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Lakers' eight consecutive losses at Portland's Rose Garden show trends

It's been close to five years since the Lakers tasted victory at the Rose Garden against the Portland Trail Blazers, a drought that may remind Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton they've been with the Lakers for a while. They're the only players remaining that experienced the Lakers' last win at the Rose Garden on Feb. 23, 2005.

Parsing the results of those eight losses since then may appear strictly to be an apples-oranges comparison because the team's personnel, dynamic and success have drastically changed. Case in point, you won't be seeing Tierre Brown playing in tonight's game.

And though the Lakers may be going through a frustrating moment after Wednesday's loss to the Clippers, the Lakers' league-leading 28-7 record doesn't exactly put them in the same position as they were on April 20, 2005. The Lakers' 106-103 loss to Portland that day not only began this current road-losing streak. It also capped off a disappointing regular season in which the Lakers lost two of their last 21 games, and Bryant missed the playoffs for the first time in his career.

Nonetheless, taking a look through the game stories and box scores of those past eight games is still instructive. Taken as a whole, three trends emerge that are still practical to tonight's game. And as far as I can tell, weather and differing travel arrangements have little to do with it. 

Instead, the three areas include the Trail Blazers' tendency to lock in on Bryant, the Lakers' poor starts and defensive lapses.

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Portland's focus on Kobe Bryant

When Lakers Coach Phil Jackson was asked Thursday whether he noticed any specific patterns within the eight road losses to Portland, Bryant's name immediately came to mind.

“The philosophy is to take Kobe out of the mix,” Jackson said. “Without Kobe scoring, our team has a difficulty winning games.”

That's not to say Bryant has struggled horribly on the road against Portland. In some cases, it's proved to be quite the opposite. His 41-point effort in the Lakers' 113-103 loss to Portland on Jan. 11, 2006, capped off five consecutive games where he scored at least 40 points (the other performances included 45-, 48-, 50- and 45-point efforts). In a 101-90 loss on March 1, 2006, Bryant had his best game since returning from off-season knee surgery with a 32-point clip on 12 of 19 shooting.

But there were often instances where Portland chose Mamba as the poison, allowing Bryant to get his fix of points so long as he had to work for his shots.

The effort often minimized the team's supporting cast. Despite being bleary-eyed and raspy-voiced because of a sinus infection, Bryant had 35 points but on 10 of 27 shooting in a 99-93 loss on March 1, 2006.

"I don't blame him shooting the ball 40 or 50 times a night," Odom told reporters afterward. "If I had his talent, I'd do the same thing. We should be embarrassed. I am."

There were other moments of embarrassment.

In a 112-103 loss on April 8, 2008, Bryant had 34 points and shot 11 of 26, while Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar combined for seven points on three-of-12 shooting.

Bryant's 32-point effort in a 106-98 loss on April 10, 2009, eclipsed Charles Barkley for 17th on the all-time NBA scoring list, but he shot nine of 24, missed a three-point attempt with 48.9 seconds left, committed a turnover on the next possession and airballed a three-point attempt with 11.9 seconds remaining in the game.

The Trail Blazers' defensive intensity remains fresh in Bryant's mind. And with Bryant still fighting through a fractured right index finger that Jackson said was aggravated in Tuesday's win against Houston, the same strategy may appear again tonight.

"They're extremely well prepared and extremely well coached," Bryant simply said of Portland. "They have a game plan."

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Lacking a good first impression

Portland's game plan has also included executing it right away.

In a 99-93 loss on March 1, 2006, and a 101-90 loss on Nov. 8, 2006, the Lakers trailed by eight points at halftime. They allowed 64 points in the first half of a 119-111 loss on Feb. 29, 2008. And they trailed by 24 points in the second quarter in a 111-94 loss on March 3, 2009.

Fisher said the team talked frequently about those poor starts during Thursday's practice.

“Work harder, pick up the effort, keep the energy up,” Fisher offered as keys to securing a good start. “Even when you have individual guys struggling offensively or whatever, it is with individual games. There’s still a collective amount of energy and effort that we should play with as a team. We'll have to continue to push to try to do that every night we’re out on the floor."

