Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Wednesday night contest at Portland against the Blazers, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:
Lakers: Blake, Bryant, Clark, Gasol and Howard
Portland: D. Lillard, W. Barton, V. Claver, L. Aldridge, M. Leonard
12:00 If you don’t recognize many names in that Blazers starting line up, it’s because four of the players are rookies. We know the likely Rookie of the Year, Damian Lillard, and All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, but the other three are in replacement of Nicolas Batum, Wes Matthews and JJ Hickson, all sitting with injuries. With the exception of Steve Nash, L.A. had the rest of its guys on the floor to start.
6:00 Yes, the Lakers knew that Portland would come out with crazy energy, playing loose with all their bench guys in, and that they’d have to match the intensity. Well, that didn’t happen. The Blazers hit – literally – 9 of 10 shots to start the game, including 4 of 4 from three, with L.A. making a more typical 5 of 9 (Dwight Howard 5 of 9) as Portland went up 22-12. Of course, nothing would come easy for this Lakers team, part of it their own doing.
0:00 If I told you that Portland, considering their injuries, would score 41 points in the first quarter, would you believe me? No need to answer. The Blazers couldn’t have been more excited to be playing L.A., hitting 15 of 22 shots, including 5 of 8 triples, to take a 41-33 lead out of the first quarter. Damian Lillard was tremendous, with 17 points and seven assits.
6:56 L.A. got back into it, cutting the lead to as few as two when Bryant hit a wing jumper, but at the 3:14 mark, and 8-0 Blazers run pushed the lead right back up to 11 points. The defense – as has been the case all season – continued to fail, Lillard rising to hit his fifth triple and Aldridge scoring four straight.
0:00 L.A. managed to cut the margin to six, mostly thanks to Kobe’s offense (28 points), but they allowed an alley-oop inbounds play to Aldridge with two seconds on the clock to head into the halftime tunnel down 69-61. There was little connectivity between teammates on either end, as Steve Nash – the chemistry master – sat in street clothes still nursing back/hip/hamstring issues. Much work remained for the Lakers in a game they really couldn’t afford to lose, with the Jazz right on their heels.
7:55 L.A. was terrific, at last, to start the third quarter, reeling off a 17-2 run that turned an eight-point halftime deficit into a seven-point lead, getting work from both Bryant and Howard as things started to look less rainy in Portland.
0:00 But after that huge run, Lillard had a big answer, first drawing a shooting foul while taking a three (adding a technical on Blake, who didn’t like the call) and then turning a steal into a pull-up three that tied the game. Lillard had 34 points with his eight assists in a fantastic game for any player, let alone a rookie. At quarter’s close, Portland possessed a 90-88 lead.
8:45 The Lakers tied the game with a Gasol layup to start the fourth, only to concede the 12th three-pointer from Portland, Sasha Pavlovic the third sub to hit one, as Luke Babbitt had drained four of his five. Moments later, L.A. called time out down 95-92, Bryant getting his only rest in such situations as he’d yet to be taken out of the game.
4:30 The biggest play of the game to that point came from Blake, who stripped Lillard around the three-point line, allowing Bryant to collect the loose ball and boost up the floor, Lillard forced to grab him for a clear path foul. Bryant hit both free throws, then pulled up for a long two-point jump shot to put the Lakers up 106-100. That capped an 8-0 run, as Gasol had scored on the previous trip to put the Lakers in front. But would it be for good?
0:00 Yes it would, thanks in part to two more pretty plays from Gasol, who twice found Howard for easy alley-oop dunks on the weak side, the Spaniard drawing the pressure after Kobe drew attention on the perimeter. Gasol will always make that play when given the chance, his passing (nine assists) finding D12 inside throughout the contest. L.A. was finally getting stops, meanwhile, the Blazers failing to narrow the gap before two Bryant free throws allowed the final margin of 113-106.
Here’s Kobe’s line for the night: 48 minutes without a rest; 47 points on 14 of 27 and 18 of 18 free throws in setting the record for points scored in the Rose Garden; eight rebounds; five assists; four blocks; three steals. #vino #blackmamba
Gasol was terrific with 23 points on 11 of 15 field goals, a game-high nine assists, seven boards and two blocks, while Howard had a 20-point, 10-board double-double with three blocks.
With the win, the Lakers improve to 42-37, a season-high five games over .500, and – critically – a full game in front of the Jazz in the loss column with three games to play, all at home. Up next are the Warriors on Friday in L.A.; we’ll see you there.