Media Row Report: Blazers 93, Lakers 86

The motivated Portland Trail Blazers breezed past a C-level Los Angeles Lakers, 93-86, at the Rose Garden on Friday night, keeping their composure down the stretch to ensure a victory they secured by dominating the middle quarters. 

The win sent the Rose Garden crowd home happy, as a victory over the defending champs always does, but it didn't necessarily provide any major playoff lessons. Portland won this game, uncharacteristically, by dominating in transition, outscoring the Lakers 20-6 in fast break points and connecting on some seriously intricate run out outlet passes. Credit Portland's forwards -- particularly Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum -- for their activity, which continues to be a difference-maker when they play alongside each other.

Wallace, in particular, was monstrous, putting together a 19 point, 13 rebound, 7 assist, one steal night while also providing the play of the night when he stepped in front of Lakers center Andrew Bynum in the fourth quarter, taking the seven footer's full force into his body to draw the charge, Bynum's sixth foul.  

"His name is no longer 'Gerald Wallace'", Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge quipped. "He's 'MVP'. He's been big for us. Taking charges, blocking shots, he rebounds well, making big threes, he's been huge for us. People told me how tough he was but you don't really know how tough he is until you see him play. He puts it all out there."

The sacrifice made Blazers coach Nate McMillan gush. "That's the type of guy he is. You've got a seven footer coming down the paint, nobody but you and him, and he gives up his body and steps in front of that kid. I would say 90% of the league would not have done that. That was a big play, a huge play, he just makes plays on both ends of the floor. He plays fearless."

Wallace stood in against Bynum and he stood forehead to forehead with Lakers forward Ron Artest during a fourth quarter confrontation sparked by an Artest assault from behind. The exchange resulted in double technicals, a magnetic display of mano a mano that riled up the Rose Garden crowd. 

"He doesn't back down," Aldridge, who finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds, said of Wallace. "He's physical. He'll go at anybody."

"It's a physical ballgame," Wallace explained. "It was just a point that needed to be made. I wasn't going to back down from it. I play just as physical as anybody." 

Shortly after the confrontation with Artest, Wallace was serenaded by the Rose Garden crowd, who chanted his name. "It feels good but I ain't really get to hear it," Wallace admitted. "That's what L.A. was saying. I was more focused on trying to make sure we get the win and get out of here. It's a great feeling the fans are great, it's a wonderful feeling to play in front of fans like these."

Something tells me he will have another chance to hear it in the future.

The Lakers have been bullying their way through games recently, perhaps sending a message to future playoff opponents. The most obvious example came in a recent game against the Dallas Mavericks, when forward Matt Barnes earned a suspension for chucking Mavericks assistant coach Terry Stotts to the ground. 

In Wallace, the Blazers have a premier player who can walk the walk and talk the talk, and it comes as no surprise that he was the target of the Lakers' wrath. He's the biggest threat.

The biggest threat credits his speed as the difference-maker against the Lakers. "That's what we always did, just run them," Wallace said. "Make their bigs get out in the open court and run. Just attack, attack, attack. They have trouble getting up and down the court and when you're running them their legs get heavy, the bigs aren't as heavy on the block, it forces Kobe and them to do a lot more than they wanted to do. They don't get a chance to set up their halfcourt defense."

After the game, Lakers All-Star guard Kobe Bryant, who finished with 24 points on 25 shots and wasn't able to mount a comeback single-handedly like he did earlier this season, did his best to not say anything. He laughed at a few questions, told one reporter that his question had just been asked and answered, and generally said that he agreed with whatever Lakers coach Phil Jackson had told reporters earlier.

Bryant did admit, though, that the transition defense was the difference tonight. "We're defensively challenged in the first place in getting back in transition. When the effort's not there, you wind up giving up 16-0 fast break points in one quarter. That's what happens." 

Later, Bryant said that the Lakers would be having a long "conversation" after their fourth straight loss. "It's always a surprise to get beat like that," Bryant said. "They had certain things they felt like they could take advantage of, getting out in transition. If this is the team we face in the playoffs, we have to make a conscious effort to get back."

McMillan maintained that because the Lakers played their normal players that they had given a full effort. But unconcerned body language and statements from Lakers forward Lamar Odom and the fact that Bryant said that L.A. is "probably" looking ahead to the playoffs undercut McMillan's premise.

Wallace, of course, was having none of that. "I don't care if they were there, they wasn't. Whatever. I felt like the Portland Trail Blazers were there all four quarters and we did what we were supposed to do to get the results that we wanted."

