I was right there with you on Thursday. Double-checking the projected draft order. Catching up on Pac-10 games to get a glimpse of Bayless and Mayo. Putting all my eggs in Baron Von Wafer's basket. Wondering whether now was the time to fully groom and bloom Sergio. Memorizing the free agents lists and working the ESPN trade machine. Hanging on Pritchard's every word about Rudy. When you're struck with a full-blown case of Blazermania, these things are understandable. Reality says the team is coming back to Earth but you want to reject reality. You want to distract yourself or perhaps, if you're lucky, distract reality.
Thursday's reality- that gloomy storm cloud seasonal affective disorder reality- was not tonight's reality. That's one of the perks of being a diehard fan: it really doesn't take much for emotionless, compulsive, distracting analysis to give way to unfettered, freewheeling ecstasy.
All it takes is the appearance of the anti-Jack: the point guard who looks suspiciously like the Jarrett we know and chastise yet puts up 21 points, has a 10: 2 assist to turnover ratio and doesn't step out of bounds once. All it takes is the resurrection of lost friend James Jones who scores just 8 points yet whose presence wills his teammates to dozens more. All it takes is the sorcery of Travis Outlaw's spins, possession after possession his body wheeling away from the basket in circumscribing loops as he launches parabolas through the twine.
Big Bad Brazen Cocky Los Angeles played their game tonight and they played well. They hit the boards, made shots, kept their turnovers down, spread the ball around their stars, got a big night from Kobe, enjoyed key contributions from each of their major role players. That's their game. And they got beat. Firmly.
They got beat by Young Hungry Tough Talented Portland. A team that played its best game of the year. A team that played playoff-quality basketball--scratch that, second round playoff-quality basketball--for the full 48 minutes.
It was a virtuoso performance tonight, a love song dedicated to the diehards, from the players to you... "We know that you care and we wanted to show you how much you mean to us" ... they played tonight as if someone was orchestrating their show, keeping them in synch, at just the right pace, making all the right plays, at all the right times, and, perhaps sweetest of all, they played with the knowledge that there were thousands of bass drum lungs helping keep the rhythm and focus- BEAT! LA! BEAT! LA! BEAT! LA!
Yesterday's reality may rear its ugly head tomorrow, but tonight savor this:
Post Game Reaction
Nate on the result: "I thought this was probably our most efficient game in a long time. We came out and gave up a big first quarter but I thought we settled down defensively, got some stops. Offensively we did a great job moving the ball, we talked about attacking and taking care of the ball and the assists to turnover ratio, 29 assists [to 6 turnovers]... you beat one of the hottest teams in the NBA, the best team in the West record wise, just a solid effort by our guys."
Nate on the post players: "They did a real nice job, Joel and LaMarcus, setting the tone, getting in the paint, Joel stepping up to Kobe, kind of set a tone for a physical game, this is the game we came to play, our guys kind of fed off that."
Nate on getting Brandon Roy and James Jones back: "We've shown when we do have everyone healthy we've done some good things... hopefully, tonight gives us confidence. We want to continue the momentum. It allows us to play the way we want to play. We can get subs in, there was no drop off really, James and Jarrett came in they were aggressive and making things happen, and Travis, our bench was really good tonight, 40+ points from the bench tonight, that's what we've been talking about for the last month or so, 2 groups playing well tonight."
Nate on defending Kobe Bryant: "Kobe is Kobe, it's hard to stop him but we made him work for his shots."
Nate on the impact of James Jones' return: "James coming in and spreading the floor and keeping people honest just opens up some things for us. Travis now being able to create his own shot, putting him in the post or on the perimeter, we just try to take advantage of matchups, and everyone is back to their normal spots."
Nate on the importance of the win: "This is a good win for us. For a number of reasons. We went through some rough times recently, we were able to get this game, we get everyone back tonight and we beat a very good team in the Lakers. It should give us some confidence going into Sunday's game. They know they are capable of playing this style of basketball."
Kobe Bryant on the end of their winning streak: "It's good for us, we're gonna bounce back from it. They played extremely well, they shot extremely well. We had our opportunities, we did a great job at the end of the third quarter but at the beginning of the fourth quarter we came out flat."
Kobe on his tiff with Joel Pryzbilla: "I guess that's his role. He did a good job."
Kobe on the rising prospects of the Blazers: "Everything's a cycle. All these teams come back to where they should be: Boston, LA, Portland. I'm sure it will get to that."
Kobe on what the Blazers need to do to become a power: "Just keep the guys together, they got a great nucleus, great young nucleus, just keep them together and continue to gel."
Kobe on Nate: "I was with him this summer [with team USA], he is a tremendous coach."
Kobe on his technical foul tonight: "I didn't deserve that one. We'll send that one in [to the league for review]. I didn't say anything at all. I just tried to move out of the way."
Kobe Bryant on the Rose Garden: "They played us really well. It's a great environment and a lot of energy here."
