Showtime: 6:30pm PT
Plot: After what's been one of the NBA's most difficult schedules in this young season, it seems that the Los Angeles Lakers are finally getting to the soft part of their slate. Well, aside from tonight.
The Lake Show return home from a successful 2-1 trip against some of the bottom feeders of the Eastern Conference to play three of the next four games at STAPLES Center. Their opponents? Not exactly the cream of the basketball crop. Following tonight's game, they'll have a four day break until they make their way up to Sacramento on Friday to play the Kings, and then see Toronto and Phoenix at home. But first things first: the Portland Trailblazers.
The Blazers can't be included in any discussion amongst anything but the league's best--for right now, at least. Portland has gotten off to an amazing start, posting an incredible 13-3 record which includes an 11-game winning streak that was just halted in Phoenix by the Suns. PDX has done all of this with one of the best offenses and bench units in the entire league--the latter which had to be completely overhauled after having one of last season's very worst. LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard have been the inside-outside punch that many suspected Greg Oden and Brandon Roy would be half a decade ago. Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Mo Williams and Dorell Wright all provide scoring support, specifically at the three-point line where the Blazers shoot a scorching .415% as a team. Portland, oddly enough, looks like they could be a mirror image of just how good offensively the Lakers could be if Kobe Bryant returns to form an inside-outside tandem with Pau Gasol, and the supporting cast continues to make threes as a prodigious rate.
In the meantime, the Lakers are still one of the league's most mystifying teams: adequate defensively through almost sheer force of effort and will and strangely inefficient offensively despite coach Mike D'Antoni's reputation of scoring wizardry. However, that's just on average. They seem to alternate nightly on just how solid they can be defensively, surrendering a staggering 76 points in the paint against the Pistons on Friday night and yet holding five out of the last seven opponents below 100 points. The Lakers will have to be the decent defensive version of themselves against a team that can shoot just as well as they can.
LA is currently riding the hot hands of their guards to victories, but it's going to have to be the team's interior play that helps them get a victory tonight against the Blazers. Meyers Leonard, Robin Lopez and Aldridge are similar to the athletic and energetic Detroit front line, the very same one that torched them two nights ago.
A win over one of the West's best would go a long way into another four-day layoff for the Lakers...and possibly into Kobe's season debut at some point next weekend. It won't be easy, but seeing as how the Lakers seem to be in any game, it's damn well possible at home.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino