Stranger things have happened: Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Lakers Preview

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Pau Gasol, out for the past three games after suffering a bout with vertigo last week, should be available for tonight's contest

Showtime: 7:30pm PT

Plot: Well, either way, you can expect a blow out, right?

It seems that's all the Lakers are delivering these days, for better or worse. Following two epic defeats at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves on the road, LA came back home Sunday to beat up on the Phoenix Suns, 114-99. It was a truly shocking turn of events for the Lakers, who couldn't have looked worse in their biggest loss ever to Minnesota on Friday and a punchless L to the hapless Milwaukee franchise on Thursday. They turned it around with a fantastic offensive performance against the playoff-bound Suns, with Chris Kaman doing the lion's share of damage in a 28 point, 17 rebound and 6 assist night.

Tonight, can we expect much of the same? I suspect it'll be like Friday... or Sunday. That is, depending on how Portland feels.

I wrote in my recap of the victory over the Suns that a victory for any opponent of the Lakers is completely dependent on just how much effort they want to put in. LA always, always comes to play. They'll be outmanned and certainly the less talented bunch, but under Mike D'Antoni, they're going to play hard as hell and compete until the last whistle. Most of the time. Looking at all of their victories in the past several weeks, that's most definitely the case.

Oklahoma City didn't come to play in a surprising matinee victory a few Sundays ago. Neither did the New York Knicks one week ago. And neither did the Portland Trail Blazers back in early March during a 107-106 shocker.

That night, the Blazers didn't come with the requisite energy to stop Pau Gasol for rumbling to a 22 point, 9 rebound night, nor did they impede 21 points from Jodie Meeks. They allowed the Lakers to outshoot them on the night, a shameful act for an offense as potent as Portland's, and fumbled the ball to the tune of 20 turnovers. It's not that the Blazers didn't play decently that night. They certainly did, as evidenced by twin 20 point performances from LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. It just wasn't the type of effort you'd expect from a team fighting for home court advantage in the playoffs.

If the Blazers come with that lack of effort, especially offensively against a horrible Lakers defense, they will lose this game. These Lakers don't care that they're supposed to tank. They don't know that they're supposed to have given up on their coach. They don't act like the playoffs are a mathematical impossibility. Pau Gasol will return tonight after a three game absence and Steve Nash will be a game day decision, but the Lakers will still be short handed without Xavier Henry and Jordan Farmar yet again.

Portland needs this win tonight to keep up with the fourth place Houston Rockets. But most importantly, they need to remember to beat the Los Angeles Lakers. With as little talent as the Show has, that's all it really takes.

--MAMBINO

--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino

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