The Lakers are back in Los Angeles after splitting both the games on their two-game road trip. They’ve now lost six out of their last seven games, and currently sit in seventh place in the mediocre Western Conference. So despite tons of losses in the past few weeks (or all season if you want to put it that way), Los Angeles can actually still make a push for the fifth or even fourth seed in standings right now. All they really need to do is to just start winning games.
That has been easier said than done for these Lakers, but they will get the opportunity to play a winnable game against a struggling Blazers team that’s experiencing a season from hell. Not to gloat on the Blazers or whatsoever, but they have lost eight out of their last 10 games and are coming in on a two-game losing streak. They’re in the 12th place in the Western Conference standing and are stuck in a swamp of injuries, COVID protocols and challenges of meshing their roster.
Portland has a mixed roster of veteran and young talent that hasn’t fully picked up Chauncey Billups’ new system yet. Just like last season, their defense has been a huge issue of theirs as they currently rank 29th in the league in defensive rating (113.6). They just don’t have enough perimeter stoppers to cover for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on that end, and they tend to blitz too often.
Portland’s defense has been so horrible that their offense, even with Lillard at the helm, can’t make up for it. And that is exactly what the Lakers should take advantage of on Friday.
LeBron James is going to be LeBron James, but can his teammates provide enough to give the Blazers’ defense another tough night? James probably won’t convert eight 3-pointers again like Wednesday night (or maybe he will, who knows?) so Russell Westbrook, Dwight Howard, Malik Monk, Carmelo Anthony, the likely returning Austin Reaves, the potentially returning Trevor Ariza and the rest need to impact the game a bit more.
Look at what the Lakers look like with just a *little* bit of flow. Collison comes up to screen Westbrook, it's a slip, Grizz don't bite and defend it well. THT comes off a stagger, curl draws help, Stanley Johnson hits the 3. pic.twitter.com/WFavWMwyLJ— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) December 30, 2021
If you’ve paid close attention recently, the Lakers’ offense has been trending upwards as of late since they’ve utilized more movement, north and south screen angles that have led to easier buckets, pick-and-rolls between their superstars, have slid LeBron more to the 5 and basically just played less iso-basketball.
Basically, if there has been one positive in the past two weeks, it’s been their consistent commitment to better offense.
Los Angeles Lakers | Touch Keep Elbow (ATO) pic.twitter.com/CON486WznL— Half Court Hoops (@HalfCourtHoops) December 30, 2021
If the Lakers continue to trust their offense — and convert their shots while they’re at it — then the only way they can really lose this winnable game is if they shoot themselves in the foot like they have many times this season. They need to stop turning the ball over and giving up so many offensive rebounds that lead to costly second chance points. The last thing they want is this mediocre Blazers offense (which averages 108.4 points per game) to outwork them and ruin their New Years Eve.
2021 has been tough on the Lakers, especially on the injury front, so it would definitely be nice if they end the year with a dominant victory. It’s not fun to celebrate moral victories, but at least we can enter 2022 knowing this team has figured out some of their offensive issues and is somehow progressing in the right direction. Whether their improvements and progress on both sides of the floor will eventually pay off or not is something to watch for next year, but hopefully the Basketball Gods reward them for their progress and growth.
Happy New Year, everyone! Let’s hope the Lakers don’t ruin our night like they have many times this season.
Notes and Updates
- Lakers’ Rajon Rondo (who recently made headlines due to being in trade talks) is the only player on the team left in the health and safety protocols.
- Forward Trevor Ariza has cleared protocols but will still have to return to competition conditioning, so he’s considered questionable. Avery Bradley (head contusion) is also questionable for tomorrow’s game as well.
- Birthday boy LeBron James (rectus abdominis strain) is listed as probable.
- Anthony Davis (MCL sprain) and Kendrick Nunn (bone bruise knee) are out.
- Blazers’ Jusuf Nurkic, Cody Zeller, Dennis Smith Jr. and head coach Chauncey Billups won’t be involved on Friday due to being in the league’s health and safety protocols.
- Around the league, the Golden State Warriors vs. Denver Nuggets game originally scheduled today is now the 11th postponed game this season due to teams not having enough players to participate in the matchup. The rise of COVID cases around the league has yet to slow down.
The Lakers and Blazers will tip-off their last game of the year at 7:30 p.m. PT. The game will be televised nationally on NBA TV, and locally on Spectrum SportsNet.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani.