Portland at L.A. Lakers
Time: 8:30 PM CT (NBA TV)
Spread: POR -6.5
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Portland Trail Blazers trail No. 8 Denver by just one game for that final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Deep in the cellar, its opponent tonight, the L.A. Lakers, are tanking hard in hopes of obtaining the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. While the Blazers are surging and hot, the Lakers are making little attempt to win, especially after shutting down veterans Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov for the remainder of the season. The Lakers have dropped eight of its past 10, and are the possessors of the league’s second-worst record, better only than the hapless Brooklyn Nets.
The Lakers have an abundance of youth, and these growing pains were to be expected, but so was more progress. The jury is still out on whether or not any of the Lakers’ young talents can evolve into legitimate stars, from Brandon Ingram to D’Angelo Russell to Julius Randle. The Lakers are stocked with good young talent, but the team has yet to come together in any meaningful way, and it still plays some of the worst defense in the Association. The Lakers are giving up 112.3 points per game while managing to score 105 points per game itself. A negative 7.3 point differential ranks the worst in the West, and it is actually tied with the 16-57 Nets.
L.A. has a long way to go, but after installing Magic Johnson as team president, perhaps some positive steps can be made. Magic said that the team just “needs a superstar,” but that is sort of analogous to a construction worker saying a building needs only a roof. The Lakers have had a penchant throughout franchise history of attracting stars, however, and Paul George joining L.A. in the summer of 2018 seems all but booked.
The question is whether George will revive himself and again prove to be the superstar he is still billed to be. He has had a season that has been equal in disappointment to what has gone down in L.A. Perhaps joining two disappointments together a couple season from now produces favorable results. Or maybe, the Lakers will not even be interested when the time comes. It is just altogether too early to make any concrete assumption on this team–or its players.
The Blazers have been rolling. Portland has won five of its past six, and appears to be an entirely different team with a legitimate post presence in Nurkic. For as good as Mason Plumlee was operating in the high post, Josef Nurkic adds a different dimension, all the while allowing Portland’s star-studded backcourt to be as ball-dominant as it should be. Plumlee was a gifted passer, but the Blazers too often ran their offense through him, which took the ball out of the hands of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. There are few circumstances in which that actually favors Portland.
Lillard, for his part, has been on something of a mission after yet another All-Star snub in the talented Western Conference. Over the Blazers’ past 10 games, Lillard has posted 32 point and five assists per game while shooting over 50 percent from the field. He is heating up as the team does, at this crucial juncture of the season, and Portland is doing everything it can to overtake Denver for that final playoff spot.
It is somewhat remarkable how quickly Portland has returned to playoff contention after jettisoning (or outright losing) four of its five starters two offseasons ago, including All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge. The rebuild around Lillard is going according to plan, and Dame is a big enough superstar to carry a team with the proper surrounding pieces. McCollum is a great second star. The future is bright in Portland.