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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.
By now, you're already well aware of the Lakers' eight-game losing streak at the Rose Garden heading into tonight's game against the Portland Trail Blazers.
But will it end tonight? Vote in today's poll, and share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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This Gilbert Arenas story probably won't go away soon, the episode already seeing the immediate effect of his indefinite suspension. Aside from Arenas deleting his Twitter account, Verizon Center removing an Arenas banner and the story evolving into punch lines for late-night TV, there are other ways the gun incident is affecting the NBA.
The league initially removed the image of Arenas and his teammates participating Tuesday in a pregame skit where they pretended to shoot one another, but then made it available again after news outlets were looking for the photo. It's the latest example on how sports leagues, in particular the NBA, are continuously embracing the information age while trying to protect their image
Meanwhile, the New Jersey Nets are the first team to outlaw gambling on team flights, which was reported to be the root of the conflict between Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton. For one, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant told ESPN's Colin Cowherd that the Arenas incident wouldn't happen with the Lakers. After all, Mamba and his teammates have other things on their mind, such as how to end this eight-game losing streak tonight against Portland at the Rose Garden.
Lakers & Trail Blazers links:
-- Pau Gasol's return could be as early as Sunday when the Lakers host Milwaukee, and Luke Walton played in his first full practice Thursday since suffering a pinched nerve three months ago.
-- Lakers Coach Phil Jackson simply says the key to end this losing streak at Portland is to "play hard." I'm sure he's assembled among his coaching staff a more detailed approach.
-- The Lakers may face a challenge tonight, but it's just the beginning. Silver Screen and Roll dutifully notes that the Lakers will play 13 games in 23 days. Luckily for Lakers fans, it thinks most of those games will end in wins.
-- Portland has issues beyond fielding only seven players in Thursday's practice. That practice also featured a 30-minute shouting match between Trail Blazers Coach Nate McMillan and Andre Miller. And The Oregonian's John Canzano says this is just the latest example on why Miller is not a good fit.
Tweet of the Day: "No Pau Gasol again tonight for the Lakers, and Walton is not ready yet. I'd complain, but then I look at the Blazers injuries...." -- Forum Blue & Gold
-- Mark Medina
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Portland wants to go streaking.
And no, the Trail Blazers aren't planning on going through the Quad and into the gymnasium.
Lately, the word "streak" has apparently just been a media talking point and a pre-game note. It was mentioned with such frequency this week that it caused Clippers Coach Mike Dunleavy to release his frustrations about reporters bringing up the team's nine-game losing streak against the Lakers.
That streak finally ended for the Clippers on Wednesday in their 102-91 victory over the Lakers, who now have their own streak to break.
That's the eight-game losing streak the Lakers have at the Rose Garden entering tonight's game against the Portland Trail Blazers, a bad habit that formed since the Lakers last won in Portland on Feb. 23, 2005.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson jokingly cited Portland's dreary climate as the reason for the depressing results, but then he seriously credited the Trail Blazers' focus on forcing others beyond Kobe Bryant to score (not a bad strategy, especially considering Jackson's admission that Bryant aggravated an injury to his right index finger in Tuesday's win against Houston).
"It’s not the building," Bryant said. "It’s the team."
Jackson said he views the Lakers' 6-1 home record wedged between those road losses as diluting the substance of this eight-game losing streak. Nonetheless, the streak has prompted him to alter the team's travel arrangements and pre-game routines in Portland, but to no avail.
"Obviously not," Jackson said, laughing when asked if he thinks the approach worked.
Lakers guard Derek Fisher has shot more than 50% only once in the last nine games, has sat out the entire fourth quarter three times in a little more than a week and is on pace to finish with his lowest scoring output per game since the 2003-04 season.
Yet, Fisher said after Thursday's practice that he was more worried about team chemistry than individual slumps, and that included himself.
"No," was the answer Fisher provided when he was asked if he thinks he has been struggling.
Besides the fact the team will be busy traveling today, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and Coach Phil Jackson have other reasons they're not vested in tonight's Bowl Championship Series title game featuring Alabama and Texas.
"Being in L.A., I've been adopted by USC as my school of preference," said Bryant, though he has counseled former Texas quarterback Vince Young, who was outside the team's locker room after the Lakers' game against Houston on Tuesday night. "I refuse to claim anyone else as champions."
For Jackson, the game simply doesn't match his competitive interests.
"It’s kind of like college basketball -- these are the boys that play, not the men," he said. "It’s fun, but it’s a boys' game. I like the men’s game personally."
-- Mark Medina
Photo: Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 33 points but had a brutal shooting night (33 points on 10-for-30 shooting). Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times.
