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Lakers have no excuses for 93-86 loss to Portland Trail Blazers

April 8, 2011 | 11:08 pm

Lakers4_510 The Lakers played with so little energy in their 93-86 loss Friday against the Portland Trail Blazers, it'd only be plausible to think they just came off a competitive back-to-back followed by late-night travel.

The Lakers actually had the day off. It was the Blazers who played Thursday night in Utah, picking up a hard-fought win over the Jazz.

The Lakers played with such inconsistency, the effort probably came against a sub-.500 opponent, knowing playing down to their competition would reveal very little about the team's playoff readiness.

Ironically, the Blazers are a playoff team and they moved up to the sixth spot, which would allow them to avoid the two-time defending champions in the first round should the season end today after proving they're capable of giving them a series.

The Lakers played with such disinterest, it'd only be natural to assume they had already locked up the No. 1 seeding in the Western Conference and don't need to worry about home-court advantage.

The Lakers (55-24) actually have no chance to overtake San Antonio (60-19) for the top spot in the West, can't eclipse Eastern Conference leader Chicago (59-20), have no breathing room against the Boston Celtics (55-24) and Miami Heat (55-24) and only small leads over the Dallas Mavericks (54-25) and Oklahoma City Thunder (53-26).

There's simply no valid excuse for the Lakers to waste another poor effort and drop their four consecutive games after putting together a remarkable 17-1 mark after All-Star break. Those that cite the Lakers' 6-7 mark to close out the regular season last year conveniently forget the Lakers at the time held the Western Conference's top ranking and had health issues to monitor, such as Andrew Bynum's left Achilles' tendon and Kobe Bryant's sprained right knee. Those that mention the 2010 NBA Finals turned out in the Lakers favor must not remember the series' Game 7s that featured the Lakers benefitting from home-court advantage. And those that argue the Lakers exactly one week from now will put the mediocre basketball to the side and start focusing seriously on the postseason are correct, but it's missing the point.

Lakers6_510 Besides the Lakers lacking a serious case of professional pride, the defending champions are not putting themselves in the best position come playoff time. There's so many variables that determine an NBA champion, such as health, sharp play, matching up to the opposing team's intensity, among other things, that it's irresponsible that the Lakers aren't at least making the burden to three-peat somewhat easier by solidifying themselves in the best seeding possible. The Lakers staunchly rejected that notion, saying ensuring strong performances will take care of itself. They also vehemently shot down the idea it'd be better for them to play as a second-seeded team to face Dallas in the second round instead of Oklahoma City and to host New Orleans instead of Memphis. But by the Lakers' actions, it seems like they're going against the former approach and following the latter.

Instead of Bynum giving a preview of playoff toughness by fighting through an intestinal illness, he completely disappears and fouls out late in the fourth quarter with six points and three rebounds. Instead of Pau Gasol giving a preview of his efficiency, he provided inconsistency with four-of-11 shooting, respectable rebounding (13) and disinterested defense (LaMarcus Aldridge scored 24 points on 10-of-19 shooting). And instead of showing better habits in ball movement, ball handling and hustle, the Lakers shot 39.5%, committed 17 turnovers and conceded 20 fast-break points.

The only somewhat respectful effort came from Kobe Bryant, whose 10 of 25 shooting clip and emotional technical foul shouldn't overshadow his four consecutive three-pointers that closed the gap to 53-47 at halftime and from Ron Artest, whose chippiness and technical foul when guarding Gerald Wallace should'nt overshadow his energy and two key three-pointers to cut the deficit to 82-73 with 3:44 remaining.

This well could mean next to nothing in how the Lakers' playoff picture is affected. But they shouldn't have that attitude right now. Should they look back and wonder why a three-peat felt short, the Lakers shouldn't have to leave themselves open to regret by not securing the last remaining games for home-court advantage against as many opponents as possible.

--Mark Medina

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Photos: (Top) Lakers power forward Pau Gasol pulls down a rebound next to Portland guard Rudy Fernandez. Credit: Steve Dykes / EPA. (Bottom) Blazers point guard Andre Miller protects the ball from the swipe of Lakers guard Kobe Bryant. Credit: Rick Bowmer / Associated Press