a thriving economy.

The guy keeping the Blazers afloat is Lamarcus Aldridge.  Maybe the latest revelation that Brandon Roy will never be the player he once was triggered it, maybe another in a long line of foot and knee injuries keeping Greg Oden's professional career from existence brought it out of him, or maybe its just the continued natural progression of a guy who's always had some quality to him, but LA is a changed man of late.  I wrote in helping Timbo preview the first matchup between these two teams a couple months ago that Aldridge struck me as a guy who could never be the centerpiece of a championship team.  That may still be true, but at the very least, the dude is making me question the statement.  Check out his February splits ... 29 points (on 19 shots) and 8 rebounds a game, with 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks as an added bonus.  He's shooting 57.6% from the field, and he's doing it as the clear number one option on his team, with very little in the way of intimidating assistance surrounding him.  Don't get me wrong, he's not the only Blazer who has played well of late (Hello, Wesley Matthews), but the point is that teams know where Portland is going with the ball, and yet Aldridge still cannot be stopped.

In terms of overall team play, the Blazers mirror the Lakers in one very strange way.  They do a fantastic job of cleaning up the offensive boards, outdistancing L.A. by just a smidge in collection percentage of offensive rebound opportunities.  And they do a terrible job of collecting defensive rebounds, ranking 26th in the league on the defensive glass.  This is apparently sort of a thing amongst NBA teams.  The top six teams in the league in offensive rebounding are all below the league average on the defensive boards.  How does that make sense? 

Moving on, the stats don't really say a whole lot about what Portland does well.  They do a great job of playing clean basketball and not turning the ball over, and an even better job of forcing turnovers from their opponents, but with nearly the league's slowest pace, it's not like they are turning those turnovers into a ton of points in transition.  They don't shoot the ball very well overall, which makes their high percentage of offensive rebounds even more impressive because of the sheer number of opportunities they have.  On defense, it's much of the same picture.  Aside from all those turnovers they force, they fall below the league average (sometimes well below) in all the defensive metrics we review.  All these not so good numbers point out, however, is that season long stats may not be the best evaluators of this team.  Right now, the Blazers are playing fantastic basketball, and are much better (probably on both sides of the ball) than they appear on paper.

Under normal circumstances, the evidence of this game would point to a probable Lakers loss.  This team's struggles in Oregon are not likely to disappear on the basis of one game, and even though last night's contest was hardly what you would call taxing, it did require that the Lakers didn't get into Portland until well into the AM hours.  Back-to-backs are hard (even though the Lakers have done well in them), and a back-to-back involving that much travel is an opportunity for disaster.  But these are not normal circumstances.  The Lakers may well catch a break, because Joel Pryzbilla might miss tonight's contest on account of possible involvement in a trade, and if he does not play, the Blazers will be without someone who even vaguely resembles a center, which means inside domination is, as always, the key.  Besides, if the victory against Atlanta was any indication, it would seem the Lakers are intent on making a post All-Star break statement as powerful as their pre All-Star break statement was pathetic.  One game does not a statement make, and it is for that exact reason that I expect, for some strange reason, that the Lakers will come out with the intention of laying the wood to the Blazers.

Lakers

Blazers

RECORD

39-19 (6)

32-24 (10)

NET POINTS PER GAME

+6.2 (4)

+0.8 (14)

PACE

91.4 (18)

88.5 (25)

OFFENSIVE RATING

111.7 (2)

108.1 (11)

Turnover Rate (Off.)

12.7 (4)

12.8 (5)

FTA/FGA (Off.)

0.234 (9)

0.225 (16)

Free-Throw %

78.1 (8)

80.4 (2)

3PT FGA/FGA (Off.)

0.221 (15)

0.216 (16)

3PT% (Off.)

35.6 (15)

34.2 (22)

Effective FG% (Off.)

50.8 (10)

48.2 (24)

True Shooting% (Off.)

55.1 (10)

52.9 (22)

Off Rebounding Rate

29.8 (4)

29.9 (3)

DEFENSIVE RATING

105.0 (8)

107.2 (15)

Turnover Rate (Def.)

12.8 (24)

15.4 (2)

FTA/FGA (Def.)

0.182 (2)

0.243 (21)

3PT FGA/FGA (Def.)

0.243 (23)

0.224 (17)

3PT% (Def.)

33.7 (6)

36.5 (21)

Effective FG% (Def.)

48.2 (7)

50.8 (21)

True Shooting% (Def.)

52.0 (5)

55.2 (22)

Def Rebounding Rate

72.7 (20)

71.8 (26)

Numbers in parentheses indicate league rank. All table numbers courtesy of Basketball Reference and HoopData.

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