Lately, Jackson said, Pau Gasol's two-game absence because of an injured left hamstring has left the team struggling to foster team chemistry. That resulted in the Rockets cutting the Lakers' lead to as few as two late in the fourth quarter and the Clippers earning a nine-point halftime lead. Gasol won't be playing again tonight, leaving the Lakers still wondering how the void will be filled. 

“We’re still struggling to find offensively where we can go to right away,” Jackson said. “We’re used to going to Kobe right away. With that type of lineup without Pau in there, we got to find some other guys going. They’re not clicking right away off the bat.”

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Discipline on D

Another episode during the Lakers' road series at Portland remains fresh in Jackson's mind. And it isn't just because it happened recently.

In the Lakers' 111-94 loss on March 3, 2009, former Lakers forward Trevor Ariza was assessed a Type 2 flagrant foul (automatic ejection) because of his involvement in a scuffle that included laying out Portland guard Rudy Fernandez on a fastbreak layup attempt.

It also appeared Ariza tried to punch Portland guard Brandon Roy, but he didn't connect.

"We had a really spirited game up there last year where Trevor got thrown out and a whole lot of extra stuff came out of it," Jackson said. "We have to find a way to compete and do it the right way out there."

In a 112-103 loss on April 8, 2008, Odom was called for a technical foul after giving a hard hit to Roy during a drive to the basket. Roy's technical free throws gave the Blazers a 87-71 lead.

The Lakers haven't just struggled with maintaining their defensive composure. They've allowed Portland to work wonders offensively.

In a 119-111 loss on Feb. 29, 2008, Portland shot 52.9% and scored a season-high point total. The Trail Blazers went 51.2% from the field in the April 8, 2008, victory and scored 44 points in the paint in their win on March 3, 2009.

The Lakers' defensive focus currently remains an issue with Ron Artest still phasing back into the lineup in the last two games, with the latest effort against the Clippers resulting in 54 points in the paint and 26 points in transition.

"Every game presents us an opportunity to put a good game together and play well as a team," Fisher said. "Especially coming after a loss, you want to get back on that horse and really try to correct some things and come back with a better effort."

--Mark Medina

Follow the L.A. Times Lakers blog on Twitter.

Photo: Kobe Bryant and the Lakers will try to snap their Rose Garden losing streak when they take on Brandon Roy and the Trail Blazers on Friday. Credit: Richard Clement / EPA.

Photo: Eric Gordon's shot is blocked by the Lakers' Andrew Bynum. Gordon's 18 points helped the Clippers snap a nine-game losing streak against the Lakers on Wednesday night. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times.

Photo: Baron Davis scored 25 points and especially helped the Clippers beat the Lakers near the basket -- and helped them beat the Lakers overall, 102-91, Wednesday night. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times.

 
Comments () | Archives (19)

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Hey, great analysis. Let's hope somebody shows the shooting stats to Kobe and asks if he can restrain himself. You know what I mean? Yeah, right

“We’re still struggling to find offensively where we can go to right away,” Jackson said. “We’re used to going to Kobe right away. With that type of lineup without Pau in there, we got to find some other guys going. They’re not clicking right away off the bat.”

And people say Bynum can fill in Pau's shoes?

And one blogger saying Bynum is better than Kobe? (It's not Laker Tom...he knows the pecking order at least).

Bynum=most current overrated Laker (Note: He does *not* suck just saying there is a HUGE difference between him and Kobe or Pau and people try to spin it otherwise).

Great stuff MM, inciteful analysis.

I second that, Paula! Looks like you're getting into the flow, Medina. I hope you're as excited as we are in your progression. I'm positive that the Lakers want to end their losing streak tonight. Especially coming after a loss at home. With a depleted Portland team, I'm not sure who Andrew's going up against, but I hope he puts on a clinic.
I also think that Fisher will at least provide a steady performance; he looked affronted when asked about his play of late, and knows there are plenty of naysayers sounding the drum for pg alternatives. Hopefully he's feeling all the positive support this blog crew's been giving him. Looking forward to the game, see you all on the live chat!

