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  • The Lakers begin tonight’s game against the visiting Trail Blazers 3 1/2 games behind the Rockets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. With 27 games remaining, it seems the Lakers face a steep climb to qualify for the postseason for an eighth consecutive year. That’s not how Lakers star Kobe Bryant sees things. He recently told Sports Illustrated that he guarantees the Lakers will make the playoffs this season. “It’s not a question of if we make the playoffs, we will. And we when get there, I have no fear of anyone.” Another tenant at Staples Center recently showed that isn’t so far-fetched. The L.A. Kings hockey team was the eighth and final qualifier in the West standings last spring and went on to win the Stanley Cup.
  • Portland guard Wesley Matthews will give it a try tonight. He was a game-time decision because of injuries to his left ankle and elbow. Matthews, who turned his ankle early in a 99-63 loss to Charlotte on Feb. 13 and sat out Tuesday’s 102-98 loss to the Suns, participated in the morning shoot-around and went through treatment before the game. The fourth-year player out of Marquette is fourth on the team in scoring at 14.8 points. He missed the previous game against the Lakers on Dec. 28 at Staples Center with a left hip injury. The Lakers won that game, 104-87.
  • The Trail Blazers are expected to thrust Eric Maynor into the rotation as a back up to rookie point guard Damian Lillard, but they won’t have him available against the Lakers. Portland acquired Maynor from the Thunder just before Thursday’s trade deadline and he was reportedly in Portland today undergoing a physical. He’s expected to join the team Saturday in preparation for Sunday’s game against the visiting Celtics.
  • Both teams have struggled to defend the paint this season. Portland is last in the NBA in points allowed in the paint (45.7) and the Lakers are 28th (44.5). L.A.’s struggles are particularly noteworthy because All Star center Dwight Howard is known for his ability to protect the rim. Portland doesn’t generate much offense down low, either, getting 37.3 percent of its points in the paint, which ranks 29th in the league. The Lakers are in the middle of the pack at 42 percent.

– Dan Arritt

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