December 23, 2017, 8:53 pm
The Lakers (11-19) have held their own against the best teams in the NBA during the last four games but return home Saturday night with only one win to show for it. Portland head to Los Angeles without their best player Damian Lillard and in the midst of a three-game losing streak. The Lakers need this win to prove to themselves that all of the recent hard-fought losses were demonstrative of a young team evolving into something better than is indicated by their record.
Los Angeles’ team is rife with young players who are actually playing very well of late. Unfortunately, their opponents have been playing just a notch better on most nights, leaving the Lakers eight games under .500 and desperate for a win on their home court.
Among those players, none is better than Kyle Kuzma who is averaging 27.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists. He is also shooting 60.9 percent from the field, 55.6 percent from 3-point range and 77.3 percent from from the free throw line giving him an almost absurd true shooting percentage of 74.6 percent. According to Lakers Film Room, Kuzma’s 60.9 true shooting percentage on the year is the highest in history for any rookie that has averaged at least 15 points per game. He is the Lakers’ leading scorer at 17.7 points per game and may be asked to do even more of the heavy lifting as Brandon Ingram will miss this game with injuries to both of his quadriceps.
The other Laker rookie that has elevated his game recently is Lonzo Ball. The first-year point guard has acquitted himself well against the league elite averaging 17.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.3 blocks. His shot has improved tremendously and he is coming off a game where he hit 5-of-6 from 3-point distance. Ball has also been attacking the basket with regularity opening up the game for both himself and his teammates.
Julius Randle rebounded nicely from an atrocious eight minute effort against Houston to play one of his best games of the season against the Warriors on Friday. He compiled 21 points, 10 rebounds, one assist, two steals and one block in only 24 minutes. His improvement on the defensive end this season has been a joy to watch for Laker fans and is vital to the team’s long-term growth. Los Angeles will have to rely on Randle with Ingram and starting center Brook Lopez out of commission tonight.
One young Laker who is not playing well of late is Jordan Clarkson who has scored four points in three consecutive games. During that stretch he has averaged a paltry 4.0 points, 1.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists without accruing a single defensive stat. His shot has betrayed him as well as he is shooting only 6-of 26 for 23.1 percent.
It was reported earlier on Saturday by Adrian Wojnarowski that the Lakers believe that they could deal Clarkson if they needed to clear cap space this summer. Players are rarely deaf to reports of that nature and it will be interesting to see what motivational effect the report has on Clarkson.
The Trail Blazers will be without leading scorer Lillard who is eighth in the NBA with 25.2 points per game while adding 5.0 rebounds, 6.4 assists, and 1.0 steals while hitting 6.2-of-6.7 free throws (92.8 percent). That is a lot of production to replace for any team not named the Warriors.
C.J. McCollum is expected to be tasked with picking up the slack against the Lakers. He is having a down year from last year as his averages have dipped to 20.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists on 44.8 percent shooting. Last year he was more productive and efficient with 23.0 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists on 48.0 percent shooting.
- The Lakers score 107.1 points per game (11th) compared to 101.9 (24th) for Portland.
- Portland shoots 80.3 percent (4th) from the free throw line vs. 69.4 percent (30th) for Los Angeles.
- The Trail Blazers are last in the league with 18.1 assists per game compared to 23.2 (8th) for the Lakers.
- Los Angles holds a significant edge in steals as they average 8.3 (10th) vs. 6.9 (29th) for Portland.
- The Lakers need to take care of the ball as they are second worst in the league with 16.7 turnovers per game compared to the Trail Blazers who are 17th worst with 14.7 a contest.
Lonzo Ball (PG)
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SG)
Josh Hart (SF)
Kyle Kuzma (PF)
Andrew Bogut (C)
Shabazz Napier (PG)
C.J. McCollum (SG)
Evan Turner (SF)
Al-Farouq Aminu (PF)
Jusuf Nurkic (C)
Brandon Ingram (quadriceps, both) – OUT
Brook Lopez (ankle) – OUT
Damian Lillard (hamstring) – OUT
Noah Vonleh (finger) – OUT
Time: 6:30 PM PST, 9:30 PM EST
Television: SPECSN/SPECD, NBCSNW, NBA TV CANADA
Radio: 710 AM ESPN, 1330 AM ESPN DEPORTES, RIP CITY RADIO 620