I think tonight's the night... I really feel a Lakers win.

LAKER TRUTH - Re: the many back and forths resulting from your point/counter-points within Mamba24's bandwagon. I certainly respect the way you've used somebody else's post to counter with your opinions, it's what blogging's all about. I disagree with your assertion (in response to my post) that Fish has been in a slump for a year and a half. I wrote a long and laborious reply in an earlier thread but in thinking back, it was probably overkill. More simply put, I just don't see your logic. Fish has specific slumps within seasons, he doesn't have a running slump that goes on for successive seasons. He's a streaky shooter and always has been. Luckily, he has the confidence to continue and he always seems to come through at really important times. It's an important contrast to somebody like Sasha who is an incredibly talented shooter but is so often undermined by emotional issues.

Nice write up, Marky Mark.

You're coming along well.

Throw in a bit of zaniness and/or self-effacing humor occasionally and I think we're really going somewhere.

What do we play for? RINGS!!!

Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.

GO LAKERS!!!

Disciplined defense and Kobe drawing the double-team and pumping the ball inside to Andrew Bynum are our keys to the game.

If we get double digit assists from Kobe tonight, the game is ours.

What do we play for? RINGS!!!

Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.

GO LAKERS!!!

Man - with all the injuries to Portland we had BETTER win this one LOL!


MM - have to say it again - you're doing great! Thanks for the effort you put into our home away from home. It makes it nice & comfy in here - just like old times!


C U all on the live chat!

LT wrote (re: that "other" blog) - "Meanwhile, other than an occasional orphan post or two by ex or dave m (with two periods)...". I sure HOPE I'm not an orphan my old friend... that would be sad indeed! Like I said in a previous post, I don't feel the need to watch one channel or listen to one band, to ally myself with one family member or hang out with just one friend. I'll drift about, indulging my baskeball jones, but I've been a Times reader for more than 30 years and I'll always spend part of day here. Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't compliment MM on establishing his good offices so quickly, and with much appreciated humor.

LakerTruth- again, i wasn't trying to call you out or anything. I was just saying that the mamba bandwagon is a sacrosanct sort of thing. I would compare what you did to sneaking into the main offices of coca cola and replacing the cokes in the vending machine with diet pepsi.

and that's as nice as i'm going to get to somebody that even comes close to accusing phred of being on the side of blog conformity. i mean, jeez.

Excellent analysis MM.
This is exactly what I love to read.

I just wanted to thank you for this in the halftime, and let's hope (as so far your analysis has sadly replicated in the game...) that I expect way better effort tonight from our guys.

Portland is doing this all with 7 players.

We can't be this weak tonight, even though we still completely tired (as I expected...)

See you later in the comments...

The Lakers are unfocused and seem to think that the League will just give them the championship. Like the old Dream Team (remember them?), they think talent alone will ensure a championship. They can't play defense, they can't seem to shoot and they just seem uninterested. I don't understand what the five coaches are doing exactly. Do they ever teach them how to box out? And can any of them tell a 7 foot plus guy how to actually rebound? I have gone from enjoying watching the Lakers to just getting annoyed as they lose to another bush league team while them seem to have no clue about basketball fundamentals or to have any heart.

Ballhog Bryant is back!

What's up with jacking up 37 shots?

While losing in Portland once again is mildly annoying to me I still have a hard time getting all worked up over it. The Lakers are 6-27 up in Portland since 1993. Yes, thats bad or as Charles Barkley would say "thats turrrible". During that same stretch though the Lakers are 23-10 against the Blazers down here in LA. Its not like they're just whupping our arses completely. They're only winning regular season home games, thats it. And all this dominance at home has not gotten the Blazers any closer to a championship either. Since '93 the Lakers have gone to the finals 6 times, winning 4 titles. The blazers have not won jack and havent even come out of the west one single time in that span.

