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Lakers vs. Blazers Preview: Another must win

The Lakers have the opportunity to improve their record against a Pacific Division opponent and in the standings with a win on Sunday

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Lakers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For once and thankfully, the Lakers went off their usual script in crunch time and actually closed out a game to snap the 11th game winning streak of the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday. Los Angeles’ performance was not perfect by any means, but this victory was huge not just for seeding purposes but also for the wisdom and lessons learned — eeerr, more like for a potential momentum swift which the Lakers badly needed.

Despite LeBron James struggling from the field (at least for his standards) and the team being outrebounded (63-47) by the Grizzlies, the purple and gold held on. The Lakers gave up 39 points from second-chance opportunities and 64 points in the paint but managed to stay in the game thanks to several key contributions specifically from Russell Westbrook (season high 29 points), Dennis Schröder (19 points along with the game winner) and the rest of the team’s overall effort. It’s also only right to give Darvin Ham and his coaching staff their flowers for executing really well in the final period.

Ham, who has received a ton of criticism from Lakers fans for his coaching this season particularly in the clutch, knew the exact play (as Schroder alluded to post game) that the Grizzlies were going to run that resulted in a Schroder steal and game winning and-1 layup. Because of that, the Lakers broke the Grizzlies’ perfect 31-0 winning record in games where they’re up by double digits.

While it’s difficult to assess whether this victory may or may not be the turning point of the Lakers season, what’s important in the meantime is that this one surely made up for at least one game that they gave away. The purple and gold have needed every win they can get, and over the past 11 games, they’ve tread water by going 7-4. And as they wait to get three of their starters back, they’ll have to use this momentum for another must-win game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday.

The Blazers are currently on a two-game losing streak and are just one game ahead of the Lakers in the Western Conference standings. Similar to the purple and gold, the Blazers have been pretty mediocre in all facets this season. They depend on Damian Lillard (averaging 24.8 points per game this year), Jerami Grant, Anfernee Simons, and Jusuf Nurkić to carry their scoring production but don’t back their offense up with their defense, which ranks 21st in the league — just behind the Lakers.

The key for the Lakers in this must-win game is to limit Nurkić and co. in the paint, which they didn’t do so well against Memphis. It would also be nice to see contributions from across the board once again especially if James has an off night. If they can do it against the league’s best defense, which was Memphis, then there’s no excuse for them not to match Portland’s scoring production. This game will boil down to which team’s role players will be able to support their superstars most, and who will have the defensive edge for the night.

Let’s see if the Lakers can tie up the season series against the Blazers and improve their record against their pacific division opponents to 2-7 with a road win on Sunday.

Notes and Updates

  • The Grizzlies’ 39 second-chance points on Friday were the most by any team in a game in the past 27 seasons, since the league started tracking this stat. Although the Lakers won the game, their rebounding has been an issue and it’s something they need to work on moving forward as their schedule gets tougher.
  • Another not so fun fact for the Lakers: Seven out of their last nine games have been decided by a one-point possession game with under one minute remaining in the game clock. It would be nice if they finally break this spell and win a comfortable one against the Blazers on Sunday.
  • For the Lakers’ injury concerns, there was an update on Anthony Davis (foot) Austin Reaves (hamstring) and Lonnie Walker’s (left knee tendinitis) corresponding statuses, in case you missed it last night. Reaves will be evaluated in a week while Walker IV is being evaluated day-to-day to return to team activities. Meanwhile, the latest on Davis according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski is that he could be back on the court as soon as next week.
  • That said, expect all three to be out for tomorrow’s game. Meanwhile, LeBron James (left knee soreness) is questionable, and Scotty Pippen Jr. and Cole Swilder (G League Two-Way) will be with the South Bay Lakers.
  • As for the Blazers, Garry Payton II (left calf contusion) is listed as probable and Justise Winslow (left ankle sprain) won’t be active.
  • Today marks the last day of voting for players for the NBA All-Star weekend, which will be hosted in Utah this year. If you’re into that, you have until 11:59 p.m. ET to increase the votes for LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, and our son Austin Reaves. Below are the latest voting results collected from the past month:

The Lakers and Blazers will tip off at 6 p.m. PT on Sunday. The game will be televised only 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.

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