Long Story Short: In a game which featured neither Kobe Bryant nor Brandon Roy the supporting cast of the L*kers outhustled and out-executed the supporting cast for the Blazers. Portland showed no signs of a run in the second half and succumbed to L.A.'s experience and talent.
I'm not sure there's too much to say about this one honestly. The Blazers started out well behind the play of Juwan Howard. The initial L*kers lineup of Bynum, Gasol, Odom, and Artest looked to exploit their significant height advantage. Initially this meant force-feeding Bynum. But Juwan kept a body on him on the defensive end and hit jumpers on the offensive end, daring Bynum to come out and cover him (which Andrew never did). When Howard put Bynum out at the 7:00 mark of the first quarter with a hip bruise you wanted to pin a medal on him. It looked like one of L.A.'s strongest edges had disappeared. Behind the jump shots of Howard and LaMarcus Aldridge the Blazers built a 29-26 first quarter lead.
But that's when the wheels fell off. Or wait...that's far too dramatic. The remainder of this game was more like having all four tires go flat at once but it's 35 miles to the next exit so you trundle along at 10mph hearing "Thudda-whump, Thudda-whump, Thudda-whump" for the next three hours.
People are going to look at the Blazers' 19, 16, and 18 point production for the next three quarters and say, "The offense went bad." That's true, but it's only part of the story. Portland never stopped shooting jumpers for any length of time. When you do that you're at the mercy of the hotness streak. Aside from a brief stretch in the second period the Blazers never got hot enough to make a dent in L.A.'s gradually extending lead. But the truth is the defensive and rebounding energy weren't there to create shots other than jumpers. Los Angeles shot 49% and made only 10 turnovers which dampened Portland's ability to push the ball up the floor. The L*kers outrebounded the Blazers behind 22 from Lamar Odom. To put that number in perspective, the entire Portland starting lineup totaled 20 rebounds. Odom outrebounded the whole other side. And it's not like he was an obvious demon on the boards. He was just getting position first and best because Portland's fire wasn't there. The Blazers had 2 offensive rebounds on the night. The way Portland depends on O-rebs for easy points you know that's going to spell disaster. Portland ended up with 22 points in the paint for the night, which is a decent total for a half. The only way that number should show up at the end of a game is after Dwight Howard's name. L*ker reserve Shannon Brown dropped 19 on us through energy alone.
The Blazers only controlled the ball in this game during the moments when they were trotting it up the court to begin another offensive possession against a set defense. In the end, that's what killed them. When the L*kers were cold from the field they stayed even. When they got hot--behind Ron Artest's open threes, for instance, or a couple of Pau Gasol cuts through the lane--they charged ahead. The Blazers weren't making up a two-point deficit tonight, let alone a double-digit one. The L*kers snapped their fingers, the Blazers rolled over. End of game. L.A. by 17.
It was a bit of a lifeless game...one in which people fell into familiar patterns as far as things done wrong. Since we have a pretty good idea of each player's shortcomings by now and because (to be fair) the Blazers manage to overcome them most nights, I'm going to save time by listing what went right. If you want to ask whether LaMarcus had trouble scoring in the lane, Rudy was hesitant on his shot, Martell went cold, the point guards had trouble defending, the forwards had trouble dealing with their counterparts' size and drive to score near the bucket, and whether the whole team had problems helping and recovering or dealing with picks the answers are "Yes". Just assume whatever weakness a given player had showed up tonight unless told otherwise. And give some props to L.A. for knowing how to exploit them.
Juwan Howard scored 10 points on 5-7 shooting and contributed 7 rebounds in 28 minutes. He was one of two guys who looked willing to punch the bully right in the nose tonight.
Andre Miller and Steve Blake had 6 and 7 assists respectively. Miller had a couple of nice drives.
Jerryd Bayless also had a couple of aggressive drives late and drew a team-leading 6 foul shots, hitting 5 en route to 13 points in 21 minutes.
Dante Cunningham was the other guy who was ready to smack somebody around tonight. 5 rebounds, 8 points, and some active defense in 21 minutes.
Some people are going to want to talk about refs because most of the calls in the first quarter that could have gone either way went to the visitors. The game evened out after that though. And frankly Portland gave the officials no reason to see anything their way this evening. This was a non-factor. Blow 10 more whistles for the Blazers and they still lose.
Frankly this was the kind of game a lot of people expected to see from the Blazers after all of the injuries went down: overmatched, outhustled, looking for luck instead of grabbing the game. The fact that it was somewhat of a shock to the system speaks well of the team's play to date. We also have to remember that the wins against Charlotte and San Antonio cushion the losses to Utah and L.A. Because the Blazers have scraped by so far this month this game wasn't a killer.
If Portland was missing Roy after his return was rumored and then quashed, or alternatively if the Blazers were anticipating the All-Star break and the week off it brings, they have to remember there are two games left. Losing both would not be a good idea. OKC and Phoenix are both in Portland's league in the playoff chase. The Blazers need to summon enough energy and mental strength to win at least one of the remaining two in order to go into the break with heads held high.
See the monkey off the back at SilverScreenandRoll. If it's any consolation Kobe still hasn't won in Portland since 2005.
See your Jersey Contest score for this game here and enter Tuesday's game here.