7:30 p.m. PDT
1 Undermanned Portland Trailblazers team
1 Desperate, tired Los Angeles Lakers team
1/2 Game lead on a hot Utah Jazz team
3 Games left against playoff teams
4 wins in the last 21 Rose Garden games
0 wins in the second night of a back-to-back set
Combine four tired, veteran starters running on fumes. Remove All-Star point guard. Stir until ingredients resemble dry mix of players still trying to learn how to work with one another. Add undermanned Blazers team with four rookies starting. Let sit for 48 minutes. Watch for spontaneous combustion, hope for the best.
Looking at tonight's game in Portland, it feels like a recipe for disaster. The Lakers saunter into the PDX looking for--incredibly--their first back-to-back win all season. The conditions for which couldn't be a messier alchemy for LA; they've only won 4 times in the last 21 attempts in the Rose Garden, with a hungry young Blazers team looking to bounce the Lakers out of the playoffs. PG Steve Nash is listed as doubtful for yet another contest with hip and leg injuries, and thus understudy Steve Blake will attempt to continue his valiant production while starting. No word yet on whether or not Metta World Peace will start after unexpectedly returning a month early from knee surgery, though he's sure to hover around the 15-20 minute mark in regards to playing time.
While the Lakers' injury situation looks rough, it's nothing compared to what Portland is facing tonight. The thinnest team in the league is banged up beyond repair, with SF Wesley Matthews (ankle) ruled out, G/F Nicolas Batum (shoulder) doubtful and F/C J.J. Hickson (back) questionable. PF LaMarcus Aldridge will most likely take the floor with four rookies, including probable Rookie of the Year PG Damian Lillard, G/F Will Barton (who dropped a ridiculous 22/13/6 against the Mavericks on Sunday), G Victor Claver and C Meyers Lenonard. SF Luke Babbit, PG Eric Maynor and F Jared Jeffries should get a ton of burn tonight, which might fit perfectly into the Lakers plan for seemingly innocuous bench players having fantastic stat lines (see: Cunningham, Dante; Seraphin, Kevin; etc.).
LA still faces a tough test tonight, even with the Blazers out of playoff contention and most likely sitting three starters. The Lakers are already a poor road team--now they're going to try and get a win at an arena that's been a legendary source of concern. To further complicate matters, according to Mike Trudell the team didn't get into their hotel until around 1 am last night, further stretching a squad that's logged heavy minutes in high pressure games for the past several weeks. Kobe Bryant played a "mere" 41 minutes against New Orleans, his lowest since a 36 minute vacation against Milwaukee on March 28th. Pau Gasol continues to play extended time despite coming back from a foot injury, logging another 39 minute game in one of his finer performances of the season: 22 points (on 9 for 15 shooting), 11 boards and 4 assists, overwhelming the Hornets' bigs all night long.
The Lakers absolutely need to take this game, even moreso than the next three. Of their remaining four contests, it's the last against a non-playoff team, not to mention one so riddled with injury. Yes, the Rose Garden is an extremely difficult place to win, no matter who the personnel in red and black, but the Lakers must play with the type of grit and determination befitting of a team desperate to play in the postseason. Maybe even more than their upcoming games against Golden State, San Antonio and Houston (all at home), this is the truest test of if these Los Angeles Lakers are worthy of a spot in the 16-team postseason field.
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--Our dudes at Blazer's Edge will surely be updating Portland's injury situation up until game time.