Lakers – Blazers Running Diary

As always, feel free to refresh your browser for live updates throughout the game … On second thought, I guess they wouldn’t technically be “live” updates since you have to press refresh. But whatever.

Inactives
Lakers: Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton
Blazers: Brandon Roy, Raef LaFrentz, Martell Webster

Brandon Roy’s absence from tonight’s game was the biggest story coming in, until we learned that Luke Walton’s out with a foot injury, and that Trevor Ariza, not Vladimir Radmanovic or Lamar Odom, is starting in his place.

Ariza was fantastic against the Jazz on Friday night, scoring 12 points with nine rebounds and two assists. Perhaps more important was his work defensively, highlighted by two clutch steals in the final minutes that ultimately buried Utah. And, certainly, it’s on the defensive side of the floor where we should watch Ariza in the early goings against Portland. After all, there isn’t much of an argument that Walton or Radmanovic have the same defensive versatility as Ariza, which at least should add a new dimension to the Lakers starting unit. But will that help as much as, more or less than Walton’s passing or Radmanovic’s shooting? We’ll see.

Your starters:
Lakers: Fish, Kobe, Ariza, Pau and Bynum
Blazers: Steve Blake, Rudy Fernandez, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden

First Quarter
12:00 Perhaps the best National Anthem of the season, courtesy of three white-clad ladies and their violins. Big money says Gasol, a cultural beacon, enjoyed it.

11:42 Ariza didn’t take long to make his presence felt defensively, swatting an Aldridge shot from 19 feet. Even though Oden would gather and dunk the ball, the play was particularly impressive since Aldridge is known to have one of the least blockable shots in the NBA.

9:00 Portland came out Blazing, making 5-of-7 shots, including a Blake three that put the visitors up 11-4 early on. Three words I wouldn’t use to describe L.A.’s play thus far: good; attentive; lively.

6:00 As Fisher traveled for L.A.’s fourth turnover, the Blazers led 16-9 thanks in part to three offensive boards. To be honest, Portland should have been up double-digits, having missed three wide-open triples thanks to good ball movement. The Lakers found themselves a player behind on defensive rotations far too often … While Ariza did block two shots, his presence certainly didn’t help the team defense. And guess who isn’t available to come in off the bench with a spark?

3:10 Weird stat alert: The Blazers had taken 19 shots to only eight for the Lakers, yet still managed only a seven-point lead at 20-13. Nine turnovers (that’s not a misprint) and four offensive boards ceded will do that to you. Out of a timeout, Jackson turned to Lamar Odom and Sasha Vujacic in hopes of turning the tide.

34.6 Two Gasol free throws cut Portland’s lead to 24-19, before the refs correctly overturned a phantom foul call on Radmanovic before the quarter ended. Oh wait … never mind. They decided that not touching Jerryd Bayless on a layup attempt was, in fact, a foul. The rookie made 1-of-2 to produce a 25-19 score heading into the second quarter that L.A. should happily take after its turnover-laden relative junkfest. Perhaps the Lakers watched Tarvaris Jackson play quarterback for the Vikings prior to the game, then decided to play like him?

Upset Sunday…
You think L.A.’s coaches passed on the message there have already been four NBA upsets on Sunday? All three of the East’s best teams lost: Boston to New York; Cleveland to Washington; and Orlando to Toronto; and Dallas fell to Memphis. That means the Celtics and Cavs now have six losses each and Orlando eight, while the closest to L.A.’s five losses in the West is New Orleans, who has 10 L’s.

Second Quarter
10:41 Great expression from Vujacic after a double-technical on him and Sergio Rodriguez, Portland’s backup point guard. That look was what you might expect from an unsuspecting friend were you to explain that the hamburger you’d just fed him or her was actually composed of melted and re-purposed dog food (not sure why your friend would eat it after one bite … just work with me). Meanwhile, on the floor, L.A. scored seven of the quarter’s first 10 points to cut Portland’s lead to 28-26.

8:21 L.A. tied the score at 31 on an Odom drive (you guessed it, going left with his left off glass) that followed a Vujacic three. I’m interested in a blow-up image of Sasha’s face after … well … any foul called on him. Wouldn’t that be fun? Are you reading this, Fathead people?

6:14 On the jumbotron, some kid wearing a No. 10 Olympic jersey turned around to make sure we knew it was Kobe’s. Thanks. Using that as motivation, Bryant hit a reverse layup after a swift cut to the hoop, and Bynum added two free throws to make it 39-37 Blazers.

2:17 It’s been a weird half. Portland’s last three possessions all featured feeds to Oden on the block, which produced little, while the Lakers went right back at Oden at the other end courtesy of Gasol. First Pau hit a running right-handed hook, and second drew a foul and made 1-of-2 free throws to make it 48-46 red jerseys (Portland was sporting their alternates, as were the Lakers in Sunday white).

