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Trail Blazers Visit Lakers In Clash Of Playoff Hopefuls

02/22/13
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    On Friday, the Trail Blazers (25-29) face the Los Angeles Lakers (26-29) for their third meeting of the year. Tip-off is set for 7:30 at Staples Center and will be shown on CSNNW and can be heard on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM.

    Storylines are abound for both sides in this one. The sense of urgency for both teams in the midst of trying to make the playoffs couldn't be higher. The Trail Blazers acquired Eric Maynor on a deadline-day deal which sent a trade exception, the draft rights to Georgious Pritezis. To make room for Maynor on the active roster, Ronnie Price was waived. Maynor will not be available for this game. The Trail Blazers suffered their sixth straight loss on Tuesday against Phoenix, making their goal of reaching the playoffs that much harder as the distance between themselves and the Rockets is now at four games. As far as the Lakers are concerned, their story has taken yet another turn with the death of their owner Dr. Jerry Buss. They have been 9-4 in their last 13 games and have dedicated their season to Buss' memory.

    With this being as close to a must-win as a regular season game gets for both teams, we're going to delve deeper into the two previous games and see how the Trail Blazers were successful against the Lakers in game one and how the Lakers adjusted in game two and what it all means for Friday's match-up.

    What's worked?

    In the first match-up the Trail Blazers made their decisions quickly and executed well. They established the Lillard-Aldridge pick and pop early on. After Lillard hits a deep three on a pick and roll, it causes the Lakers to jump out on him opening up Aldridge in the midrange.



    With the Aldridge's perimeter game and the Lakers having to respect Lillard's three-point shooting, it opened up driving lanes for all of the Trail Blazers. The Trail Blazers were able to get 38 shots at the rim according to Hoopdata.com and made 26 of them. Lillard gets blocked here by Howard, but the tone is set for a night of attacking the rim. The Trail Blazers shot 28 foul shots to the Lakers 32.



    Three-point shooting will also be a key. The Trail Blazers made nine three-pointers on 20 attempts in game one. Batum and Matthews, who is questionable for Friday's game, went a combined seven for 15 from deep.

    How the Lakers adjusted

    The Lakers adjusted in game two with Darius Morris covering Damian Lillard for 94 feet. Often times, movement wouldn't start until there less than 10 seconds on the shot clock, like here. We're not even talking movement for ball screens, but movement of any kind. The Lakers were intent on taking away three-pointers and the Trail Blazers looks at the rim, forcing out of rhythm midrange jumpers in tough spots. Lillard is more dangerous in the middle of the floor and likely knowing this, the Lakers forced him to the sideline all night long. He went 4-17 on the night and the Trail Blazers were without Wesley Matthews and his ability to create as well as space the floor as a three-point shooting threat.

    The Lakers only allowed Portland 22 attempts at the rim and 19 from three (they average over 23 attempts per game). They committed to taking away three-pointers with defenders having foot on the line versus every capable shooter. It also forced the Trail Blazers into 43 midrange jumpers compared to 24 in game one according to Hoopdata.com. It's evidenced by how much Morris is overplaying Lillard here and forces him out of one of his sweet spots and makes him take a contested shot in the short-corner.



    The Trail Blazers starting line-up combined for six free-throws in the second game compared to 22 in the first.

    The Lakers also jumped out on Aldridge's jumpers more with their guards rotating early to help. The Trail Blazers tried to survived through his post-ups in the first half but they were too much of the offense. More often than not, a force-feeding of Aldridge in the post usually means other things have gone wrong offensively.  The Trail Blazers didn't handle this adjustment very well for much of the game. For them to survive, they've got to execute their scramble situations better, like Jared Jeffries and Will Barton did here after Morris jumps a potential Aldridge pass.



    When it comes to executing,  whether the Trail Blazers are in their "flow" offense or running a pick and roll with Lillard, the activity level must be higher and it has to come sooner.  Screeners have to come to the right spot with more intensity. With Steve Blake's return, Morris has fallen out of the rotation, but if the full court pressure comes, the Trail Blazers can't get caught waiting for Lillard to make the first move. As talented of a individual playmaker as Lillard is, he still needs help.

    Also, in the first match-up the Trail Blazers were able to hold an edge on fast break points by scoring 19 on 7/7 shooting. The Trail Blazers went 2/7 against the Lakers in the second match-up as the Lakers learned their lesson from the first game and hustled like mad back on defense. There were also a couple of execution issues, including two missed dunks. The Lakers play at the third fastest pace in the league but the Trail Blazers have to use the speed of their players more to their advantage.

    The Lakers played defense in game two like it was a playoff game. As far as the playoffs are concerned, this game has equal worth to both of them. It's time for the Trail Blazers to adapt as well, as their playoff lives are already on life support.

    What does it all mean for Friday?


    Obviously, we'll have to wait to find out. Morris hasn't played more than seven minutes in a game since January 15th and his activity was a catalyst for a good defensive performance by the Lakers in the second game. Wesley Matthews' injury (listed as questionable; ankle) status remains the biggest question mark surrounding the Trail Blazers as tip-off approaches. Should Matthews play, it might completely take away D'Antoni's option to go small with three guards like they did to start game two.

    What we will likely see is a game more like the first one. Less sloppy to be sure, but the Trail Blazers taking advantage of the Lakers' scrambles on Aldridge pick and rolls is the most important takeaway of both games. And, as always, there is the defense that has failed to hold the Lakers under 100 points this season.  Now, they will have to account for Earl Clark's three-point shooting ability (37.8 percent) in addition to the Lakers old standards (Howard-Nash/Bryant pick and rolls, Howard/Bryant post-ups). Whoever is guarding the center position has to be able to come as close to holding their own as they can on the glass against Howard. With the Gasol-Howard front court, their total rebound rate would lead the league. With the Clark-Howard front court they fall below the league average. Whether it's Hickson, Jeffires, Leonard or Freeland, the centers have to hold their own. However, with Clark being a factor in this match-up unlike the last two, it gives Terry Stotts more of an opportunity to go small with Babbitt at power forward earlier in the game, which he hasn't able to do with Gasol and Howard playing together. The Lakers have been +23 over two games on the boards, but with Gasol's absence it will likely help Portland close the gap on the glass.

    Anything will help as the Trail Blazers look to snap a six-game losing streak and steal a rare win off the Lakers' home floor as well as keep their dwindling playoff hopes alive.


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