Lakers-Trail Blazers Preview

The Portland Trail Blazers suffered three straight first-round

playoff losses before their failure to qualify for the postseason

in 2011-12 resulted in major changes for the franchise.

The Los Angeles Lakers’ famous newcomers, meanwhile, didn’t

produce a victory in their much-anticipated opener.

The Trail Blazers begin their season at home Wednesday night

against a Lakers team seeking to avoid a second straight 0-2

start.

Portland went 28-38 last season after averaging 50.7 wins over

its previous three seasons when it appeared to be a team on the

rise. Coach Nate McMillan was dismissed during last year’s campaign

and the roster has been overhauled along with a new general manager

in Neil Olshey and new coach in Terry Stotts.

All-Star big man LaMarcus Aldridge, forward Nicolas Batum and

guard Wesley Matthews are the mainstays with new blood brought in

that includes first-round picks Damian Lillard and Meyers

Leonard.

“Like everybody, I’m going to judge this team by the way it

competes,” Stotts said. “That’s one of the things that players,

coaches, fans and anybody who follows the NBA (will see), the team

is going to compete every night. If you’re showing improvement, if

you show that the team is going in the direction, it’s playing a

style of play that fans enjoy, that the players enjoy, that takes

care of itself.”

While Portland’s new faces are unproven, the same cannot be said

for those with Los Angeles. With Dwight Howard and Steve Nash on

board, the Lakers are among the favorites as they seek the

franchise’s 17th championship.

Los Angeles, however, opened with a surprising 99-91 home loss

to Dallas on Tuesday, and neither Howard nor Nash excelled in their

club debuts.

Howard had 19 points and 10 rebounds while missing 11 of 14 free

throws before fouling out with 2:02 to play. Nash managed just

seven points and four assists with seemingly little to do in the

Lakers’ new offensive scheme.

Pau Gasol led the Lakers with 23 points and 13 rebounds while

Kobe Bryant scored 22 while playing on an injured right foot.

“It’s not the way we wanted it to go,” Gasol said. “We know

it’s not going to happen for us right away, but we’ve just got to

stick with it.”

Howard could face another difficult night since his 16.5 scoring

average against Portland is his lowest against any Western

Conference club.

Any success down the road for the Blazers, meanwhile, could be

contingent on the development of their rookies. The 7-foot-1

Leonard will likely match up with Howard in his NBA debut after

being selected out of Illinois at No. 11 – five spots after Lillard

was taken out of Weber State.

Lillard was second in the nation in scoring at 24.5 points per

game last season and has shown flashes of his talent in the

preseason.

“He’s a confident, poised young man. He’ll have some bumps along

the way but he’s going to have the ball in his hands a lot,” Stotts

said. “My expectation is that he’s going to be very good opening

night and he’s going to continue to get better.”

The Blazers have won three straight season openers since a 96-76

road loss to the Lakers in 2008.