You think the L.A. Lakers are motivated enough to start the second half of the season? After the emotional passing and tribute to the late-great Jerry Buss, the Lakers dominated the Boston Celtics Tuesday night; an impressive effort by a team out to prove they're playoff worthy. In fact, Kobe Bryant guaranteed it. However, pure emotion and desire won't bring the Lakers back to prominence this season - it'll take a collective effort, both on and off the court, to prove they are one of the NBA's best.
And for now, it all starts with the man in the middle: Dwight Howard. Howard, who faced his fair share of criticism at the All-Star Break, posted 24 points, 12 boards, and a 123 offensive rating in a commanding effort against Boston. Don't forget that despite all the drama surrounding D-12, he still remains one of the game's best big men.
In tonight's match up against the Portland Trailblazers at Staples Center, look for the Lakers to establish Howard early and often. Plus, If the Lakers come with the same energy they did Tuesday night, Portland's lack of road defense shouldn't offer much resistance.
In the past two meetings this season against Portland, Dwight Howard has been a force, averaging nearly 27 points and 14 boards. More importantly, two of his top eight highest usage percentage games (that is an estimate an amount of team plays used by a player when he's on the floor) have come against the Blazers. Things shouldn't be much different in this campaign, especially against Portland's weak front line.
J.J. Hickson has been a stud rebounder this season, but the duo of him and Meyers Leonard should be no match for Howard in this contest. If Dwight gets at least 25 percent of L.A.'s touches tonight, the Lakers should be able to control tempo and cruise to victory.
Portland's Road Woes
The Trail Blazers are the epitome of a Jekyll and Hyde team when it comes to home-road splits. At home, Portland is 17-8, while surrendering only 94 points/game. Away from the Rose Garden is a much different story. The Blazers have lost nine of ten on the road and have given up roughly 102 points/game during that stretch. Defense has clearly been the problem for Portland, and it's also what's going to help propel the Lakers in this match up. If Portland can't sure up defensively, especially on the interior, it will be a long night for the red and black.