Portland Trail Blazers vs. L.A. Lakers: Postgame Grades and Analysis for L.A.

Bryant KnoxFeatured ColumnistDecember 29, 2012

Portland Trail Blazers vs. L.A. Lakers: Postgame Grades and Analysis for L.A.

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    The Los Angeles Lakers hosted the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center Friday, and they were looking for revenge against the team that beat them by double digits on Halloween night. Entering the contest, both teams were playing their best basketball of the season, and it was L.A. that stole the show with a 104-87 victory.

    The early part of this game belonged to the Lakers, as they outscored Portland, 34-25, in the first period. The big difference was points in the paint, and with L.A. recognizing it had the advantage down low, Dwight Howard’s teammates looked his way from the opening possession.

    The second quarter began with Portland’s bench outplaying the Lakers’ second unit, and the Blazers narrowed the gap in what appeared to be a closely fought contest. But by the time the starters returned, momentum shifted back in L.A.’s direction.

    The second half proved to be much of the same for both squads. The only thing going for Portland in this one was the play of LaMarcus Aldridge, but while the Lakers had no answer for his jump shot, they exploited his inability to thrive on defense. L.A. scored on the low block seemingly anytime it wanted, as Portland’s frontcourt couldn’t contain the prowess of the Lakers’ post players.

    Los Angeles played with great balance between its two superstars. Howard and Kobe Bryant each scored against an unorganized defense, finishing with 21 and 27 points, respectively, on extremely efficient shooting.

    After a miserable start to the year, the Lakers are playing well at this juncture, and had it not been for a loss against the Denver Nuggets, they would be taking a seven-game winning streak into their matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers on Jan. 1. 

Point Guard: Steve Nash

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    Steve Nash injured his leg in the early-season matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers, and he came out ready to get his revenge.

    In the opening minutes of the first quarter, Nash was completely dissecting the Blazers’ defense. He was getting to the rim, he was scoring from mid-range and he was creating open opportunities for his teammates.

    The point guard would go on to record 10 assists in the contest, and while he scored just six points, this was the kind of game where he never needed to put the ball in the basket to make a difference.

    One of the smartest moves the Lakers made was to keep Nash off of Damian Lillard. The rookie floor general has been sensational this season, and it’s no secret that Nash’s defensive liabilities would make him a target for the 22-year-old.

    Nash was assigned 6’9” small forward Victor Claver to open the game, and while there was a clear height advantage in favor of Portland, the Lakers’ point guard held his own against a seldom-used offensive player.

    Grade: A-

Shooting Guard: Darius Morris

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    From the onset of this game, it was obvious that the Los Angeles Lakers wanted Steve Nash as far away from Damian Lillard as possible. The rookie point guard has the athleticism and skill set to take advantage of Nash's defensive deficiencies, so it was Darius Morris who earned the opportunity to slow down the rookie.

    Lillard was unusually quiet in this one, and a big reason for that was the presence of Morris. As the newest addition to the starting lineup, the Lakers' guard used his bigger frame and physical presence to make life tough for the first-year player.

    On offense, Morris was quiet as usual. He was never the focal point of the offense and he's not going to show up on any highlights, but he did manage to score eight points.

    He may have never stood out in this one, but he made smart-enough plays to keep momentum going, which is all you ask from a 21-year-old guard playing among the stars.

    Grade: B-

Small Forward: Kobe Bryant

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    Kobe Bryant has had some masterful performances against the Portland Trail Blazers throughout the years, and he started off this game in typical fashion. He shot the ball efficiently, he was in double digits early and he helped create the lead that put this game away in the second quarter.

    All that being said, Bryant has usually done his damage against Portland on his own, and this time, he had someone on his side by the name of Dwight Howard.

    Bryant and Howard worked together brilliantly. They didn't run much of a two-man, inside-outside game, but having each of them dominating their respective positions made it "pick-your-poison" time for the Blazers' defense.

    The superstar's game was impressive all the way around Friday night. His aggressive play earned him 11 free throws—he made eight of them—and he managed to add five rebounds and four assists to his final stat line.

    If there's any blemish on Bryant's performance, it's his 1-of-6 shooting from the three-point line, but when the 34-year-old veteran scores 27 points on 9-of-18 from the field, you'll take it if you're a fan of Lakers basketball.

    Grade: A

Power Forward: Pau Gasol

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    Pau Gasol never received the spotlight behind Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard, but he quietly put together a dominant performance against the Portland Trail Blazers.

    Gasol, who hasn't shot the ball well this season, scored 15 points on an efficient 6-of-9 from the floor. He also managed to pull down nine rebounds, had five assists and recorded three blocks.

    The problem with Gasol's performance came on the defensive side of the floor. He struggled all game against All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, as the Portland big man scored 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting in the first half alone.

    Gasol’s defensive deficiencies didn’t have a huge impact on this game, as Portland couldn’t find a true second scorer, but allowing a big performance like that isn't going to cut it if this team wants a shot once the playoffs begin.

    Grade: B

Center: Dwight Howard

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    If you read the scouting report before Friday night’s game, you knew that Dwight Howard was due for a big-time performance.

    The Los Angeles Lakers began the night looking to take advantage of the mismatch at the center position. Howard was paired up against 6’9” J.J. Hickson, and he was able to produce on the block, as well as in the rebounding department.

    On defense, Howard did what you would expect him to do against a weak low-post offense. He altered looks, blocked shots and simply took up space when Portland tried to score at the rim. 

    The icing on the cake is that Howard made his free throws during a brief stint where Portland intentionally sent him to the line. He went 7-of-13 from the charity stripe, and while that's nothing special for most decent shooters, it's a good day for one of the league's worst.

    Howard finished the game with an efficient 21 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots, and its performances like this one that remind you he is the best center in the entire NBA

    Grade: A

Sixth Man: Metta World Peace

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    Metta World Peace has become a breath of fresh air off the Los Angeles Lakers' bench, as he's provided energy and an offensive spark since adjusting to his new role.

    Unfortunately for the small forward, Friday night wasn't his best performance.

    World Peace struggled to get involved in the offense at any point in this game. He made just three of his seven attempts, he missed all three of his long-distance shots and he finished the game with just six points in 22 minutes.

    The Lakers didn't need a great performance off the bench with the starters getting the job done, so we'll chalk this one up to a day off for the 33-year-old.

    Grade: C

Bench

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    The Portland Trail Blazers and the Los Angles Lakers both get major production from their starting lineups, which means that this game was a battle between the two worst benches in the entire NBA.

    The fact is, L.A. got a decent showing out of the second unit on Friday. Jodie Meeks scored nine points, Jordan Hill recorded eight points and eight rebounds and Metta World Peace did enough on defense to keep the Trail Blazers from ever catching fire.

    The problem is that those performances came in garbage time, and when it actually counted, the bench was nowhere to be found.

    When the Lakers’ second unit took the floor in the second period, Portland began to cut into the first-quarter lead. It wasn't until the starters returned that the contest was in hand, and if this game hadn't been such a blowout, we wouldn't have seen the same inflated stats from the reserves.

    The bench in L.A. hasn't been good all year, but if the Lakers' starters can play every game the way they did against Portland, they'll be in good shape moving forward.

    Grade: D+