After a tough opening night loss to the Dallas Mavericks, the Los Angeles Lakers will look to regroup and fare better as they head north to face the Portland Trail Blazers, who open their season at the Rose Garden Arena tonight.
Though they did not make the playoffs last season, Portland had a busy offseason in drafting former Weber State hotshot Damian Lillard to run the point as well as bringing back key pieces in Nicolas Batum and J.J. Hickson. Once rivals who fought an epic battle of legendary proportions in the 2000 postseason, tonight is a chance for the Lakers and Blazers to use their new additions to relight the fire and bring back some intense competition.
All history and old rivalries aside, however, this is an opportunity for Dwight Howard to put his horrendous regular season debut behind him. Despite scoring 19 points and pulling down 10 boards, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year shot an atrocious 3 of 14 from the free-throw line as the Lakers lost to the Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman-less Mavericks 99-91. Long story short, this game is about redemption and what better way for the Lakers to gain it than with a big win over a lottery team?
Time: Wednesday, October 31st at 10:30 P.M., EDT
TV: NBA TV
Records: Los Angeles (0-1) vs. Portland (0-0)
Betting Line: N/A as of Wednesday, October 31st at 8:30 A.M., EDT
Injuries: Kobe Bryant (foot), Ronnie Price (ankle)
Key Storylines: Rookie Lillard and Coach Stotts Make Long-Anticipated Portland Debuts
Though this season has already been established as a rebuilding one for the Portland Trail Blazers, fans are still excited to see the regular season debut of first-round pick and new point guard Damian Lillard. The former Weber State standout was taken with the No. 6 pick and immediately impressed everyone with his play in the NBA Summer League, averaging 26.5 points and 5.3 assists over five games.
Lillard continued to put up impressive numbers in the preseason, averaging 16.1 points and 4.5 assists per game. He will surely establish himself as a reliable scoring point guard over the course of the season, picking up new tricks along the way.
Lillard isn't the only one making his Blazers regular season debut, however, as this is also the first game for new head coach Terry Stotts, who previously patrolled the sidelines for the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks.
Stotts brings a career coaching record of 115-168, and in his defense, the Atlanta and Milwaukee teams he ran didn't have very much in terms of overall talent. He has plenty to work with in Portland, particularly star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, and fans should look forward to a productive season from Stotts.
Key Matchup: Steve Nash vs. Damian Lillard
It's a classic example of youth against experience as Damian Lillard will have to play against and subsequently guard a future Hall of Famer in Steve Nash, the Lakers' first true point guard since Nick Van Exel. Watching these two go against each other will be interesting because while both are talented, defense is not a strong suit of either man. Lillard is a strong scoring point man prone to turnovers while Nash is more of a playmaker with a sweet and accurate scoring touch.
For his career, he has shot 49 percent from the field and 43 percent from long range.
These two actually got to face each other in their teams' preseason opener and though the game was meaningless, the battle between both men was fairly even. Nash finished with 13 points, four assists and two steals in 25 minutes while Lillard had 14 points, seven assists and five rebounds in 24.
Granted, it was a preseason game, but it shows that both men are still talented despite their ages and experience.
Now that the games count, look for Nash to use his 16 years of NBA experience to give the rookie a proper welcome to the league, even if it means making him look foolish at times.
X-Factor: Kobe Bryant
Though a must for the Lakers tonight is for Dwight Howard to have a better time at the free-throw line, the team's performance all depends on Kobe Bryant. Now, we can't be too hard on the man as he is playing with an injured foot and still scored 22 points on 11 of 14 shooting against Dallas last night. Yet, he didn't really do much besides score, letting Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol handle most of the defensive duties.
Simply put, in spite of the fact that his foot may still be bothering him, Bryant needs to do two things tonight so that the Lakers don't start the season 0-2. He must continue to demand the ball and score baskets by any means necessary, even if it means drawing a hard foul instead of taking the jump shot.
On top of that, he needs to make a greater effort on defense. The fact that he has made the NBA All-Defensive First Team nine times and only came away with one rebound and steal apiece last night is just unacceptable.
Bryant is a player who can make an impact on both sides of the floor, and while having one of the league's best defensive players on his team is all well and fine, it isn't an excuse for him to become one-sided.
Who will win?
Losing to a short-handed Mavericks team is the last way the new-look Lakers wanted to start their season, so they'll definitely be out for blood this time. Look for coach Mike Brown to speed the game up against the younger Trail Blazers and have Metta World Peace glued to Nicolas Batum while on defense. Nash will fare better than his 3 of 9 shooting against Dallas and create more plays, putting up numbers almost reminiscent of those he posted in Phoenix.
Howard will have another solid game and fare better at the free-throw line, as he will be a matchup nightmare for smaller Portland center J.J. Hickson. On Portland's end, expect Aldridge to carry the team and Lillard to have a solid performance, albeit with some questionable shot selection and fair share of turnovers.
All in all, by the midway point of the third quarter, the Lakers should pretty much have the game in the bag and will close the night with their first win of the season.
Prediction: Los Angeles Lakers 112, Portland Trail Blazers 89