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Has the Juice Gone out of the Blazers-Lakers Rivalry?

Once upon a time it was a big deal. Now...?

Portland Trail Blazers v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers will face off against the Los Angeles Lakers tonight at 7:00 PM, Pacific in the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon. Once upon a time, this would have been one of the biggest games of the year, at least emotionally. Is it anymore, though?

I can tell you stories of days of yore. Back in the misty memories of Trail Blazers history Bill Walton’s Blazers beat Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers on the way to their first and only NBA Championship. Fourteen years later, Clyde Drexler and company would face off against the bitter dregs of Magic Johnson’s Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, still one of the most memorable and disappointing events in Trail Blazers history. Nine years after that, Rasheed Wallace and a traveling All-Star team of Blazers would go seven games against Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in another Conference Finals matchup, another strong contender for disappointment of the universe in Portland.

Every step of the way, whenever the Blazers rose, the Lakers were there to challenge, conquer, or succumb to. That created an emotional intensity to the matchup that rivaled nothing else in Portland.

The last of those significant events was 23 and a half years ago now. The Blazers have fallen off a cliff, spending the better part of two decades trying to claw back past mediocrity.

Let’s face it. The Lakers aren’t really the Lakers anymore. LeBron James is a powerful, but rented, superstar. When all is said and done, he’ll be remembered as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat before he’s mentioned as a Laker...the opposite of Abdul-Jabbar and Shaq. Anthony Davis is the least likable great center to come along in the new millennium. Plus he’s injured half the time and plays wonky every third game or so.

Obviously the Lakers won an NBA Title in the bubble in 2020. Even that glorious achievement seems perfunctory. It doesn’t have the verve or cultural gravitas of their earlier wins.

As much as I hate to say it, tonight’s Blazers-Lakers matchup feels like just another game. I’m not overly excited about LeBron or AD. I’m not expecting the outcome to have much significance for the season compared to the other 81 games on the schedule. If Memphis or Chicago were coming into town, I’d feel about the same way.

I’m not downing the game, by the way. I always look forward to the Blazers playing. I just don’t think that the Lakers matchup adds one bit of extra oomph to the evening anymore.

How about you, though? Is this still a special game on your list? If so, why? If not, why do you think it isn’t? And has any matchup replaced it as especially exciting? Weigh in by leaving a comment below as we await the start of the game!