0:51 L.A.’s first lead of the game came courtesy of two Ariza free throws when he was fouled on an alley-oop attempt. The half ended accordingly, after a Fernandez missed three preceded missed looks from Ariza and Gasol in the final seconds. With that, L.A. took a 51-50 lead into the half despite its 12 turnovers, four missed free throws and ceding of 46 Blazers shots to their 28. Much of the difference was made up from the foul line, as even with those misses the Lakers scored 17 free points to just four from Portland, and made 16 of those 28 attempts (57.1 percent). Vujacic helped not only my mood with his looks of horror, but also made 3-of-4 shots off the bench for seven points.

Here’s Ariza’s line in 19 minutes as a starter: 0-of-2 field goals (both threes), 4-of-6 free throws for four points; three boards; two assists; and two blocks.

Third Quarter
12:00 A productive halftime trip to the media room produced popcorn (more yellow kernels than white, always the goal); root beer* (slightly disappointing since root beer replaces Dr. Pepper on the pop machine); this quote from a staffer who was starting at Reese Witherspoon: “She’s not ugly;” and finally, a quick sidestep to avoid Carter from E.R., who’s been relegated to the first row behind the courtside seats. Sorry, Carter, you’ve been off network TV for too long I guess.
*That puts today’s tally at one root beer, two Mountain Dews, one ginger ale and a bottled water.

7:40 A triple from Fisher, who has struggled in his last four games from three (5-of-17, 29 percent), was his second of the game on two attempts and put L.A. up 60-54. Fisher had been second in the league in three-point shooting two weeks ago, but fell to 13th (43.1 percent) due to his recent slump.

4:01 Make that 3-of-3 from Fish from three-point land (bump him back up to sixth on the NBA list). His latest put the Lakers up double digits for the first time at 69-57, underscoring a much-improved defensive effort in the third that allowed just six points from Portland in eight minutes.

2:12 Fisher finally missed a triple, but his replacement – Vujacic – didn’t, canning his second triple in two attempts, plus a foul for a four-point play. The last time that happened? Dec. 9, 2008 at Sacramento by Fisher. 75-59, Lakers.

32.1 As Kobe gets 1-of-2 free throws to go and hits 26 points for the game, Ty and I mused that Kobe’s scoring has been up of late. So, Ty crunched some numbers to figure out that he’s averaging 31.5 in his last 10 contests, which has upped his season average to 26.8, third behind Dwyane Wade (28.8) and LeBron James (27.5). Kobe’s average before the last 10 games was 24.5.

The Blazers did manage to score seven points in the final two minutes, but still managed only 16 for a quarter in which L.A. really put down its collective defensive clamp to take full control of the game plus 15 at 81-66 heading into the fourth.

Four Quarter
10:34 Radmanovic, who nailed an open three to close the third quarter after a pretty cross-court pass from Kobe, hit again to put L.A. up 18. That got Bryant to hop off the bench, towel in hand, to express his pleasure. As a team, the Lakers were 7-of-13 from three to that point, while Portland was just 6-of-22.

9:00 Fisher’s four dimes lead the way for the Lakers. Four is also the amount of times that Lakers staffer Rick has provided Lakers.com with Chicken McNuggets this season.

6:51 Another triple, this time from Odom, put L.A. up 19. Odom scored again on the next possession, which is telling because Lamar’s always cognizant of Bryant and Gasol’s fourth quarter time with the ice bags.

5:35 Ty and I were just discussing whom Jackson should put in to pull Fisher – who has played 32 minutes – with a 15-point edge and 5:35 to go. One option is to put Josh Powell in, slide Vujacic to the point and let Odom handle the ball with Sasha.

Jackson did indeed pull Fisher, but putting Bryant back in certainly surprised me. At the same time, there’s no reason to risk a quick Blazers run, and Kobe had played only 30 minutes. Fair enough.

4:15 Radmanovic used Bynum’s third offensive board (11 total) to reach double-figures (11), joining Odom (10) and Vujacic (11) off the bench as Jackson’s eight-man rotation has worked out just fine.

2:59 As the Lakers take a 96-78 lead into the timeout, almost guaranteeing fans their free tacos, let’s pause for this random fantasy note: If you’re playing in a league that has roster limits each week (40 games usually), make sure to account for holidays like New Year’s Day in which no team plays, thus limiting standard leagues to 34 games. I unknowingly fell victim to this today, which turned a 6-2 victory over Ty’s squad into a 5-2-1 loss. Special thanks to Al Harrington for hitting six threes on me, Eric Gordon for nailing 12 free throws in as many attempts to steal the free throw percentage point and Ty for not informing me of the roster limit change. Yes, I know, I’m whining.

1:29 Dear Fans: Enjoy your free tacos. From: Vladi and the free throw line. Unless Portland scores 17 points in just over a minute.

32.8 Sun Yue with a swat! I should mention that he was tagged with a personal as well, with Bayless getting to the foul line.

Your final score was 100-86. With the conclusion of this one, Lakers officially boasted the NBA’s best record at 27-5; The Celtics are now 29-6 after losing for the fourth time in six games, just as the Lakers won their sixth straight.

One stat here as a teaser to the postgame report: L.A. allowed only 36 second half points from the Blazers.