Another reason why I'm not all worked up over this loss is that the playoffs have been a totally different story. Since 1977 the Lakers and Blazers have met in the playoffs 11 times and the Lakers won 9 of those series and are 32-16. This includes a 10-11 record in Portland. For all of the Blazers recent dominance at home against the Lakers they're only one game over .500 at home against the Lakers during the playoffs since 1977.

I hope this is not the beginning of a very disappointing near future with San Antonio, Dallas, the Clippers (again) Orlando and Cleveland all waiting to test the TRUE grit of the Lakers depth and psychological fortitude.

I have been in Portland for the past month visiting an old friend, behind enemy lines. It's good perspective for my Laker love to see others just as die hard come together to root their team on. I was very disappointed in our loss last night. I felt a general lack of composure and control, but I have to say that I was equally impressed by what Portland has done as of late. I have watched them play since losing their backup center, Pryzbilla, and finish that road trip beating Miami, then Dallas and San Antonio in back to back games. They came back and beat some bush league teams and lost to the Sixers, Clippers, and Grizzlies. That sounds normal for a good team to do. Beat the good ones. Lose to the bad ones. But here's the thing; Blazers are one of the good ones. I feel like when we prepare for them in Portland, we take them for granted. And now we're in the list of victims of a very depleted(can you say TWO hardship exemptions?) squad- a squad that is hovering around the minimum 8 active players, and is asking rookies to play in big time situations. Would Cleveland be able to handle playoff caliber teams this way? If our composure looks like this now, what would we do with zero centers and three of our marquee players out for months? It sounds scary. Ask Portland fans. But you know, maybe we would have to play with nothing to lose. Maybe we would understand that we have to fight to win. Maybe we should learn from Portland and not take our health and ability for granted. Brandon Roy is not beating teams, it's a complete team effort. That's all they have right now. We have more than that. I know we can do this.

When will the people who believe Phil is a genius with a magical miracle system realize that in reality it's as simple as Phil riding the coat tail of his Super Duper stars, whether it was Jordan, Shaq or now Kobe?

That's right. Simply put, as Jordan/Shaq/Kobe goes Phil goes. If Super Duper star has an off night or health problem, Phil's team is doomed.

Yes I've heard and read about all the fancy schmancy theories on paper about the Triangle but what my eyes always saw was a bunch of guys passing the ball mostly standing flat-footed until one guy, usually the Super Duper star of the team goes one-on-one against his defender.

So for those who blame Kobe for taking too many shots I ask: so what's keeping Kobe's teammates from shooting when they have the ball? Is there a team's rule that only Kobe can shoot the ball? Is there a team rule that prohibit any Laker other than Kobe to be aggressive and take it to basket?

Well those are rhetorical questions because I already know the answer: Kobe's teammates were not aggressive or shooting because they were NOT open or rather incapable of getting open look by themselves. In other teams, players whether they are Superstar or not, get open because their teammates put up screens for them and/or they continually making cuts. OTH for some reason in his system, Phil does not believe in HELPING an otherwise non-Superstar player to get open shot by providing him with screens, instead making him read the defense and then literally plant himself in whatever formation he is supp0sed to. Usually Phil's system works because his Super Duper star can so overwhelm his defender that opponents have to resort to double-team or rotate out to help thus leaving one of Kobe's teammate open. That basically in a nutshell what's it all about, nothing fancy schmancy like the myth made it out to be.

PhilTK, PDX reminds me of another team, the Houston Rockets in that they play with sheer determination and heart (or at least when played against the Lakers). Both teams are missing basketball talents so they get by (and win) with will, hustle and hard work only.

OTH, the Lakers do win and get by on talents alone, that is mostly Kobe and some Gasol. Unfortunately as much as I love my Lakers I also realize that they also do have a tendency to be lackadaisical, complacent and not always into winning -in large part probably because they have already won it all last season. I think this laissez-faire attitude starts from the top because apparently the coaching staff doesn't seem to emphasize it during the regular season instead treating it as just the practice season for the playoff.


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