L.A. Lakers at Portland
Time: 9:30 PM CST (ESPN)
Spread: LAL -4
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Portland Trail Blazers is four games below .500, as it prepares to host the visiting Los Angeles Lakers as 4-point underdogs in the second-half of an ESPN Friday night doubleheader. The over/under is set at 224.5 points according to NBA oddsmakers at bookmaker 5dimes, and the game will tip-off at about 9:30 PM (CST), after the first game wraps up on television.
Portland has won four of its last five, with wins over the Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder, Bulls (again) and Sacramento Kings. It lost to the L.A. Clippers over that span.
Carmelo Anthony has been the headliner for news in Portland, and the free-agent acquisition seems to be nothing but good for the Blazers’ rotation. Melo is averaging 17 points, six rebounds and 1.8 assists per game in 31 minutes a night through his first eight games. It has pushed Mario Hezonja back out of the starting lineup, where he was having his struggles. The Blazers also seemed to legitimately have added a true No. 3 option behind Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who combine to average 49 points and 11.2 assists per game in the backcourt.
The Blazers are arguably a better team on paper this year than last, but injuries have prevented it all from fully translating. Hassan Whiteside is something of an upgrade over the injured Jusef Nurkic, but losing Zach Collins to injury was a bit of a blow to a team thin on frontcourt depth. Rodney Hood has been a pleasant surprise as a second-unit scorer, though, with his 50.9 percent shooting and 10 points per game. The Blazers simply need a healthy roster before it can build the chemistry and momentum that it really should.
Also, the bottom half of the second unit is pretty weak, which ultimately may limit the Blazers’ upside against very deep teams like the Denver Nuggets, or even the L.A. Lakers, who it faces tonight.
The Los Angeles Lakers have won its last nine games, and everything simply appears to be falling into place once again for the Lakers, which is not really a surprise now that LeBron James is surrounded by the type of talents he prefers (not young ones!).
Anthony Davis has thrived as a Laker, and even Dwight Howard is experiencing something of a renaissance while playing with LBJ. He simply makes everyone better, whether it is inspiring his teammates to a higher level of play, or aiding their scoring with his deft passing abilities.
While there has been (some) discussion of James’ defensive abilities beginning to decline, his offense is showing little of that decline. He is averaging 25.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 11.0 assists per game, and he is making Davis look better than ever before (which might not be that hard considering how disastrous his career had been in New Orleans to this point).
Davis is averaging 26.1 points per game while attempting 19 field goals a night (trails LeBron here by just 0.9 shots per game). The Lakers are still hoping for a lot more from some players, particularly Kyle Kuzma, who has been slow in rebounding from his early-season injury.
Kuzma is the No. 3 scorer at 12.3 per game, but the Lakers really would probably prefer it if he could up that close to 15 per game since he is the natural No. 3 option in the offense after gutting so much talent to acquire Davis. Rajon Rondo, too, is coming along somewhat slowly, though perhaps expectations were not really that high for the veteran guard to begin with.
The most impressive and sneaky addition has certainly been Howard. He is showing all the defensive instincts, talents, and communication aspects that once made him a three-time defensive player of the year. Now able to focus fully on defense, he is making a bigger impact than any other player in the league averaging single-digit scoring. His 6.8 points per game are nearly all “opportunity buckets,” and his 1.7 blocks/steals barely even speak to the dominance he has shown on that end of the court. Albeit, Howard plays just 20 minutes a game now, though, so extending those numbers to a per-36 status puts him among the league’s defensive leaders.
And again, this was a Lakers team expected to struggle defensively. It has not. It is also scoring the ball so well, that even if some struggles happen this should be a contending team by the end of the season, as all early indications show the Lakers to be among the league’s elite—again.