Lakers Rally Past Blazers, Again
As difficult as it is to accept, at least while it’s happening to you, this is what the Lakers do. This is why they’re an excellent playoff team, once of the best defensive teams in the league, and why Kobe Bryant is still the best clutch player in the NBA.
They’re never out of it, and often times it feels as if they’re toying with you. As hard as the Trail Blazers were battling to gain any kind of a decent advantage, the Lakers never let the game get out of control. Portland took the lead in the second quarter, and didn’t relinquish it until the final two minutes of the game. That certainly says a lot about Portland’s effort on this night, but, like a lot of teams, they left the Staples Center scratching their heads on Sunday night.
After trailing Portland 74-68 with 5:12 left, the Lakers closed the game on a 16-6 run, and hit their final five shots of the game. Kobe was Kobe, and the Laker defense was smothering. In the end, the Blazers ran out of big shots and fell 84-80. It was their third loss to the Lakers this season, and for only the second time in 18 years the Lakers won a season series from the Blazers.
The Lakers have now won 12 of their last 13 games, and their only loss since the all-star break was a nail biter at Miami. In their last 10 games, they’ve held their opponents to around 87 points per game. As much as we were searching for ways that Portland could score late in this game, and starting to blame the Blazer offense, most of the credit goes to the L.A. defense. It’s that simple.
The Trail Blazers dug themselves an early hole in this game, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. The Lakers held a seven-point lead after the first. The second quarter belonged to Portland, as they outscored the Lakers 28-17 and took a four-point lead to the half. After an 18-18 third quarter, Portland took a four-point lead to the fourth. With just over five minutes left the Blazer lead was six. But, again, it was far from a comfortable lead.
Marcus Camby got tangled up with Kobe late in this game, and if you saw our replays on the TV broadcast, it was obvious what happened. It was an ugly twist of the ankle, but fortunately it didn’t appear Camby’s weight made it a lot worse. The Lakers couldn’t find their x-ray technician in the building (I know, that sounds odd), so the standard x-rays that usually take place after a sprain, didn’t. Would have been interesting if a Laker player got hurt. Probably could have found the dude then. All I can say is that Camby was walking okay as he was boarding the team bus and had his shoe on. That’s a good sign. Again, it doesn’t mean everything, but it appeared it could have been much worse.
Clearly, the Lakers had an effective defensive game plan going into this game. They had watched Wesley Matthews lately, and had seen how he kept Portland in the game early against Dallas with three pointers, and how on fire he was against Philadelphia on Saturday night. Matthews was completely taken out of Portland’s offense by the Laker defense. He ended the game 0-4, and didn’t score.
The man that was left open, because of the pressure on the others, was Nicolas Batum. Batum scored 19 in the first half, and ended with a season-high 25. LaMarcus Aldridge had 18 points, and hit several big buckets down the stretch to keep the Lakers at bay. The only other Blazer in double figures was Rudy Fernandez, who had 10 off the bench.
It’s a painful loss, but the Trail Blazers can take some positives from it and move on. Yes, this is a possible playoff preview, but that’s down the road. Next up it’s Washington, and a game you simply have to win. But, if you start looking ahead at the schedule after that, it gets a little scary.
After the Wizards on Tuesday, it's San Antonio at the Rose Garden on Friday. I'm sure the Spurs remember the loss they took at the garden in February. Then, it's a brutal three-game road trip that'll take us to Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and New Orleans. All that's left then is Oklahoma City, again, followed by Golden State, Utah, the Lakers, Memphis, and Golden State again.
The good news is, if there is any looking at this gauntlet the Blazers have to now run, the other teams in this jogjam in the west have pretty difficult schedules as well. It comes down to big games now, big possessions, and clutch play. That'll decide where the Blazers end up in this race. There are going to be a few teams in this race on the outside looking in when it's over. Forget playoff positioning right now. Let's just get in, and deal with the rest later.