Trail Blazers vs. Lakers Preview: Back Lillard and Portland in LA

LeBron James turned 37 on Thursday evening, and the Lakers host the Trail Blazers the day after on New Year's Eve. Austin Wang explains why you should consider fading the Lakers at such a large spread.

Trail Blazers vs. Lakers Odds

Trail Blazers Odds +6
Lakers Odds -6
Over/Under 231
Time 10:30 p.m. ET
Odds via Caesars. Get up-to-the-minute NBA odds here.

Friday night’s New Year’s Eve matchup between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Los Angeles Lakers features two teams that have been excellent fades this season.

With so much star power between the two teams, you would think they would be at least at .500, right? Not so much. The Damian Lillard-led Trail Blazers have a 13-21 record and are a league-worst 12-22 (35.3%) against the spread. The Lakers are 17-19 and are 14-22 (37.1%) ATS. Yikes.

To be fair, both teams have gone through their struggles with the most recent league-wide outbreak of COVID protocols.  In addition, key players such as the Blazers’ C.J. McCollum and the Lakers’ Anthony Davis are both dealing with injuries.

However, it is no excuse. Even when both of those players were healthy for their respective teams, they were still not performing up to par and lacked chemistry on both ends of the court.

Which underperforming team will ring in the new year with a win? Let’s break down the matchup below.

>> Download The Action Network App to get real-time NBA odds, track your bets and follow all of our experts’ picks.

Shorthanded Trail Blazers Living by the 3

Chauncey Billups’ first campaign with the Trail Blazers is not going according to plan. The Blazers have lost three in a row and have terribly underperformed market expectations this entire season.

Lillard has shown signs of decline – he is averaging 40.4% from the field, a career-low.  He has played better as of late, but it is out of necessity because the Blazers’ roster has been hit hard with COVID.

Key frontcourt players Jusuf Nurkic, Cody Zeller and Robert Covington are still in health and safety protocols as of Thursday evening and will likely not be in the lineup for Friday. Larry Nance Jr. and Nassir Little have been productive in their absence; however, Little sprained his ankle against the Jazz and is listed as questionable for Friday night’s game. His absence will be even more significant for the Blazers’ already-thin frontcourt.

Ben McLemore and Dennis Smith Jr. have cleared protocols, but they are listed as questionable for Friday’s game. This gives the Blazers’ backcourt some additional firepower. Without their big men, they’ve had to rely on their 3-point shooting recently.

In their past five games, 47.4% of their shot attempts have been from behind the arc. If they can get hot, they can exploit the Lakers defense that has been looking very vulnerable recently.

LeBron and the Lakers Looking for Momentum

The Lakers have been a running joke as of late. They’ve lost six of their last seven games. Their lone win came against the lowly Houston Rockets, and it took a herculean effort from LeBron James in the fourth quarter to put them away.

All of their players who were in health and safety protocols have recently been cleared. It is possible that they may get Wayne Ellington, Trevor Ariza, Kent Bazemore, Kendrick Nunn and Austin Reeves back on the lineup for Friday.

The Lakers have been downright awful at home. They are 6-14 ATS and were unable to beat the shorthanded Brooklyn Nets on Christmas Day. In their past five games, they are ranked in the bottom 10 in both Offensive Rating (23rd – 108.2) and Defensive Rating (27th – 117.9), per NBA Advanced Stats.

With Davis out, we’ve seen some smaller lineups with James at center. This has resulted in a fast pace with Russell Westbrook sprinting down the court and the Lakers trying to beat their opponents with speed. This strategy could work against the Trail Blazers, who have most of their big men and best defenders out of the lineup. With Zeller, Nurkic and Covington out for the Blazers, James and the Lakers may exploit the paint.

The problem with playing these smallball lineups is that these guys aren’t exactly spring chickens. The Lakers are the oldest team in the league, and James just celebrated his 37th birthday on Thursday.

He may seem to be superhuman at times, but he is averaging 37.2 minutes, the most he has averaged since the 2016-2017 season. Add in the fast pace and playing minutes at the five, and it will eventually wear on him.

Trail Blazers-Lakers Pick

Expect the Trail Blazers to ring in the new year to cover the spread. There should be no reason this version of the Lakers should be such hefty favorites against any team. I think books will set a high premium for bettors looking to back Lebron at home against a COVID-ravaged Blazers’ roster. This gives us some nice value to take advantage of.

The Blazers have a fatigue and rest advantage as well. This will only be their third game in 10 days since they had one of their games postponed last week. The Lakers, on the other hand, are returning home after playing a series of back-to-back games on the road.

In addition, home teams on New Year’s Eve have gone 21-35 (37.5%) ATS since the 2013-2014 season, per the Sports Data Query Language on Gimme the Dog. With James’ birthday on Thursday and New Year’s Eve on Friday, I presume there are celebrations planned for “The King” in Los Angeles.

Don’t be surprised if they come out a little sluggish for Friday’s game in a nice fade spot. My pick is on the Trail Blazers at +6 (with value down to +4).

Pick: Blazers +6 (bet down to +4)