That's the right attitude, certainly, as this was a must-win for Portland given the tight playoff seeding race. But that makes this win a relief, not a truly instructive post-season preview exercise. Will the Blazers be able to repeat their open floor success should they face the Lakers in the first round? That's doubtful, if not impossible to imagine, and for that reason this win comes with a bit of an asterisk. Still, it was a solid thumping of the Lakers, so you'd better add an exclamation point to the end of the asterisk.

*!

Random Game Notes
  • Here's the updated playoff table. Almost to the finish line.
  • Blazers center Greg Oden gives an update on his rehab progress.
  • A great Blazersedge Night story.
  • From the game notes: "Nate McMillan now has a record of 245-245 with Portland, marking the first time he has reached the .500 mark with the Trail Blazers since he was 3-3 in his first season as head coach with the club (2005-2006)."
  • Via @GetBangedOn, here's an awesome picture of a giant pinwheel made out of legos.
  • Nicolas Batum and Patty Mills -- Nike Hoop Summit Alumni -- hang out with this year's World Team after the Lakers game on Friday.
  • Speaking of the Hoop Summit, don't forget that it's Saturday night at 7 PM at the Rose Garden. Full details here. Check out an interview I did with James McAdoo -- in case you didn't already -- right here.
  • Batum on facing the Lakers in the playoffs: "Why not?"
  • Wallace on facing the Lakers in the playoffs: "I think we'd fare pretty good after what we seen tonight."
  • The Blazers will essentially take the weekend off from practice before picking things back up on Monday.

Nate McMillan's Post-Game Comments

Quickness vs. size

Yeah, we have to try to take advantage of our speed. We've gone to that lineup before, really for that reason. To try to speed up the game, spread the floor. I thought our guys did a nice job with the game plan. Nic was really good on Gasol. L.A. on Bynum. Weakside help was really good. And then transition. It's been awhile since we've seen us with 20 fast break points so good job of getting this game to our tempo.

Gerald Wallace

Well, he's fearless. I'm sitting there and saying somebody take a charge. And at that time, I'm thinking, 'Bynum is out of control' and there appears Gerald. That's the type of guy he is. You've got a seven footer coming down the paint, nobody but you and him, and he gives up his body and steps in front of that kid. I would say 90% of the league would not have done that. That was a big play, a huge play, he just makes plays on both ends of the floor. He plays fearless. He throws his body around, he gives up his body, that's how you have to play to win these types of games. 

Playoff atmosphere

We know, the defending champions, we're coming off a back-to-back and we felt like the last two games we had a chance to win. We really wanted to prove to ourselves that we could do it. It was going to be a tough challenge tonight without Camby, coming off a back-to-back, they had dropped three. We just felt like if we could get to our tempo we would have a chance. I thought the difference tonight was we were able to finish. At the start it looked very similar to the last two games, Kobe getting hot. I thought Wesley did a real nice job of trying to make Kobe work, staying in front of him. 

Running on them

Their defense is really good. They're long. They're solid. Team defense is really good if you allow them to get set. What you've got to try to do is just move them. Artest is really good on the ball. Fisher is really good. Kobe works the ball. Then you've got Bynum and Gasol, two seven footers back there. If you allow them to get set defensively they are going to take you out of what they're going to run. You've got to try to move them defensively with ball movement, but first with transition, try to speed up the game.

Brandon played 30 minutes

Well, Nic went down and we needed to go with the bench. So I went with Brandon.

Andre's performance

He's been doing a good job of just leading the team. Getting us to the tempo we want. Tonight it starts with the point guard, getting the ball up the floor. He did a nice job of advancing the ball, making plays. Kobe did a nice job of working him defensively. Then we went to Gerald bringing the ball up and running some pick-and-rolls. Making that adjustments to pretty much what they had done, pressure Dre, try to wear him down. But Gerald was able to make some plays tonight.

Cage match: who wins, Artest or Wallace?

That will be a good one. Because I don't expect either guy to back down.

Playoff intensity?

Whenever we play the Lakers, our fans are into it. The energy is going to be in the building. I thought our guys tonight looked pretty fresh even after coming off of the back-to-back. I thought they were ready tonight to play the game. It's that time. They played the game, they played their players and I think they was trying to break that losing streak. Both teams came out to play.

Lobs

We've done a nice job of making reads as far as what the defense is doing, how they're playing our guys. Gerald Wallace throws a lob tonight. I think Camby has been baiting him into trying it so Camby almost told on himself when he saw Gerald throw that lob, and jumped up out of his seat. You take what the defense gives you. They've been overplaying, it's just like a backdoor. Whenever a team is overplaying, go back door. The lob is a backdoor play.

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

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