The last time the Los Angeles Lakers came to town it was all laughs and smiles for the Portland Trail Blazers; Tonight it was mumbles and slumped shoulders. The Lakers walked into the Rose Garden and exerted their will from start to finish, dominating the Blazers 99-82 and forcing Blazers coach Nate McMillan to waive the white flag and empty his bench with almost 2 minutes to play. A rare sight in the Rose Garden but a merciful one tonight.
Pick just about any way to break this game down and you'll find yourself staring eye-to-eye with a Lakers advantage.
On the boards? Lamar Odom had more rebounds (22) than the 5 Blazers starters combined (20). He had more offensive rebounds (3) than the Blazers 11 man active roster combined (2). The Blazers bench, known for its hustle, combined for 0 offensive rebounds in more than 91 combined minutes.
In the paint? 48 points for LA, more than double the Blazers. Second chance points? The Blazers had 0. You might find this surprising but the Lakers had more than that. Shooting from the field? The Lakers had 10 more makes and 13 more attempts. From distance they shot 14% better. They had more assists, fewer fouls, and more steals.
In short, the Lakers offense hummed and their defense intimidated, despite the absence of All Star Kobe Bryant and the limited play of center Andrew Bynum, who left the game in the first half due to injury and did not play in the second half.
As the game wore on, the Lakers dominance tranformed from physical to mental. Up and down the roster, Blazers flinched in the face of a bigger, stronger, tougher, more experienced and more focused opponent. Martell Webster seemed to have a nervous hitch in his three point stroke, going 0 for 4 from deep. Nicolas Batum found himself in isolation on the wing, took one look at Ron Artest and then shuffled the ball off to LaMarcus Aldridge and passively hid in the opposite corner. An ice cold Steve Blake pushed the ball in mini-transition and uncharacteristically pulled up to clank a three, forcing the issue hopefully as he saw no better alternative. Rudy Fernandez drove the lane in apparent fear, anticipating contact that never came and wildly flailing in hopes of salvaging the play. Jerryd Bayless went to the basket tentatively and indecisively in the first three quarters; His 10 fourth quarter points were far too little, too late.
The Blazers locker room reaction was as uncomplicated as it gets: pure deflation. A lot of bowed heads. A lot of whispered, forced answers. A lot of talk about moving on to the next one. And, not surprisingly, a lot of credit given to the defending-champion Lakers.
"You look one way, you look another way, [Pau] Gasol was all over the place tonight," Martell Webster said flatly. "He played a great game. Making his presence felt down in the low post."
"They played more aggressive than us. They played better," admitted Rudy Fernandez. "They played more aggressive to the basket. The boards, they dominated."
Juwan Howard gazed into the distance with a blank look on his face and summed it up tidily. "You've got to give the Lakers credit. They came in with a good gameplan, they performed it to a t and they played very well."
The Lakers put their foot down convincingly tonight, showing that they were sick of hearing about the Blazers' invincibility in Portland. There was nothing the Blazers could do to stop a more talented and more physical team looking to prove a point. They clearly realized that better than anyone.
- The pre-game gamesmanship was fast and furious as the Blazers held a press conference so that Brandon Roy could address questions about his injured hamstring while at nearly the same moment and just down the hall Kobe Bryant was deciding that he would hold himself out tonight.
- Tonight was the first time that it really seemed like Roy has come to terms with the seriousness of his injury. Over the past few weeks, his treatments and evaluations have been coming so regularly that he likely hasn't had the opportunity to take a step back and put the magnitude of the injury in perspective. He has been fully focused on the next test and the next treatment and, more than anything else, hoping for good news and the right feeling when he explodes off of it. But with the decision and announcement that he would miss the next three games and All Star weekend -- something that he wasn't expecting as recently as last week -- the day-to-day, evaluation-to-evaluation aspect of his life stopped, at least for awhile. What was left? Judging a book by its cover: disappointment and then confusion and then resignation.
