Heading in to L.A. Sunday, Portland had a chance to prove something against the Western Conference’s singular elite team. It was a chance for the Blazers to smack the back-to-back champion Lakers and put the Western Conference on notice.
Instead of establishing themselves Sunday, the Blazers were absolutely dominated from buzzer to buzzer. The 121-96 loss was so ugly that Sean Marks has begun considering faking a heart condition so he can retire early.
Worse yet, Kobe Bryant didn’t even have to try. There used to be a time when holding Bryant to 12 points, as the Blazers did Sunday, would put a team in contention to win. That was then. Today’s Lakers, so cohesive already in this young season, didn’t need Bryant’s heroics. He coasted and L.A. won by 25.
The tone was set early by L.A’s defense. Except for scoring the game’s first basket, Portland trailed the entire way.
The Lakers bodied-up on the perimeter. Ron Artest shadowed Brandon Roy, trying to deny catches. Andre Miller was unable to penetrate the Lakers’ long front-court. LaMarcus Aldridge couldn’t get anything inside against an aggressive Lakers defense. Seconds were squandered on the shot clock as Portland tried to find anything that worked. In this case, “anything” meant unsuccessfully trying to establish post position before kicking it or swinging it to a guarded perimeter player who had to throw up a long jumper to beat the clock. The Lakers worked their defensive schemes to perfection—when Portland is forced to become a long jump shooting team, chances are they are not going to win at the sport of basketball.
After the first half, this game was over. Portland were down 58-36, completely flat and uninterested on both offense and defense. Roy hadn’t made field goal, and wouldn’t find the bottom of the net until midway through the third quarter.
More telling than the one-sided score, however, was the all-encompassing dominance of Pau Gasol. The seven foot Spaniard finished the half with 14 points, 11 rebounds (four offensive), seven assists, and two steals. In the same 24 minutes, Portland as a team had 11 rebounds (one offensive), seven assists, and two steals.
Those are not typos. In the first half, Gasol had the same number of rebounds, assists, and steals as Portland did as a team.
Things didn’t get better. Despite Miller and Nicolas Batum trying their best to make things interesting—or at least respectable—the Lakers were simply the better team. By a lot. Their triangle offense completely exposed Portland defensively. L.A. finished shooting 55% from the floor.
More troublesome than Portland’s defense, however, is that they gave up fourteen offensive rebounds. Fourteen. It’s the kind of lack of hustle and attention to detail that makes Nate McMillan’s skin crawl.
When all was said and done, the Lakers took more shots (91 to 75), had more assists (33 to 21), and completely monopolized the boards (49 to 25). Plus, they did this all on a night where Kobe Bryant went 3-11 from the field and ended up with a measly twelve points.
In a top-to-bottom shellacking like this, however, stats almost become irrelevant. The Blazers were outmatched, outworked, and out-hustled. Instead of looking like the heir apparent to the Western Conference throne, Portland momentarily appeared to have more in common basement-dwelling Minnesota Timberwolves.