As the Lakers head into Portland Wednesday night, there are a few things to look for in the Trail Blazers as they make the transition to the regular season. J.J. Hickson is slated to be the starter at center while the Blazers are still dealing with the injuries of Elliot Williams and Ronnie Price. Kobe has a bad ankle, but will see time no matter what. Here’s a few things to look for.
What will the Blazers rotation be?
As we saw during the last game against Utah in the preseason, Portland head coach Terry Stotts sat most of the bench and looked to give his starters and second line the kind of run we’re expecting during the regular season. How many minutes guys like Joel Freeland and Luke Babbitt get are going to be key to seeing how well they fit into the lineup and how well they transition to the NBA game.
How well does Portland defend bigger teams?
With Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and Robert Sacre, the Lakers have some big guys in the post that the Trail Blazers will seemingly have trouble with on paper. Hickson has been good on offense and on the boards in the preseason but ineffective on the defensive end. Part of that is due to his size and part of it is due to his inexperience. LaMarcus Aldridge isn’t a particularly stalwart defender so that will probably be a big test for how the Blazers coaching staff can draw up a scheme that works.
Damian Lillard will exploit the Lakers point guards.
While I have been saying all preseason that Lillard will have a backslide in efficiency as he runs into the regular season, the Lakers are running out Steve Nash, Steve Blake, and Chris Duhon. It’s not a defensive unit by any means and Lillard’s athleticism is enough to get him past all three as defenders. Offensively I expect Lillard to be in the lead with Aldridge against the Lakers.
Steve Nash to exploit Damian Lillard.
In the preseason game against Portland, Nash showed that he can play well off the screen on the rookie guard. There were many times in their last matchup where Lillard lost track of Nash or turned his hips leaving him out of position. Lillard’s no slouch on defense but I expect Nash to be able to get behind the defense on quick rotations from the post.
Nic Batum will have a good defensive showing against Kobe.
Batum is used to playing against Bryant by now. He’s a good on-ball defender and Kobe is battling an ankle injury and played against the Mavericks just last night. Batum, who is ten years younger than Mr. Bean, should be able to at least contain him for a few quarters while he finds his rhythm. I don’t think Kobe will stay cold the whole game, as he often plays well at the Rose Garden. But Nic should be able to get on top of him early.