The Los Angeles Lakers have fiercely bounced back to early season form on defense at just the right time. While kicking off what is still expected to be a brutal December with a back-to-back in Denver and Utah — two notoriously difficult places to play for a myriad of reasons — the team’s defense stonewalled their opposition, allowing just 96 points a piece in both games.
The sudden uptick in defensive intensity is a sight for sore eyes, given that it was not too long ago the team had allowed 114 to Dallas, 110 to New Orleans and 127 to Oklahoma City.
Granted, this was probably an expected lapse given that the team suddenly found themselves playing without one of their chief tone-setters in Avery Bradley, which makes their ability to flip a switch and lock back in even more impressive. As of this article, the Lakers are still in possession of the third-best defensive rating in the league, allowing just 102.7 points per 100 possessions.
With that said, it will be interesting to see if the Lakers can continue this level of defensive prowess when they head to the Pacific Northwest to play a still competitive — but not currently upper-echelon — opponent in the Portland Trail Blazers.
Although Portland is sitting at 9-13 and currently on the outside looking in of the playoff picture, this should in no way be seen as a gimme of a game, or a time for the Lakers to take their foot off of the gas. The Blazers have played much better of late, as they’ve won four of their last five contests following Carmelo Anthony’s arrival in Stumptown.
After finding himself unable to land a spot on an NBA team since getting cut by the Houston Rockets just 13 games into the season a year ago, Anthony has found both a new home and a second chance to rewrite the final chapter of his career with Portland, who officially fully guaranteed his contract on Thursday, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
In his first eight games with the Blazers, Anthony is averaging 16.9 points and 5.9 rebounds in 31 minutes of action per night.
While not outwardly diverting from the typical style of play — or shot profile — he has become synonymous with, there is little denying Anthony has helped provide a positive spark for the Blazers as of late. Anthony has thus far even shot the ball surprisingly well from the deep, canning his 3-point chances at a 40% clip according to Cleaning the Glass.
The issue — depending on how one views the modern game — is the fact that the 3-ball has only accounted for 25% of Anthony’s shot profile thus far. For context, Anthony has shot 30 attempts from behind the arc in his first few games with Rip City, which is just one more than the number of “long-two’s” he has taken. That has notes of the style of play that seemed to be the root of reason why Anthony’s basketball career appeared to be over as recently as a few weeks ago, and it will be interesting to see if he can remain efficient while playing it.
Beside baiting Anthony into taking more of those long mid-range attempts, the Lakers will also definitely need to keep tabs on Portland’s dynamic backcourt combo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, both of whom could explode on offense at any moment.
With no Bradley once again for this one, the Lakers will likely have to rely on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Danny Green to chase Portland’s dynamic guards off of the 3-point line and funnel them into the team’s monstrous front court near the rim.
The Lakers have already played with fire on multiple occasions with teams they “should” beat, so they must be weary of a potential let-down game on the final leg of this road trip before heading home. Let’s see if they can take care of business.
Notes and Updates
- It’s no secret LeBron James and Anthony have long wanted to play on the same team, and heading back to even last season there was enough scuttlebutt going around to believe that opportunity would come on the Lakers. With Anthony reportedly going as far reaching out to James about that potential chance, it will be interesting to keep an eye on the pair during the game, and the likely quotes after the game on the matter.
- Multiple Lakers have reportedly been sick during this road trip, with Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma being the “most impacted” according to Frank Vogel. Here’s hoping that Emergen-C has kicked in.
- During the fourth quarter of the Lakers’ rout of the Jazz, James handed a young fan the sneakers he was wearing during the game. A few minutes later, James would go on to cheer on Kuzma’s defensive efforts in his socks from the sidelines. Me oh my. Utah’s play-by-play announcers were upset with this, calling it “disrespectful.” On Thursday, James hit them with a Randy Savage-esque “live, laugh, love” elbow from the top-rope.
- Finally, we had Danny Green on our podcast yesterday. Give it a listen and subscribe!
The Lakers will take on the Trail Blazers at 7:30 p.m. PST, and the game will be televised both nationally on ESPN and Spectrum SportsNet locally.
You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts.