Just 0.5 games separate the No. 12-seeded Portland Trail Blazers and No. 13-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference standings as they prepare for Sunday night’s battle.

Both teams have two things in common. On the one hand, they are not happy with their mediocre records, even with a series of injuries to top players. Second, both teams could wake up a week from now and theoretically find themselves on the doorstep of the No. 6 seed, if the basketball gods work in their favor.

The Blazers continue their six-game stand at home, where they are 11-9 at the Moda Center, while the Lakers are 9-14 away from Los Angeles. All eyes will be on LeBron James, as he only has 261 more career points to go before usurping the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the all-time record for regular season points scored. Based on his current average of 29.6 points per game, he’ll reach the milestone in nine games, barring a Kobe-style offensive tirade to speed up the day.

Trail Blazers vs. Lakers — Sunday, January 22 — 6:00 pm (Pacific Time)

How to watch: Root Sports Plus, NBA League Pass

Blazers injuries: Justise Winslow (out), Gary Payton II (likely)

Lakers injuries: Anthony Davis (out), Lonnie Walker IV (out), Austin Reaves (out), LeBron James (questionable)

SBN Affiliate: silver screen and roll

The match

  • Play LeBron like you played Luka: James is the centerpiece of the Lakers’ offense, similar to how Luka Doncic is for him. dallas mavericks. He also dominates the ball in a similar way to the Slovenian star. Unlike Dallas, the Lakers don’t have the shooting prowess to scare Portland. The Blazers should use the same strategy they deployed against Doncic. Bring in a second defender, Josh Hart or not, to catch James on every offensive possession. He doesn’t even give the 20-year veteran the luxury of taking uncontested 3s, as he’s likely to burn teams if he gets hot. Forcing Dennis Schroder, Kendrick Nunn, Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley to shoot. All four players shoot 35 percent or less from distance, unlike the Mavericks cast of Spencer Dinwiddie, Reggie Bullock, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Davis Bertans, who all shoot 36 percent or better.
  • Do not test a zone: Throughout the season, the 2-3 and 2-1-2 zones have worked well for Rip City. However, with a champion as experienced as James, it won’t work well against his baseball club. He and Westbrook are too good at passing the ball to the corner and weakside wing and they will tear up a zone. The Lakers are a mixed bag in isolation. James and Westbrook have the most offensive freedom to create their own shot. Both future hall of famers are shooting less than 40 percent in isolation this season. A zone will nullify any opportunity for these two to isolate themselves and be the source of their own demise. Playing the man will work for Portland against LA
  • Protect paint: The Lakers follow only the memphis grizzlies in points in the paint this season, where they are scoring 56.7 points per game. Meanwhile, Portland is No. 23 in the association allowing 51.4 points in the paint per game. Thomas Bryant is back and more active than ever. Schroder has long had a reputation as one of the best slashers in the NBA, especially when he’s going downhill. Then of course there are James and Westbrook. Note that none of the keys described have to do with the Blazers’ offense. Why? Because Los Angeles’ defense is lacking. While they defend long balls exceptionally well (34.6 percent conceded), they are a bottom-10 team in key areas such as second-chance points, fast-break points and points allowed in the paint. Defense will lead the offense for the Blazers, and quick break opportunities interspersed with a stellar paint game will naturally open up the court. So Portland needs to own the paint on both ends, but especially on defense.

what others are saying

A Lakers win against the Memphis Grizzlies was marred by an altercation between NFL Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe and several Grizzlies players, but Ron Gutterman had this to punctuate in laker nation:

Despite season-long struggles in the final minutes of close games, the Lakers stayed within striking distance when a Dennis Schroder’s steal and score gave LA an unexpected late lead and a win. It was perhaps one of their best wins of the season and it keeps them alive in an ever-competitive postseason picture.

James credited the Lakers with his mentality in a game in which the team could easily have conceded. “I stayed resilient throughout the game,” James said. “When we fell or got killed on the glass, we continued the game plan until the DS steal and the three-point game, which also became the game winner. We plan the game. When we do that, we give ourselves a chance to win.”

Darius Soriano from Silver Screen and Roll looks at how the pairing of James and Westbrook has improved a lot this season.

This season, however, things have changed remarkably. Are there still some clumsy possessions? Yes, and particularly in critical times. Does the way defenses guard Russ still have a negative impact on LeBron? Of course he does. But the duo have found their stride in their minutes sharing the pitch, not just in transition (as you’d expect), but in midfield through better defined roles and putting each player in a better position to succeed.

For Russ, this means handling the ball a lot more when he’s on the floor with LeBron, and being the “point guard” and primary playmaker for those lineups. It means allowing him to isolate more, execute more pick and rolls, and (generally) be tended to as a primary weapon instead of being put in the corner as a floor spacer (without gravity) and asking him to put screens on him or work as a slicer. on the weak side when it’s clear that’s not what he wants to do or how he instinctively plays the game at this point in his career.

Instead, it’s LeBron who does these things more often and creates more beneficial possessions when both share the court.

By sbavh

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