Same mistakes lengthen Lakers' losing streak at the Rose Garden
It looks as though the Lakers are going to have to alter their travel schedule once again in a month when they return to Portland, who handed the Lakers on Friday a 107-98 loss at the Rose Garden for the ninth consecutive time.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson told reporters before the game that a loss could result in banned trips to the Nike Store in nearby Beaverton, Ore., where players stock up on free or discounted gear. If he is actually serious (he isn't), it's safe to say Kobe Bryant would be extremely upset.
Bryant and the rest of the Lakers had plenty of other reasons to feel upset after Friday's loss. And it wasn't just because the Lakers (28-8) lost their second consecutive game.
The Lakers' ninth consecutive loss at the Rose Garden came in the exact nature in the other eight. Refer to the linked story I had written Friday before reading below for the "updated version."
Portland's focus on Kobe Bryant
It became abundantly clear in Friday's game that Bryant's fractured right index finger, which he injured a month ago, is bothering him more and more. He finished the game with 32 points on 14 of 37 shooting as well as five turnovers.
It shouldn't be much of a surprise. Jackson had mentioned earlier in the week that the finger was aggravated in the Lakers' win Tuesday against Houston. In that game, Bryant was smacked across his finger, so he used more of his left hand, finishing with 22 points and going nine of 23 from the field. And the shooting didn't improve much the following day against the Clippers (scoring 33 points and hitting 10 of 30 field goals).
But Friday's game provided more vivid examples on how Bryant's finger is affecting his game. With the Lakers trailing 55-43 in the second quarter, Bryant bent over to pick up a loose ball, but he fumbled it out of bounds. Later in the game, Bryant missed an open 18-foot jumper with 9:28 left in the fourth quarter, and flexed his neck to show his frustration. After a clock stoppage on the other end of the court, Bryant asked for the ball so he could practice dribbling with his right hand.This loss doesn't squarely pin on Bryant, though.
Lacking a good first impression
The Lakers all knew their history of slow starts in their eight-game losing streak at the Rose Garden, and pledged beforehand that the focus and the execution would be there to prevent it from happening again.
But it did.
The Trail Blazers started out with a six-point first-quarter lead, and then increased it to 12 by halftime. Though the Lakers scored the first five points of the third quarter and eventually pulled to within 64-61 with 6:01 remaining, the result played out the same way as it did in the Lakers' comeback effort against the Clippers.
Portland closed out the third quarter with a 7-0 run and a 81-71 advantage. The Lakers would again get it to within single digits when Andrew Bynum's tip-in narrowed the Trail Blazers' lead to 101-93 with two minutes remaining. But those final minutes featured the Lakers defense missing a rebound opportunity from Martell Webster's missed three-pointer, Bynum making one of two free throws and then Brandon Roy beating Bryant on a backdoor layup.
Discipline on D
The Lakers may have played their third consecutive game without Pau Gasol because of his sore left hamstring, which Jackson expects won't be healthy for Sunday's game against Milwaukee. They also may have been without Luke Walton (pinched nerve).
But that doesn't compare to what Portland has been missing.
The Trail Blazers played without centers Greg Oden (season-ending fractured kneecap) and Joel Pryzybilla (season-ending ruptured right knee), guard Rudy Fernandez (back) and guard Steve Blake (pneumonia).
Still, Portland tore up the Lakers' D with the cast it had. Shooting guard Brandon Roy (32 points), point guard Andre Miller (17 points) and backup point guard Jerryd Bayless (21 points) dominated the backcourt, the Blazers made 32 of 39 free-throw attempts and they shot 50.7% from the field, including a 56% clip in the first three quarters.
The Lakers have a little less than a month (Feb. 6) to avoid the same mistakes that has ailed them at the Rose Garden for the last five years.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant tries to prevent a pass to Blazers guard Brandon Roy in the first quarter Friday night. Credit: Rick Bowmer / Associated Press