On Thursday night the Lakers traveled north to Portland, OR to take on their longtime Western Conference foes, the Trail Blazers. The Lakers struggles in the Rose Garden have been well documented over the last few seasons, at one point losing nine consecutive games in that arena. However, over the last two seasons the Lakers managed to exorcise a few of their Rose City demons, winning two of their last three games in Portland.
This was the first meeting between the two teams this season, and Portland started the season hot. Entering Thursday night the Trail Blazers were 4-1, and were coming off a victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road on Tuesday. The Lakers (4-3) were also coming off a victory, defeating the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night at Staples.
However, tonight’s game wouldn’t be in the friendly confines of downtown Los Angeles. The Lakers were looking for their first road win of the young season, and it wasn’t going to come easy in Portland.
The game started out on a tremendous pace, as both teams seemed to be connecting on every shot that they took. Los Angeles connected on 12 of their first 14 shots from the field, and raced to an early lead. However, Portland was able to hang with the Lakers as they started out hot as well. Led by LaMarcus Aldrige and Wesley Matthews the Blazers managed to give the Lakers fits on defense.
There’s no question that defense has been the main priority for L.A. so far this season, but in the first quarter against the Blazers that intensity was nowhere to be seen. For the most part the Lakers were left watching Portland run by them to rim, as they scored 27 points in the first quarter.
One of the reasons for the Lakers’ hot shooting was the fact that they were moving the ball around well. The team had 11 assists on 24 of their baskets in the first half. The team was looking to use its size advantage in the paint, consistently finding Andrew Bynum down low. With Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas opposing him, Bynum was able to have his way with the Portland defense in the first half.
It was no surprise when the shooting percentages drastically dropped in the second half. However, the Lakers reserves did struggle a bit once they came into the game. So far this season Metta World Peace has been very hit or miss, and in the first half in Portland he miss. World Peace was held scoreless during his 11 first half minutes, missing all three of his field goal attempts. The most frustrating of which was a missed layup at the rim that he simply left short.
The star of the first half for Portland was Gerald Wallace. Wallace, who scored 17 points in the first two quarters, led the way offensively for the Blazers. The Lakers didn’t have an answer for Wallace’s aggressive attitude on offense, which resulted in several easy shots for the Portland swingman. Right behind Wallace was Aldridge, who scored 15 first half points of his own. Many of these baskets were at the expense of Pau Gasol, who once again struggled matching up against a physical Portland frontline. Gasol had just eight points in the first half, but did manage to do so on an efficient 4-6 shooting.
However, leading the way for the Lakers was a very familiar face. After his most efficient and productive game of the season Tuesday against the Houston Rockets, Kobe Bryant had another strong half of basketball up in Portland. Bryant shot 8-11 from the field, and finished the first two quarters with 17 points.
Another nice boost of energy for Los Angeles came from Matt Barnes. Barnes played a very active 12 minutes in the first half, and managed to create several possessions and score six points. He also pulled down seven rebounds, which led the team during the first 24 minutes of play.
The Lakers lead quickly evaporated in the third quarter. Poor shot selection and even worse defense allowed the Trail Blazers to prevent the Lakers from having any luck on the offense before capitalizing on the other end. Gerald Wallace was once again a thorn in the side of the Lakers. After being a disruptive force for years with the Charlotte Bobcats, Wallace has continued to cause trouble for the Lakers since being traded to Portland last season.
Portland was able to balloon their lead to double digits towards the end of the quarter. Once again a major problem for the Lakers was three-point shooting. After being unable to connect on any of their outside shots in the first half, L.A. continued to struggle from downtown in the third.
After shooting at a blistering rate in the first the Lakers slowed to a crawl in the third. The Lakers offensive production was rapidly decreasing on a quarter-by-quarter basis. Los Angeles scored 31 points in the first, 25 points in the second, and just 18 points in the third. The Lakers made just five shots from the field in the third quarter, shooting 5-20 for a less-than-ideal 20 percent.
The Trail Blazers once again rode the momentum provided by their crowd and their two key players – LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace. With a little help from some of the Portland reserves the Blazers put up 32 points in the third quarter.
There was a scary moment for the Lakers when Bryant attempted to draw a charge against Wallace and went down hard on his right wrist. Bryant spent a few minutes flexing the wrist on the bench, and it did appear to have an impact on his shooting in the quarter. Still, poor defense and even worse offense turned the Lakers halftime lead into a 10 point deficit as they head to the fourth and final quarter.
Heading into the fourth the Lakers needed to tighten things up defensively while expanding their game on offense to get back into the game. The team started the quarter with their reserves on the floor, including a still-struggling World Peace. In fact, the entire Peace Corps was struggling in the fourth. The Lakers reserves weren’t able to cut into the deficit before Bryant and the starters checked back in to try and pull the Lakers closer.
After getting the game within seven points the Lakers momentum was quickly killed by Jamal Crawford and the Trail Blazers. Portland quickly bumped their lead to 14 halfway through the quarter. It was very evident that the Lakers just didn’t have enough energy to match the Trail Blazers on Thursday night. Whenever the team tried to put together a run or establish any sort of momentum Portland quickly put an end to it.
The addition of Jamal Crawford certainly had a strong impact for Portland against the Lakers. He scored 13 points in the second half, leading the way for Portland. His hot shooting from the outside killed several Lakers runs and helped the Blazers build their lead throughout the fourth. But, as well as Crawford played, the player of the game for Portland was Gerald Wallace. Just like his days with the Bobcats, Wallace destroyed the Lakers with his energy and desire. He scored a season-high 31 points, leading all scorers in the game.
When the clock finally ran out at the Rose Garden the Lakers had fallen, 107-96, to Portland, dropping their record to 4-4 on the young season.
Ultimately the Lakers were unable to claim their first road win of the season, falling once again in Portland. The team won’t have a lot of time to dwell on the loss as they will be back in business Friday night for their first matchup of the season with the Golden State Warriors.
Key to the Game
Energy. After a hot start for the Lakers they fell flat for the rest of the game. They were never able to match the energy brought by Wallace, Crawford and the rest of an exciting Portland team. Their inability to dominate the paint and control the tempo doomed them to another loss in Portland.