The Portland Trail Blazers emerged from the dip winning their first two games, surprising critics and delighting fans. Now is the time for their next test: a Sunday morning on the road against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Friday night, the Blazers opened the home schedule with a gutsy 113-111 overtime win over the Phoenix Suns. Damian Lillard defied doubters with 41 points, but significant contributions came up and down the list. Jusuf Nurkić, in particular, drew particular praise for 20 points and 17 rebounds.
At the other end of the emotional scale are the Lakers, losers of their first two games. It’s never a good sign when your fans spend more time creating fake trades than supporting your team. Don’t get me wrong though, this team has talent and has shown flashes, especially on the defensive end. If they can get a few more shots, they could still turn into a team that does damage in the West. Especially if they are doing a trade.
Sunday, October 23 – 12:30 p.m. PT
How to watch on TV: Root Sports Plus, SPECSN, NBA League Pass
Blazer injuries: Gary Payton II (out), Olivier Sarr (out), Trendon Watford (out)
Lakers injuries: LeBron James (likely), Anthony Davis (likely), Tony Brown Jr. (likely), Dennis Schroder (out), Thomas Bryant (out) Cole Swinder (out),
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- Russell Westbrook. It would be hard to overstate how hard the Lakers have shot in the past two games. While Westbrook isn’t the only culprit responsible for Laker’s shooting woes, he’s certainly been the most looked down upon, by fans and those who cover the Lakers. Small sample of course, but it pulls 30.4% from the field and a microscopic 11.1% from the depth. Westbrook has two ways to help his team improve: make a few shots or just stop shooting. Portland would be wise to encourage Westbrook to see what’s behind door number one. Expect to see the Blazers’ defenders practically begging him to let go, especially behind the arc.
- Watch out for turnover. The Blazers and Lakers are tied for 19th in the worst turnovers so far this young season at 16 per game. The Lakers, however, are second-best so far in the NBA at forcing turnovers, with their opponents averaging 20.5 commits per game. That’s an average of four more turnovers committed by Lakers opponents than by Portland opponents. Winning the turnover battle could be an important key to winning this game.
- Seize the momentum. Lakers fans are restless. After opening with two losses, many Lakers fans already have visions of another lost season with an aging LeBron on the roster. Emotions will be there. Portland can either use this to their advantage or suffer the consequences. If the Blazers can make the jump to the Lakers, it won’t just be the Portland players that LeBron and company will face, but also 20,000 fans in the arena. Even LeBron might not be strong enough to handle that load. On the other hand, if the Lakers sniff out real success, it could well be a growing cathartic wave for LA that will be too much for the Blazers to handle. Not allowing the Lakers to find momentum is absolutely essential for Portland to come away victorious.
what others say
Orange County Register’s Kyle Goon sees roster issues and no easy answers for the Lakers.
In their first two games, the Lakers have the lowest offensive rating in the NBA (94.5 points per 100 possessions). While the small sample size came up against two expected title contenders and with a mostly redone roster, early results were shocking: The Lakers are 19 for 85 from 3-point range, contributing to their 38 .8% total shots.
Russell Westbrook? Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times doesn’t mince words.
They can’t move forward with him. They will eventually fall into oblivion because of him. They need him gone now.
Despite starting the season 0-2, Silver Screen and Roll’s Cooper Halpern sees reason to be optimistic about the Lakers.
After two games against some of the league’s best defenses, the Lakers are averaging fifth in the three widest open per game. If this holds, they could suffer a serious positive regression which would undoubtedly boost their offensive rating.
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