Recently struggling Western Conference counterparts look to end 2021 on a high note Friday in Los Angeles when the Lakers welcome the Portland Trail Blazers to town for a New Year’s Eve matchup.
Los Angeles dropped its sixth decision in the last seven on Wednesday, 104-99 at Memphis.
LeBron James posted 37 points and 13 rebounds in the loss, and Russell Westbrook recorded a triple-double of 16 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds, but a combination of 18 turnovers and just 16 fourth-quarter points doomed the Lakers.
“It turned into stand-around-and-watch,” Los Angeles assistant coach David Fizdale said in his postgame press conference. “You let a defense like Memphis stand and watch, the way that they get after it and turn you over and protect the paint, you will get a 16-point quarter.”
Los Angeles’ lack of depth may have been a contributing factor in the late-game offensive struggles. The Lakers bench produced just 18 points, and the Los Angeles Times reported that Wednesday’s starting lineup was the 20th different combination the team has used this season.
The Lakers are without veterans Trevor Ariza and Rajon Rondo due to health and safety protocol. Anthony Davis, who is averaging 23.3 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, is out with a sprained MCL.
Roster depletion is hardly exclusive to Los Angeles in Friday’s matchup, however. Portland — which comes in having lost 10 of its last 12 including three straight — faces a bevy of absences due to health and safety protocol.
Jusuf Nurkic, Robert Covington, Cody Zeller, Dennis Smith Jr., Ben McLemore, Trendon Watford and Keljin Blevins, along with head coach Chauncey Billups, missed Monday’s 132-117 loss to Dallas and Wednesday’s 120-105 defeat against Utah.
The litany of unavailable players compounds with Portland missing explosive scorer CJ McCollum, sidelined since Dec. 6 due to a collapsed lung.
Damian Lillard and Norman Powell both scored 32 points to carry the load in Wednesday’s loss.
“I like the way we competed,” Powell said in his postgame press conference. “If we play with that energy and that togetherness and toughness last game (vs. Dallas), we would have (given) ourselves a chance to win.”
“It’s challenging … being down so many players,” Lillard said afterward. “We come back from a road trip, and we’ve got a whole new team. We can’t really run much action offensively. We’re teaching defensive principles all over again and trying to change what we’ve doing defensively to make it easier and make ourselves have to do less work.”
Portland’s roster changes, including the additions of Cameron McGriff, Reggie Perry, Brandon Williams and Jarron Cumberland to 10-day contracts via the hardship exception, pushed Larry Nance Jr. into the starting lineup on Wednesday.
Nance scored 14 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished nine assists against the Jazz. Nance spent his first two full seasons and part of his third pro campaign with the Lakers.
The Blazers’ roster reshuffling will continue on Friday as McLemore and Smith are set to return (along with Nassir Little from a right ankle sprain), while McCollum, Anfernee Simmons, Brandon Williams, Nurkic, Covington, Zeller, Watford and Blevins have all been ruled out.
The Blazers won the first meeting on Nov. 6, 105-90, though James did not appear for Los Angeles in that matchup.
–Field Level Media