Lakers-Trail Blazers Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated October 31, 2012
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.
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