Montrezl Harrell dunks vs Portland

Lakers at Blazers, Three Things to Know: May 7, 2021

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

The Lakers (37-29) face the Blazers (37-29) in Portland on the second night of a back-to-back. Tipoff is at 7:00 p.m. on Spectrum SportsNet.

Below are three things to know about the matchup:

THE INJURY LIST
It’s hard to find a more important storyline for the Lakers outside of their injury concerns, which have basically dominated since Anthony Davis went down in early February. Things looked to have turned a corner when AD returned on April 22 and LeBron followed on April 30, but after playing in two games, LeBron’s back on the bench rehabilitating his sprained ankle, and will again be out against Portland on Friday evening. Dennis Schroder (health and safety protocols) and Talen Horton-Tucker (right calf strain) will be out once again, leaving L.A. without their three top playmakers off the dribble.

Conceivably, the Lakers could run things through Anthony Davis, but he played only nine minutes against the Clippers on Thursday before leaving due to back spasms. He did say after the game that he had his back worked on throughout the game and it felt better.

SEARCHING FOR PLAYMAKING
Given the current injuries and absences for the Lakers, the biggest issue has been finding somebody to get past the initial defense and create good shots for teammates. Alex Caruso has been tasked with the starting PG role without LeBron, Schroder or THT available, but for as great as he is as a supporting guard, playmaking is not his primary strength. L.A. wasn’t really able to see how things could work going through Davis against the Clippers since he played only nine minutes, but I did ask him after Thursday’s game what he thought the key would be from a playmaking perspective against the Blazers. His answer was less about offense and more to do with defense: he used the model from Tuesday’s win against Denver, in which they were terrific on that end throughout as the driving force.

PORTLAND’S IMPROVED PLAY
In contrast to the Lakers, Portland is about as healthy as they’ve been all season, with all of their starters expected to be available on Friday. Relatively new acquisition Norman Powell missed their Wednesday blowout of Cleveland, but is expected to play against the Lakers.

The Blazers have won five of six games after losing seven of eight, enough to catch the Lakers in the standings. They’ve ridden a familiar formula of backcourt scoring from Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, while Jusuf Nurkic continues to get back to himself after consecutive injury-plagued seasons. They’ve long been good on offense but struggled on defense in part due to their small backcourt, and that’s the case again this season, as they’re 3rd in offense, but 2nd-to-last on defense. The Lakers have played quite well against Portland’s back court in the past, most notably in last season’s first round series, when they held Lillard to 24.3 points on 39.8 percent shooting. And yet, it’ll be a larger challenge on Thursday without their full complement of players.

The winner of the game will gain the tiebreaker should the teams finish with the same record, adding an element of importance to the result. Portland does have the tougher schedule to close the season, as their final three games are at Utah, at Phoenix and vs. Denver.

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