- While fans and media members might have been disappointed by Kobe Bryant's game time decision not to play (Bayless versus Farmar just doesn't quite have the same ring to it as Roy versus Bryant), the ticket scalpers were surely elated he waited until the last minute. Once or twice a year, the scalpers have a field day peeling greenbacks out of the pockets of transplanted Lakers fans, many of whom likely sold their plasma and semen to ensure they would have enough money to spend whatever it takes to pay homage to Bryant.
- In all seriousness, congratulations to the Lakers fans who finally had their day in the Rose Garden. But bigger congratulations to the lone Blazers fan who held a "Beat LA" sign and spent nearly five minutes jumping up and down like a maniac, flipping off every single Laker fan in sight without regard for human decency or first world mores. Just hop hop, flip flip, hop hop, flip flip and a few fight-provoking yells, which drew sidelong glances more than anything. If Nate McMillan could have borrowed some of that energy and enthusiasm for his guards maybe this game plays out differently.
- Jerryd Bayless said he wasn't sure whether he would practice on Monday but he expects to play through his quad injury on Tuesday night against Oklahoma City.
- Everyone's favorite sign tonight was the one featuring Pau Gasol in a side-by-side picture with the Geico caveman. It wasn't particularly original the first time it was shown on the jumbotron and by the third time it was bordering on tacky.
- Nate McMillan wasn't quite feeling a question from Andrew R. Tonry of Portland Roundball Society. Check his video at the 1:21 mark. When you get frustrated with a question asking how frustrated you are, you kind of prove that you're especially frustrated. A relatively rare slip from total composure for McMillan.
Nate McMillan's Post Game Comments
I thought they had match-ups and they came in with a plan to slow this tempo and pound the ball inside with Odom and Gasol and Artest. They did that. They just pounded it inside, forced us to double team. If we didn't do that, they were able to score. I thought their defense was good. They limited us to only one shot, they totally controlled the boards. They are the world champions for a reason. It's a good team. Tonight they executed in the half court, sharing the ball, and if we don't get fast break points or second opportunities it's going to be hard to beat this team.
Offense in second half
Again, good defense. You've got length with Odom and Gasol and Artest. We couldn't get to the paint. And our shots didn't fall. If your shots are not falling, and you're not getting anything easy, no second opportunities, it's going to be a tough night.
Where does this one stack up in terms of frustrating losses this season?
Frustrating losses? That's a question you ask every night. It's a loss. It's a big loss. In the sense that it's a good team. You have to give them credit. Every loss hurts but the Lakers played great basketball tonight. We couldn't get anything easy and when we did get open looks we didn't knock down our shots.
Worried about emotional letdown with no Kobe playing?
I talked to our guys about that before the game. As I told them, we're not playing Kobe, we're playing the Lakers. I felt that that could have been done on purpose. I think Phil challenged them last night and thought they had a letdown without Carmelo playing and sometimes coaches do things like that. Where you challenge your team to see if you can play without a star. We've been in that situation all season long, playing without guys, and guys have stepped up and played. Odom 22 rebounds and 10 points. They were solid.
You're suggesting Phil Jackson might have held Kobe out intentionally?
I mean, I don't know if Kobe got hurt. I don't recall him getting hurt. You look at it as, 'we'll rest you' and challenge your team to play. If this was a different game could he have played? Maybe?
Artest's 3s at the end of the first half
They were big. They were big. We didn't guard him on that last one but I think the 3 right before that we had a misread. We were on Artest and we rotated to Lamar, that should have been a bluff. You make Lamar shoot the ball. We gave Artest an open look.
Worried about letdown without Roy
We're in a fight. We're in the fight of our lives. We've been in that for a long time. Without our guys and it continues. So we're in the same situation going into the break as we've been pretty much all season long. You gotta try and win games and tonight they were good. And we weren't strong enough. We need to come back on Tuesday against Oklahoma CIty, take it one game at a time, take care of business.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter