Five things to watch in Lakers-Blazers matchup
1. How will the Lakers' energy hold up? If the Lakers had problems showing effort in their 102-90 loss Sunday to the Phoenix Suns, well, it's plausible to think that might be an issue again. The Lakers play Portland Monday on a back-to-back. Even in a double-digit blowout, the Lakers spent the second half rallying from a 27-point deficit rather than resting Kobe Bryant (35 minutes) or Pau Gasol (37). And Andrew Bynum told reporters that the team's morning shootaround Sunday likely exacerbated fatigue levels.
The Lakers didn't have a morning shootaround on Monday, but it's still possible the energy won't be there. One would think the Lakers would show urgency in their last home game before the All-Star break. It's easy to predict this to be a bounce-back game considering Portland's 5-10 road record. But the Lakers frankly remain unpredictable with their inconsistency.
2. What emotions will Pau Gasol show? Bryant issued strong support toward Gasol, insisting the front office needs to provide more clarity regarding his future with the Lakers. As I noted before, this demand seems pretty impractical considering the deadline is on March 15. The Lakers can't even trade players such as Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy or Jason Kapono until March 1. But Bryant's statement surely served to comfort Gasol in hopes it would spark a rallying cry. Expect Bryant to make a concerted effort to get Gasol involved early to get his confidence up.
4. The Lakers must improve their outside shooting. They provided contrasting case studies in their split this week against Phoenix on how fundamentally different the Lakers look when they nail shots from long range. In their 111-99 victory Friday over Phoenix, the Lakers went five-of-11 from three-point range. In the Lakers' loss Sunday at Phoenix, the Lakers shot three-of-18 from downtown. This issue goes beyond the Lakers simply making shots. The Lakers improved their shooting numbers because of better floor spacing and passing. That made it easier both for the Lakers to hit open shots and to find better options inside.
5. Can the Lakers' stop Nick Batum. It's hardly surprising that the Lakers appeared overwhelmed defending Steve Nash's pick-and-roll coverages against Phoenix. The Lakers may have relief tonight since Raymond Felton has remained inconsistent at point guard. But here's another threat the Lakers will have to worry about: stopping Batum's strong shooting. Batum has averaged 22.7 in four games since being re-inserted into the starting lineup.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant pulls up for a shot over Portland's Wesley Matthews (2) and Gerald Wallace in the first half on Jan. 5 in Portland. Credit: Steve Dykes / EPA.