The Los Angeles Lakers came into tonight’s game on a three game losing streak, and they were looking to avoid their second four-game slide of the season. Prior to their latest slump, the Lakers were the hottest team in the NBA and the top seed in the Western Conference seemed like a plausible goal. Now, the Lakers are essentially locked in the second seed and they will either play the Blazers or Hornets in round one. The Lakers’ quest to snap their losing streak had them traveling north to Portland, a possible opponent in the playoffs.
Luckily for the Lakers, center Andrew Bynum decided to play in the game despite suffering intestinal flu-like symptoms. Bynum had been a vital part to the Lakers’ success after the All-Star break, and his presence was something the Lakers could not replace.
The Lakers’ game-plan prior to the tip-off was to attack Portland early and control the tempo to their preference. The Lakers hit four of their first six shots and Kobe Bryant was looking to find his shot, rather than setting up his teammates. Although Los Angeles found offensive success early on in the game, it could not limit Portland on the defensive end. The Blazers matched the Lakers’ every move and with 6:52 left in the quarter, the Lakers had a mere 10-7 lead.
The Blazers continued to attack the Lakers in transition, and the majority of their points came off Lakers’ turnovers which resulted in easy, fast-break buckets. The Lakers’ defense was poor, and the Blazers were not seeing any pressure when attempting jump-shots or attacking the basket. Phil Jackson, a stoic coach that rarely calls time-outs, decided to summon two breaks in the latter half of the first quarter after his team lost its defensive intensity. At the conclusion of the opening period, the Lakers found themselves knotted up at 21. Due to the stellar play of Pau Gasol, Los Angeles was able to remain close despite a horrendous defensive effort. In the first quarter, Gasol dropped in six points and grabbed seven key rebounds,
The Lakers started the second quarter with their reserves on the court, and the bench players brought in much-needed energy. After two consecutive hoops by Lamar Odom, the Lakers opened up their lead to five, 29-24 with 9:26 left in the half. However, just as momentum seemed to shifting toward the Lakers’ way, Gerald Wallace and the Blazers went on a 15-0 run to regain the lead, 41-31.
Despite the fact that Kobe Bryant was reinserted into the game, the Lakers were still unable to make shots and their offense was very stagnant. The Portland crowd continued to affect the Lakers, and the Blazers were in full control of the game. They were hitting their three-point shots and were constantly attacking the Lakers in transition; at the 2:59 mark of the second quarter, the Blazers took a 45-35 lead after an astonishing 19-4 run.
However, when it seemed as though the Blazers would pull away from the Lakers, Kobe Bryant took the team on his shoulders at end the first half. Bryant hit four consecutive threes, and momentum had completely shifted the Lakers’ way. Thanks to the incredible play of Kobe Bryant at the end of the quarter, the Lakers cut the double-digit lead to six, 53-47.
Kobe was the team’s leading scorer with 18 points, followed by Pau Gasol with eight. Collectively the Lakers shots 51% from the field, but they committed ten turnovers compared to only three by the Blazers.
The Lakers ended the first half with an offensive groove, but they could not knock-down any shots to begin the third quarter. The Blazers began the half on an 8-0 run, and they were playing well despite the injury to Nicolas Batum. The Lakers were making the same mistakes they made in the first half, and their defensive intensity was nearly non-existent. The Blazers were able to capitalize on careless Lakers’ turnovers, and most of their points came on fast-breaks. With 7:50 left in the third quarter, the Blazers had a 63-49 advantage.
Unlike the second quarter where Kobe Bryant saved the Lakers with his offensive fire-power, Bryant went cold from the field in the third. With Kobe unable to find his shot and the team unwilling to play effective defense, the Blazers opened up a 22 point lead with 5:38 left in the period, 72-50.
However, once Kobe was subbed out of the game, the Lakers’ second unit brought in immediate offense. Shannon Brown and Matt Barnes were the catalysts to the Lakers’ late third quarter run and they ended the period with 12 unanswered points. Just like their previous meetings with the Blazers, the Lakers were headed to the fourth quarter in a tight game; after great play by the bench, the Lakers trailed 74-62.
Neither the Lakers nor the Blazers started off the final quarter in an ideal manner, and their offensives did not feature any movement and continuity. However, as the period went on the teams began to get feisty and several diminutive altercations erupted, most notable between Ron Artest and Gerald Wallace. There was a playoff type atmosphere in the arena, and the level of physicality was at an all-time high.
At the 6:06 mark of the fourth quarter, the Lakers were trailing 81-64 and they needed a miracle in order to pull-off the comeback. The Lakers crawled back into the game, and their defense helped paved the way to a well played stretch in the final period. It seemed as though the Lakers could indeed take home a victory, but the deficit was too large to overcome.
As the final buzzer rang, the Lakers walked off of the court with their heads down as the Blazers beat them, 93-86. The Lakers lost their fourth consecutive game and fell to a record of 55-24.