USA TODAY Sports
The Blazers show up for school against the Los Angeles Lakers and the upperclassmen teach them a lesson about execution, interior play, and pure star power.
0-0 was the closest the score ever got at the Los Angeles Lakers made like a commercial actor and the Portland Trail Blazers played the Carl's Jr. burger. Munch, munch, munch. Don't you wish you could be doing this too?
The game didn't seem bad for the Blazers as much as it seemed not fair. The Lakers went into Dwight Howard early and after a couple bumps in the road, he started plastering points and rebounds on everybody the Blazers sent against him. In the first meeting between these two teams (which the Blazers won) I criticized the Lakers for using Howard foolishly, giving him the ball on the move 18 feet from the bucket. No such problem tonight. On multiple possessions Howard went down within one foot of the rim. He said hi to J.J. Hickson, asked about the health of his family, and then dunked all over his face. The inspired start and multiple touches on offense spurred Howard to a massive rebounding and defensive game as well. The Blazers had zero counter.
Steve Nash also had his way with the Blazers in the first quarter, breaking down the defense and then slaying them with passes when help came. The entire first period was characterized by a Laker star of some sort threatening to score, Portland swinging over help, then one pass--just one--leading to a comically easy score for L.A. The Blazers shot 48% in the first but weren't even close on the scoreboard.
The Lakers bench gave the Blazers a chance to recoup in the second period, playing poorly. Portland cut into the lead and regained some confidence. When the starters returned to the floor they had solved some of the defensive problems, making better rotations and staying in front of men longer. But this didn't turn around the game for them, it simply shifted the problem area. Committing so hard to defense, the Blazers weren't able to gang rebound. The result was a Lakers center--usually Howard--left one-on-one under the glass. The Lakers won that battle as long as it was important to them. The Blazers couldn't secure rebounds and thus couldn't push tempo. L.A. made up for misses with extra shots. The Lakers had 16 offensive rebounds tonight while the Blazers got 13. That looks close, but here's a hint: the Lakers' boards mattered, the Blazers' didn't. The margin between the two teams got wider and wider until the game was all but out of reach emotionally, if not literally.
That emotion showed too. The Blazers found their sea legs but they never got comfortable in this game. They were just getting battered at too many positions. That lack of defensive surety filtered into their offense. They took more forced and crazy shots tonight than we usually see in a month. Even more telling, few Blazers ever made a move towards the rim without the ball. The offense would start with a player, he'd probe to see if he had a shot, and finding one he'd pass out or around. But after that pass, that initial player just deactivated no matter who he was. At best guys would drift out towards the three-point arc. That's not Portland basketball. It's like they were thinking, "Whew! This is hard! Well at least I didn't make a mistake on that play!" instead of thinking about how to attack the opponent. The Blazers put little pressure on the Lakers defense and as a result the Lakers were primed every time Portland got any shot within 20 feet.
Sadly enough, the Lakers did slow down in that second half. They were running loose and free in the first two quarters but they started to look older in the third. The Blazers couldn't take advantage. I'm not sure the Blazers could have won this game but the shell shock made it look worse than it was.
We haven't even mentioned Kobe Bryant and his game-leading 27 points because after all that we don't really need to. Kobe's job was pretty easy tonight and he played like it.
Because of the tenor of the game only a few players merit mention.
LaMarcus Aldridge played like a superstar until this game was out of reach. He suffered a bruised chest and sat out the final minutes of the game but no ill-effects have been reported. Aldridge was the only Blazer really stepping up to the plate and he was nearly unstoppable on offense. He hit mid-range jumpers that other were missing. He got to his normal spots when others stood still. It wasn't enough to drag his teammates along but he still rose in the big game. 26 points on 12-17 shooting.
Will Barton started the second half where Victor Claver had started the first. Barton gave a pretty good account of himself on the attack and helped the Blazers rebound. Coach Stotts is showing more confidence in this kid and he appears to be responding. 5-10 shooting, 11 points, 6 rebounds in 24 minutes. His defense lagged behind a little but that's to be expected in this situation.
J.J. Hickson just got manhandled. He was trying but there wasn't anything he could do when Howard set up low or, for that matter, when Howard decided he wanted a rebound. The double-double streak ended tonight as Hickson went 0-7 with 2 points and 8 rebounds.
Meyers Leonard had 7 rebounds in 17 minutes but that's fool's gold for him tonight. He got destroyed out there. He picked up helpless personal fouls early, got beaten to rebounds by Jordan Hill, let alone Howard...it was a rough night.
The Blazers have to regroup for Philadelphia tomorrow. That's their last home game before what could be a rough four-game road swing. They need this Philly win and the opportunity to restore some swagger.
Your Jersey Contest form for tomorrow's game.