Blazers Run Away from Lakers
On Friday night the Lakers were looking to finish off a four-game sweep of the Trail Blazers for the first time in 22 years. They had already won the season series (for just the third time since 1989), but this night turned into a confidence-building win for the Blazers, and the fourth-straight loss for the Lakers.
Both of these teams have implied that they don't want to see the other in a first-round playoff series. It could certainly happen. If it does, we could be in for a war. Even though the Blazers lost three games to the Lakers this season, two of the losses were one-possession games in the closing seconds. All of them were intense, and the bad blood was boiling on Friday.
The Trail Blazers, who were playing on the second night of a back to back, somehow found the energy to build a 24-point lead. They also executed a game plan that involved running, and running, and running. They had 16 fast-break points in the first half, and 20 for the game. With no Marcus Camby, the Blazers figured their best opportunity was to get the Laker big people on the move. It worked.
For Portland, it was the ball that was moving. The team recorded 28 assists on their 35 made field goals, and that's an incredible ratio. Andre Miller finished with 12 points, 13 assists, and six rebounds. He helped the Blazers shoot 46 percent, while the defense held the Lakers to 40 percent shooting.
There was the thought that perhaps the game meant more to the Trail Blazers than the Lakers, and because of that, we'd see Phil Jackson use his bench and even perhaps rest some regulars. That didn't happen, and the Lakers badly wanted this one. The intensity on both sides fueled the playoff atmosphere at the Rose Garden. It was physical, and there were several confrontations. Most involved Ron Artest, who was borderline out of control. Losing streaks are frustrating, as the Lakers are finding out.
The intimidation tactics work on some guys. They don't work on Gerald Wallace. After the game he boldly stated that his team isn't afraid of the Lakers, and sounded like he'd welcome a first-round meeting. Even if he'd rather see someone else in the playoffs, that's the way you like to see him approach it. Wallace, who scored 29 on Thursday night at Utah, had 19 points, 13 rebounds, and 7 assists for Portland. That's an impressive back to back for Crash.
If there was a negative for Portland, it was the lack of production from the bench once again. The Blazer second unit was outscored by the Laker subs 29-7. It put a ton of pressure on the Portland starters, but all five players scored in double figures, and three of them had double-doubles. That works for one game, but would be difficult to maintain in a seven-game playoff series.
The Trail Blazers build a 24-point lead in the third quarter, but to the Lakers' credit, they never threw in the towel. Kobe kept them in the game in the first half, and their defense got them back in the game late in the third quarter. They countered a 19-2 Blazer run by scoring 12-straight points to end the third.
The Lakers actually had the Portland lead down to seven with just under two minutes left, but Nicolas Batum hit a clutch three with 1:47 left, and that was the dagger. It put Portland's lead back to 10 and slammed the door shut. The Lakers had come from behind on the Blazers in the last two meetings to steal wins, and you could feel that doubt creeping in for Portland late in this one. Batum, who's becoming a go-to guy late, was unflappable, drilling the biggest bucket of the game.
To listen to Nate McMillan's post-game comments, click here
The Blazers don't totally control their own destiny, even following this win. Their goal is to win their final two games, but could still draw the Lakers in the first round if they don't get help. They still host Memphis, and have to wrap up the season with a win at Golden State. Even if that happens, New Orleans will have to lose one of its remaining games for the Blazers to grab the sixth seed. That certainly could happen. The Hornets have to play at Memphis, host Utah, and have to end the season at Dallas.
This was huge for the Blazers though. They've now beaten the top four teams in the west in the last two weeks. Memphis is next, following a much-needed three days off.