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.
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."
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.”
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."
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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.