Kobe on playing heavy minutes back to back nights: "I feel surprisingly young."
Lamar Odom on the end of the winning streak: "They beat us... I'd rather have a 20 game winning streak and win as many as possible especially with these teams playing so well in the West."
Lamar on the Rose Garden: We played well through spurts but not well enough to beat a team that's playing well, that's got shot makers, they've got a great home court advantage, we didn't play well enough to beat them on their home court tonight. They got what they wanted when they wanted it tonight and that was the difference.
Luke Walton on the fourth quarter: They hit a bunch of shots down the stretch, and we didn't make shots, a couple times we felt we could have built a little lead on them and we kind of messed up, the start of the fourth quarter was one of those times, you keep a team like that around on their home court and they made us pay."
Luke Walton on losing five straight in the Rose Garden: "It's a crazy league, up here they've got on number now. We've got one more chance at them in April. They match up well against us."
I read the Media Guide so you didn't have to
-- Lakers owner Jerry Buss launched Prime Time Network, televising all Lakers home games, and eventually sold the station to the one and only Rupert Murdoch.
-- Since Buss took the team over in 1979, the Lakers have the best winning percentage in the league. The Blazers are 6th on the list and the Sonics, of all teams, are 7th.
-- The pick the Lakers used to draft Magic was compensation for the Jazz signing Gail Goodrich in free agency. Anyone know how the rules worked back then?
-- Magic never scored 50 points in an NBA game.
-- Magic was given his nickname in high school after he put up 36 points 18 rebounds and 16 assists. If only Youtube was around back then.
-- Jeannie Buss was named Executive of the Year by Roller Hockey International in 1993.
-- Former Lakers coach Bill Sharman invented the morning shootaround in 1971. Zach Randolph believes this was not a step forward for professional basketball.
-- Holy guacamole: Lakers' director of scouting Bill Bertka lives on a 50 acre avocado ranch. This is conjuring images of Dwight Schrute.
-- In arguably his greatest accomplishment as a coach, Phil Jackson led the Albany Patroons to the 1984 CBA championship.
-- According to his bio, former Laker Kurt Rambis served as a "stabilizing influence for the expansion Charlotte Hornets."
-- Great trivia question: what was Kareem Abdul-Jabber's first name when he was born? You guessed "Lew" or "Lewis," didn't you? The correct answer: Ferdinand.
-- I believe I can fly: While at USC, famous Lakers assistant Tex Winter pole vaulted 14'4" with a bamboo pole. Seriously.
Random Game Notes
-- The Lakers got in at 3 AM last night and looked a little sleepy pre-game.
-- Jordan Farmar put up back-to-back career highs the previous two games. Tonight we held him to just 7 points.
-- Memo to Lakers fans attending games at the Rose Garden: If you're going to be indecent enough to wear your jerseys in our house, at least pony up for the new #24 Kobe jersey so you don't look both indecent and dated.
-- And, while you're at it, don't bounce out early when your team is down 10. Stay to the end and support your club. They will probably win a title this year so it's the least you can do.
-- Travis Outlaw picked tonight's pregame music: the unforgettable "I'm gonna do me" by Rocco.
-- Brandon came out with a huge smile at the beginning of the game. For a guy as competitive as he is, sitting and watching the team must have been brutal.
-- Jordan Farmar and Ronnie Turiaf have the best pre-game choreographed dance in the league: they have a full-on matrix-style slow-mo three-dimension battle. Farmar won this round, seemingly pulling Turiaf's heart from his chest. I'm telling you this act took hours to perfect.
-- Roy was wearing a protective sleeve on his leg tonight. I'm sure I'll be seeing some of those on Portland's playgrounds soon enough.
-- That crossover Brandon yanked Luke Walton with: mesmerizing.
-- Lots of random "celebrities" in the house tonight: Ms. Teen Oregon, Ms. Black Oregon (who was wearing a tiara for no apparent reason), one of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, his extremely attractive girlfriend/wife/whatever, Monica the American Gladiator champion and former Blazer Dancer, and, the only one of this group that actually matters, Jackie Joyner Kersee.
-- Best wishes to John Wooden who apparently took a header and broke his wrist and collarbone. I'm sure Kevin Love is posted up at his bedside carrying on a candlelight vigil. In all serousness, I've got Wooden's Pyramid of Success posted up in my office at work. I'm not much of a sap but it's inspirational stuff.
-- One row of fans each had a letter written on the front of their matching red t-shirts, spelling out BLAZERMANIA. Very cool, good work guys.
-- I got a quick peak at the "player tendency" charts the Blazers distribute about their opponents before the game tonight. What does it say about Kobe? "Watch for leak outs" and "He will get under you and flail his arms to draw fouls." Hmm, sounds about right.
-- My favorite play of the night: Blake perfectly splitting Kobe and Gasol with a bounce pass, feeding LaMarcus for an easy jam. Bee-yoo-ti-ful.