What 2 Watch 4 - Trail Blazers Vs. Lakers

December 1st, 2013



Nicolas Batum vs. Wesley Johnson

The Los Angeles Lakers team that the Portland Trail Blazers last saw on April 10, 2013 are almost unrecognizable from the team they'll face Sunday night at the Staples Center.

In that late-season contest, Dwight Howard played 38 minutes, Earl Clark started at small forward, Metta World Peace and Antwan Jamison came off the bench and Kobe Bryant played all 48 minutes and scored 47 points to keep L.A.'s playoff hopes alive.

But a lot has happened since then. Two days later, Bryant would rupture his left Achilles tendon in a game against the Warriors, and while he is reportedly close to returning, he will not play Sunday night against the Trail Blazers.

But the likes of Shawne Williams, Xavier Henry, Jordan Farmar, Chris Kaman and Wesley Johnson, all new additions to Mike D'Antoni's roster this season, are available. They don't have the star power of past Lakers teams, and their play is reflecting that, in the best ways possible.

Johnson is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the new-look Lakers. After being selected with the fourth pick of the 2010 Draft, Johnson has languished in stints with the Timberwolves and Suns, but seems to have found a niche in D'Antoni's system. While his per game averages are mostly in line with his career averages, he's shooting 45 percent from three, 10 points higher than his career percentage. He shot six of seven from three and finished with 27 points in L.A.'s 106-102 victory against the Pistons on Nov. 29.

Johnson might find shots more difficult to come by Sunday night with Nicolas Batum checking him. Batum has two more years in the league than Johnson, but is two years his junior and is really coming into his own in his second season under head coach Terry Stotts.

Batum, a player who struggled earlier in his career without a defined role, knows that sometimes, all you need is consistent minutes and an opportunity to change the way you're perceived in the league. That's what Johnson, and other role players on the Lakers, are finding out.

"When you see all those new guys, Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry, all those guys, they didn't play the last couple of years and now they got a couple of chances to play, they're playing great right now," said Batum. "Those guys like Henry, Wesley Johnson, Jordan Farmar is back, Shawne Williams, all those guys now just play, go out there and play. It's going to be dangerous. Wesley Johnson had a great game last game so it will be a good matchup for me."