Coming into Friday’s game, the Lakers remained atop of the Western Conference and just behind those impressive Cavaliers in the race for home-court advantage. The Lakers came in after winning six of their last seven and were still beaming after an impressive performance from Andrew Bynum against Denver. It was Bynum’s first game back in the line-up after being out for several months due to injury.
Still, despite their recent good fortune, the Lakers could not overcome a familiar and unfortunately, tenacious opponent. And they had to do it without Coach Phil Jackson, who stayed in Los Angeles due to the pangs of plantar fasciitis.
Yes, it’s true, the Portland Trailblazers have definitely rekindled fan fervor in the state of Oregon. The young and scrappy team has given the West a run for its money this year and looks to be a challenge to whichever teams face them beginning late-April. Hopefully the downtrodden Clips are taking note. They face the Blazers Saturday evening at the Staples Center.
Despite the recommendation of my roommate, I watched the first half of this game at the ESPN Zone, a feature of the renowned LA Live. I felt it appropriate to get an overall feel for a matchup I’ve heard being called a “rivalry.” I made this a solo venture, but not by choice, I can assure you.
I was a bit surprised to have no wingman. No, for once I’m not talking about chicken. My roommate was born and raised in Grants Pass, Oregon and proclaims he is a fan of the black and red. However, he explained issues like parking, finding a seat, meeting a minimum in purchases and unimpressive potato-skins. I would consider my roommate a connoisseur of potato skins and related appetizers, but I wasn’t worried about the other semantics.
I really just wanted to watch the game. I parked just far enough away to be able to walk and not have to pay. I was by myself and quickly pulled up a seat at the bar. I had arrived a little early to make sure this was possible. I do not believe there was a minimum in play, but again, I was comfortable at the bar, sipping my Blue Moon. And the skins? I wasn’t that hungry anyway.
Besides, I wasn’t going to make the evening more dramatic than need be. Speaking of which, Trevor Ariza apparently “feared for (his) life” Friday when he was introduced at the Rose Garden. I guess I’d be a little intimidated to hear thousands of boos – the bi-product of a hard foul Ariza committed against Portland’s Rudy Fernandez in the teams’ last contest.
I did not hear any boos coming from the few Blazers fans at ESPN Zone, but I heard their cheers as the game ensued. And although I finished the game at home, I’m quite sure the few Blazers fans that stayed all the way through slapped a few fives and took deserving bows at games end.
I’m sure resentful Laker fans did not even fight back. They knew in the back of their minds that this could be an ongoing battle for quite some time. More than likely, they would have the chance to return the gesture.
This could prove an impressive matchup in the postseason, and moreover for years to come. If the regular season serves as any indication, the teams match up well. The teams split the regular season series, each winning their respective home contests.
Despite their loss, throughout Friday’s game, the Lakers showed that they are playoff ready. The “Bench Mob” seems to be resurging, following Lamar Odom’s return to the motley crew. The group had 35 points and 17 boards.
Kobe was still Kobe and ended Friday’s game with 32 points. However, he was frustrated by rookie Nicolas Batum and could not help the Lakers finish when guarded by Brandon Roy in the latter minutes of the fourth quarter. Still, the Lakers will end the season with the league’s best road record.
The Blazers actually remind me of the Lakers from a few seasons ago. They have a few stars, a great supporting cast and a coaching staff that knows how to implement the combination. I would say they remind me of the present Lakers, but the Blazers edge LA out in one category – age. They’re young and eager to learn, together.
And with the young talent the Blazers bring to the court, I don’t blame them. Brandon Roy is one of the league’s more impressive point guards. On Friday, Roy showcased his ability as a player and a leader. With a wicked crossover, great hops (Roy had a good-looking one-pump slam dunk in the first half that made me backwash into my mug), and notable defense (Roy covered Kobe towards games end when the Blazers finally put the Lakers away), there’s no question he deserved his All-Star selection.
Only time will tell with these two teams. Before Saturday’s game at Staples, the Blazers held the fourth seed, just behind Houston and Denver, respectively. The Blazers finish play against Oklahoma City and Denver at home and could actually end up with as high as the second seed heading into the playoffs.
The Lakers on the other hand, remain locked at first but could finish the season with a 65 -17 record, with home games against Memphis and Utah left on their schedule. This would be short of the franchise’s 69 wins in 1972, but still a boost of confidence heading into the playoffs – where they just might have to make that two-hour flight to good ol’ Rip City.