PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS (17-15) at LOS ANGELES LAKERS (18-13)
Tip-off: Monday, 10:35 p.m. ET
Line: Los Angeles -4, Total: 180
After yet another disappointing effort on the road (12-point loss at Phoenix), the Lakers return home Monday night in search of a fifth straight win at Staples Center when they host the Blazers.
In the past 20 meetings between these teams at Staples Center, the average spread has been 8˝ points. Monday's low spread is a gift, as L.A. is 17-3 SU in this span, winning those games by 11.0 PPG. The Lakers are 10-5 ATS at home, while the Blazers are 6-9 ATS on the road. Although LaMarcus Aldridge (sprained ankle) returned to action Saturday, he is not yet 100 percent and struggled mightily in his past four games at Staples, shooting a subpar 41.5% FG. The pick here is LOS ANGELES to win and cover.
Portland is finally back to full strength with the return of PF LaMarcus Aldridge (22.5 PPG, 8.3 RPG), who missed the better part of three games with a sprained left ankle. Aldridge helped spark his team to a 97-77 home blowout of Atlanta on Saturday with 19 points and 10 rebounds in 35 minutes of action. SF Nicolas Batum (13.6 PPG) led all scorers with 22 points, continuing his hot play of late. Batum has 22.8 PPG on 53% FG in his past four games, all starts. He also scored 25 in his team’s last road game with the Lakers last March. PG Raymond Felton (10.1 PPG, 6.4 APG) bounced back from a scoreless (0-for-7 FG) Thursday night against the Clippers and scored 14 points with eight assists against the Hawks. His career numbers versus the Lakers are pretty solid (15.2 PPG, 6.6 APG), but he shot only 3-of-14 FG in the last meeting on Jan. 5, a 107-96 Blazers home win. Speaking of that last meeting, Gerald Wallace (13.8 PPG) tallied a season-high 31 points in that win. But Wallace has struggled on the road this year with just 9.8 PPG on 38.5% FG (25.9% 3-pt FG).
Kobe Bryant (NBA-high 29.0 PPG) vented his frustration after Sunday’s 102-90 loss in Phoenix, a game in which his team trailed by 27 points in the third quarter. Bryant turned the ball over 10 times in the defeat, but still finished with 32 points, seven boards and five assists. PF Pau Gasol (16.6 PPG, 10.7 RPG) posted his ninth straight double-double (17 points, 12 rebounds) in the loss, as he has been able to overcome the distractions of swirling trade rumors (which Bryant disapproves of) to average 17.4 PPG and 13.7 RPG in this nine-game span. Gasol averages 17.1 PPG and 9.0 RPG in 36 career meetings with Portland. C Andrew Bynum (16.3 PPG, 12.5 RPG) has double-doubles in eight of his past 10 games, averaging 16.4 PPG and 13.1 RPG during this span.
Games are never won on paper, but immediately after last night’s draft there appear to be some definite winners and losers. Despite all the prognostications, drafting is one of the most inexact sciences in sports, especially as different players mature at different rates. Potential is one of the greatest, and riskiest, factors considered by NBA teams. With that, here are the preliminary impressions of last night’s draft.
Detroit Pistons- The Pistons were extremely lucky to have Greg Monroe fall to them with the seventh pick of the draft. He was expected to go higher and fits Detroit’s low-post need; expect to see Monroe contribute from the beginning. Drafting Terrico White with the 36th pick is another flat-out steal; White may have been the best athlete in the draft. Although guard is not a huge need for the Pistons, his development could make the aging Richard Hamilton expendable.
Los Angeles Clippers- The Clippers filled their two biggest needs: small forward and backup point guard. Al-Farouq Aminu has star potential and should be an integral part of LA’s young nucleus at small forward. With Baron Davis not getting any younger, it was very savvy for the Clippers to acquire Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe was overshadowed by John Wall at Kentucky last year and may turn out to be one of the draft’s better sleepers. Learning from Davis will season him even more. As if this draft couldn’t get any better, the Clippers landed Willie Warren, once considered a top 10 talent, with the 54th overall pick. If Warren is able to undergo an attitude adjustment, he could be a big contributor at the NBA level.
Oklahoma City Thunder- The NBA’s team of the future entered the draft knowing it needed to fortify the post. They did exactly that, trading to get Cole Aldrich. Aldrich is a physical presence capable of playing both post positions and may finally be the one to close OKC’s revolving door at center. GM Sam Presti also shrewdly dealt Eric Bledsoe for a future first round pick from the Clippers. Bledsoe is a good player but the Clippers are unlikely to get out of the lottery in the near future, virtually assuring OKC of a high pick.
Golden State Warriors- Drafting Ekpe Udoh sixth overall was a reach, to say the least. The Warriors were seduced by Udoh’s athleticism and workouts and ignored the fact that, even at 23 years old, he is still very raw. Some point to Udoh’s two pedestrian seasons at Michigan and wonder if his one successful year at Baylor was a byproduct of their system. Even more befuddling is the fact that Golden State has two other players in Brandan Wright and Anthony Randolph who are essentially the same: athletic small forwards who need seasoning. This was a misdirected pick and the Warriors should have targeted Greg Monroe.
New York Knicks- The Knicks spent both their second round picks on players—Andy Rautins and Landry Fields—who some didn’t even expected to be drafted. They could both be serviceable NBA role players, but the Knicks’ thinking is confusing because the players are so similar. These picks were obviously made with the intent of surrounding LeBron James with shooters but if he signs elsewhere, this thinking looks even more misguided.
Could Go Either Way
Sacramento Kings- On the surface, one would think the Kings had a tremendous draft. Some thought DeMarcus Cousins had the talent to go number one overall and corralling him at five was fortuitous. The same goes for Hassan Whiteside, who slipped to 33 after once being regarded as a lottery pick. However, drafting both of them together may pose some problems. Both saw their stock drop due to questionable attitudes and they play the same position, creating a potential logjam at center along with Samuel Dalembert, who will command minutes in a contract year. There is no doubting the talent but the Kings will need to have a coach capable of developing chemistry and fostering maturity in these players, especially when minutes may be scarce.
Indiana Pacers- GM Larry Bird eschewed his tradition of taking proven college players by making some risky picks. Paul George has tremendous upside but can be turnover prone and lack motivation. Perhaps the biggest question is how he’ll play with superstar Danny Granger, who has a very similar style. Magnum Rolle brings length and athleticism and Lance Stephenson has tremendous upside and was a great value pick in the second round. However, Stephenson’s attitude is widely questioned and if he doesn’t mature, he could harm team chemistry.
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