Five things to take from Lakers' 103-92 win over Trail Blazers
1. The Lakers actually had fun in their 103-92 victory Monday over the Portland Trail Blazers. The Lakers should complain to the media every 1 1/2 weeks. That way they'll play inspired basketball with lots of energy. That was evident in the team's ball movement; the Lakers cracked the 100-point mark for the fifth time this season and assisted on 18 of the 30 field goals. That was evident in the body language teammates showed after each basket, ranging from high fives, finger pointing and smiles. That was evident in the aggressiveness as the Lakers outrebounded Portland, 42-27.
It's necessary to point out that Portland plays poorly on the road (5-11), the Blazers still shot 11 of 18 from three-point range and they scored only seven first-quarter points. But the Lakers need to feel good about themselves. Their effort against the Blazers made that possible.
2. Pau Gasol looked happier. Here's the latest evidence that his play may not reflect his frustration regarding trade talks as much as the public might think. Gasol posted 16 points on only five of 13 shooting. It's definitely plausible that Gasol felt inspired by Kobe Bryant's criticism toward the front office dangling Gasol in trade talks. But his play against Portland shows an overstatement to suggest he felt overwhelmed with all the trade talk. He's acknowledged it's weighing on his mind in his free time, but that doesn't mean it affects his on-court play. His dropoff this season points more to Andrew Bynum's emergence, adjustment to a facilitating role and frustration over poor shooting performances.
Still, it was nice for the Lakers to see Gasol in higher spirits. After Bryant connected with him on one first-quarter player, Gasol pointed back to him and high fived. The same thing happened after Bryant converted on a reverse layup. Even when one of Bynum's lobs to Gasol went over his head, he laughed it off. When Matt Barnes threw a fast-break lob to Gasol, he threw it down with force. It's critical Gasol replicates images like these and remains in high spirits. The Lakers' roster will remain uncertain until March 15.
4. Steve Blake's shot improves. Even with the bench's persisting inconsistency, Blake's return for the last six games at least helped organize the unit and take minutes away from Fisher. Against Portland, another element emerged in Blake's strong shooting. His season-high 17 points on six-of-nine shooting starkly contrasts with the five points on 31.4% shooting he averaged since his return from a rib injury. Blake's five-of-six mark from the three-point range also neared his career high, when he made six three-pointers March 21, 2009, with Portland against Milwaukee.
Many of Blake's shots came in rhythm and off efficient swing passes. But it also illustrates his strong confidence this season. On one play, Nic Batum blocked his three-point attempt with the shot clock winding down to two. But Blake simply picked the ball up and swished his shot with ease.
5. Bryant attacked the basket more. It's a sign that Bryant's torn ligament in his right wrist continues to heal. It helps the Lakers run their offense with more rhythm and purpose. It also maximizes his scoring chances, such as when Bynum threw a cross-court pass to Bryant en route to a nifty left-hander. Bryant's 28 points on 13-of-26 shooting featured nine of his baskets coming off drives. Such a strategy also makes it easier for the Lakers to cash in on putbacks and for the frontline to score easy looks off double teams.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant scores on a reverse layup against the Trail Blazers in the first half Monday night at Staples Center. Credit: Christina House / For The Times