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Preview: Lakers at Portland Trail Blazers

Professional BasketballBasketballSportsLos Angeles LakersPortland Trail BlazersLaMarcus AldridgeWesley Johnson

The Portland Trail Blazers (41-18) have been one of the best teams in the Western Conference all season.

The Lakers, at 20-39, have not.

On Monday night, the Lakers will look to build a rare two-game win streak when they visit the Blazers.

All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge returned Saturday from a groin injury that had him out for almost three weeks.  The Lakers expect to have Xavier Henry available Monday after a knee injury sidelined him Dec. 29.

The Lakers are still without Nick Young (knee), Steve Nash (nerve root irritation), and Kobe Bryant (knee).

Key matchup

While Pau Gasol will play center and Aldridge power forward, the Lakers and Blazers have two top offensive big men.

Aldridge is averaging 23.8 points and 11.3 rebounds a game, leading the Blazers to unexpected success.

Gasol is the Lakers' leading scorer and rebounder at 17.1 points and 10.0 rebounds.  Defensively, the Blazers will try to stop him with Robin Lopez.

Recently Coach Mike D'Antoni has used slender forward Wesley Johnson at the four.  The 6-foot-7, 215-pound Johnson will likely be asked to check Aldridge (6-foot-11, 240 pounds).

Gasol could also see time against the Portland All-Star, along with Robert Sacre, Chris Kaman, Ryan Kelly and whoever else D'Antoni is willing to throw at Aldridge.

X-factor

Damian Lillard will be difficult for the Lakers to handle.  The young All-Star has averaged 21.2 points and 5.6 assists a game.

The combination of Lillard with Aldridge has been a problem for most of the league, but the Lakers also have to deal with Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum.

Matthews is averaging 16.5 points a game while shooting 40.3% from three-point range.  Batum is an all-around threat, with 12.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.3 assists a night.

The Lakers have found offense from newcomers Kent Bazemore (16.2 points a game since the trade from the Golden State Warriors) and MarShon Brooks (13.8 with the Lakers).

Jordan Farmar is also coming off a career game, scoring 30 points against the Sacramento Kings.

The Lakers may not be able to stop Lillard but if they can slow the Blazers' role players and get offense from a variety of contributors -- perhaps the Blazers can be beaten.

Outlook

The Lakers hit 20 wins on Friday night.  If lottery position for June's NBA draft is the priority (given playoffs aren't in the Lakers' future), a loss in Portland would do more help than harm.

That said, even at full strength, the Lakers would have a difficult night against the Blazers in Portland.

ALSO:

Xavier Henry makes second D-Fenders appearance, has 19 points in loss

Knicks sign former Lakers Earl Clark and Shannon Brown

Lakers rally in second half to beat the Kings, 126-122

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

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