Pregame: Trail Blazers Visit LeBron James and Struggling Lakers In Primetime

The Blazers and Lakers are both mired in multi-game losing streaks. Something's gotta give on Friday night at Staples Center.
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Opponent: Los Angeles Lakers (22-11 overall, 5-5 last 10 games)

Offensive Rating: 111.1 (17th)
Defensive Rating: 106.0 (first)
Net Rating: +5.1 (fifth)

Where: Staples Center (Los Angeles)
When: 7:00 p.m. (PST)
Broadcast: ESPN

Point Spread: Lakers -5
Moneyline: Lakers -215, Portland +180
Over/Under: 221.5

Injuries/Health

  • Portland: Zach Collins (out), Harry Giles III (out), C.J. McCollum (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out)
  • Lakers: Anthony Davis (out), Kyle Kuzma (probable), Markieff Morris (probable), Dennis Schroder (probable)

Primer: What seemed like a showdown between two of the league's leading MVP candidates as recently as early last week has taken on a much different tenor. Both the Trail Blazers and Lakers enter Friday's contest on multi-game losing streaks, ravaged by injuries that have finally begun taking a noticeable toll on their team's superstars.

LeBron James' per-game numbers have been typically stellar since Anthony Davis was first sidelined by a strained Achilles tendon on February 8. But his frightening early-season prowess as a three-point shooter has tailed off significantly, with James shooting 19.7 percent on nearly seven triples a game over that timeframe. 

LeBron isn't a natural marksman from deep. He's always been prone to major ebbs and flows as a shooter, and it's safe to say that will remain the case over the season's remainder – or at least until he locks in for the playoffs. Still, it's key to understand the familiar context behind James' occasionally lazy shot selection from three of late

Absent both Davis and Dennis Schroder for the last four games, James' supporting cast has been more lacking for talent than any since his doomed final season with the Cavaliers. If Los Angeles' first action yields nothing and he's too fatigued to challenge a defense loading up to stop him at the rim, just how is LeBron supposed to create offense in a crunch-time lineup featuring Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Markieff Morris?

Getting on the block is the most foolproof answer, but James generally prefers to avoid the wear-and-tear associated with post-ups until playoff time. It's not like defenses are all that afraid to leave the Lakers' shooters, either; there's no true sniper among them.

Los Angeles getting Schroder back against Portland should help James better conserve energy and find more efficient shot attempts. Even if that means he spends more time down low or working from the wing than in high pick-and-roll, Portland would be best served by sticking Derrick Jones Jr. on James. 

He obviously gives up a lot of strength in that matchup, but so does every wing in basketball. Robert Covington doesn't have the foot speed to pressure James' dribble like Jones, and his defensive exploits are always best utilized off the ball – especially against a playmaking virtuoso like LeBron.

Don't sleep on the Lakers' defense without Davis, by the way. Los Angeles' league-best defensive rating is even stingier with Davis on the bench, per NBA.com/stats. Marc Gasol isn't what he once was but remains a master of angles and timing, even sometimes sliding his feet on the perimeter, and Frank Vogel has his team ever committed on that side of the ball.

Damian Lillard, of course, will see extra bodies in pick-and-roll from the opening tip on Friday. The Lakers are big, smart and active enough to force the ball from his hands or string out his dribble while capably rotating behind the play. The lob layup line Jones and Enes Kanter briefly enjoyed against Phoenix, for instance, won't come to pass against a defensive outfit like Los Angeles.

There will be many times Lillard proves too quick for Gasol pulling up for deep threes or turning the corner in pick-and-roll. His eyes should light up when Montrezl Harrell is manning the middle for the Lakers. 

Regardless, don't expect Lillard to go off easy. Los Angeles won a title in October with defense first and foremost, and is no doubt highly motivated to end its four-game losing skid in front of a national audience.

Bottom Line: If Lillard and LeBron both have it going, this one could be a classic. It's tempting to assume the Lakers, buoyed by Schroder's return, come out trying to make a statement, but Portland is due for a good shooting night, too.