Obviously the big news that has traveled around the NBA world involved the indefinite suspension of Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas, who was reported along with teammate Javaris Crittenton to have drawn guns on each other in the team's locker room on Christmas Eve over a gambling debt dispute. On Tuesday, Arenas and his teammates participated in a pregame skit where they pretended to shoot one another, an episode The Times' Mark Heisler says prompted NBA Commissioner David Stern to hand down the punishment that will cost Arenas $197,500 per game.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson says he wasn't surprised with the decision, and reiterated Wednesday that he's talked to his team numerous times about this issue. Clippers Coach Mike Dunleavy said the same thing.
Some more Lakers links:
-- In "Pau Gasol Hamstring Watch Part 2" (movie title suggestions, anyone?), Gasol went through a pain-free workout that entailed strength exercises with team trainers.
-- Jackson will never have any interest in becoming a league general manager, saying, "I don't want to have to deal with agents; I don't want to have to lie."
-- Though it's been a month since Lakers guard Kobe Bryant suffered an avulsion fracture in his right index finger, his latest performance (33 points on 30% shooting against the Clips) shows that the injury is still bothering him.
-- Silver Screen and Roll reluctantly credits the Clippers for last night's win, the team's first in 10 games.
-- The Clips' victory was an accomplishment ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin says was possible because they didn't think about the recent struggles against the Lakers. Yahoo Sports' Kelly Dwyer also highlights the Clips' offense and the Lakers' lack thereof.
-- Tweet of the day: "Lakers' next game is an easy one, they can rebound with a victo...wait, what? Oh. They're at Portland, where they've lost 8 in a row. Ouch" -- Mike_Bresnahan (L.A. Times beat writer Mike Bresnahan).
-- Mark Medina
The Lakers coaching staff had plenty of reasons to criticize the team following their 102-91 loss Wednesday to the Clippers.
"They just said we played like boneheads," center Andrew Bynum recalled.
The statistics clearly spelled out many of the problems, with the Lakers shooting 38.4% and dishing out only 17 assists. Though the Lakers had hoped Ron Artest's return in the last two games would improve the team's defensive discipline, he's still a work in progress. Meanwhile, the Lakers yielded 54 points in the paint and allowed 26 points in transition.
Even with these daunting statistics, the Lakers have found ways before to overcome poor performances against sub-.500 teams. But they couldn't against the Clippers, who survived 10 ties and six lead changes en route to their first victory over the Lakers in 10 games.
The Lakers were victorious over Houston on Tuesday, thanks to Bynum's dominance inside and Lamar Odom's near-triple-double. Against the Clippers, center Chris Kaman's 21 points and 15 rebounds neutralized Bynum's 15 points and 14 boards, though it was his first double-double in 24 games.
Odom had a near-triple-double against Houston, despite feeling lousy with intestinal-flu-like symptoms that kept him from Monday's practice. Against the Clippers, those symptoms still lingered, and Odom finished with only nine points on three of 11 shooting.
So much for the Lakers having an inside presence to fill the void of Pau Gasol (sore left hamstring), who helped the Lakers clinch a victory last week against Golden State with a pair of clutch free throws.
"I always say the strength of our team is our depth," Odom said. "During the season there will always be people who go down. Of course we miss Pau. But we would miss Drew, Kobe and D-Fish. The strength of our team is our depth. So we’re prepared for that to happen. We just didn’t play well tonight."
The Lakers missed Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant, but they were still present on the court. Fisher sat out the entire fourth quarter for the third time in the last week, going one of three for three points while backup guard Shannon Brown had 15 (the rest of the bench had eight points).
In a win on New Year's Day against Sacramento, the Lakers survived a 20-point deficit with Bryant making his third game-winner of the season. Against the Clippers, he finished with 33 points on 10 of 30 shooting. Though his 17 third-quarter points helped narrow the Clippers' lead to 79-73 entering the fourth quarter, it wasn't enough -- a rare case when Bryant couldn't successfully fight through the fracture to his right index finger.
"It’s sore," Bryant said. "It’s OK. I played through it."
Instead, it was the play of Clippers guards Baron Davis (25 points, 10 assists) and Eric Gordon (18 points) that dominated the backcourt.
"He was looking to ride that streak he got going in the third quarter," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said of Bryant."I tried to give him some rest. He got five or six minutes of rest, but he couldn’t regenerate that in the fourth."
Even though the Lakers still stand with an impressive 28-7 record, Bynum fears Wednesday's loss presents serious issues.
"We can't continue to play like that," Bynum said. "It's going to wear us out later on in the season."
-- Mark Medina
Photo: Josh Powell, left, Rasual Butler and Kobe Bryant await a rebound during the Clippers' 102-91 victory over the Lakers on Wednesday night. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times.
LA Times Reporters discuss Lakers 102-91 loss to the Clippers
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson
Lakers center Andrew Bynum
Lakers forward Lamar Odom