Friday night NBA action features ninth and tenth place in the Western conference as the Los Angeles Lakers play host to the Portland Trail Blazers. This is an important match-up by any measure. There are 25-30 games left in the 2012/13 season and both of these teams are running out of time if they want to seriously challenge for a postseason berth.
The Lakers enter this game after an emotional demolition of the Boston Celtics on Wednesday after the passing away of owner Dr. Jerry Buss. They are 6-3 in their last nine home games with the three losses coming against Oklahoma City, Miami and the LA Clippers.
The Trail Blazers have been heading in the opposite direction taking a six-game losing streak into this game. They are 10-15 since the start of 2013. Their last two outings have been particularly disappointing. They lost 102-98 at home against Phoenix on Tuesday, while only scoring 63 points against New Orleans the previous week.
It seems strange to say it, but the outcome of this match-up might depend upon Kobe Bryant not taking too many shots. Remarkable statistics posted on NBA.com show that in LA’s last nine wins Bryant has averaged only 16.1 points and 8.9 assists, while he’s averaged 23.7 points and 5.1 assists in the team’s last nine losses.
An even more interesting story line will be the play of Dwight Howard. He emerged as a dominant force in the win over the Celtics and generally has played a little bit better of late. He has dominated the inside players of Portland in the first two match-ups this year and should perform strongly with the emotional momentum in the Staples Center on Friday night.
Damian Lillard is a pretty good candidate for rookie of the year honors, but there’s little doubt that a Portland roster with questionable depth has been falling by the wayside over the last couple of months after a bright start to the game. Terry Stotts and his team will know that the Lakers can be vulnerable and that a win here could kick-start a playoff run, but entering an emotional Staples Center is a tough task.
If Portland is to have a chance they will need to cut down on turnovers, especially rookie point guard Lillard who hasn’t been careful enough with the ball in recent contests.
Betting Preview: Lakers (-9.5) vs. Trail Blazers
The 9.5 points are quite a lot for an LA Lakers’ team that is fairly inconsistent on a nightly basis. However, there is definitely an emotional drive behind this team right now, it may not last for long, but it should be there in a critical Friday night match-up. Meanwhile, Howard should be able to handle the inside on this game, while Bryant and Nash should be able to slow down Lillard while working the back-court offensively.
The challenges facing the Lakers as they try and make the playoffs are still large, but this team even without Pau Gasol is better than its record suggests. They will beat the free-falling Trail Blazers handily on Friday.
The Pick: Lakers (-9.5) (5dimes.eu)