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Lakers 121, Trail Blazers 96: All Laker Opponents Are the Walking Dead

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Seven games, seven victories - five of them blowouts. We couldn't, without seeming a bit greedy, have asked for a more rollicking start to the season. Tonight's contest against Portland was supposed to be the sternest test so far, but instead the Lakers wheeled out the heavy artillery and continued crushing and killing everything in their path. A thoroughly dominant first quarter ended with the champs up 13, and from there it only got worse for the Trail Blazers, a legitimately solid team who were made to look like the Bakersfield Jam. The lead became 24 in the second quarter and 27 in the third. The final score of 121 to 96 bears witness to the Lakers' complete mastery at both ends of the court.

This night belongs first and foremost to Pau Gasol. He lay waste to the Blazer frontline with his fourth career triple-double, racking up 20 points on 14 shots (including free-throw possessions), 14 rebounds, 10 assists, three steals and zero turnovers in only 33 minutes of play. Yowza. The Laker big man is playing the best ball of his career right now, and if he keeps it up I swear I'm going to put a picture of him in my locket.

The Laker offense as a whole is doing some insane things. Tonight they scored 1.32 points per possession to ratchet their season average up to 1.19. The first period, in which they scored 1.23 per possession, was their worst of the game. And they did all this with Kobe Bryant suffering through his first bad shooting night of the year. Even had they been well rested, the Blazers had no chance against this onslaught. As it was, with their having played and traveled just last night, the game very quickly became a rout.

From the opening jump, the Lakers did just about everything right. On offense, the floor spacing was exquisite, as it's been in nearly every game. The ball movement was brisk and purposeful. Cutters zipped in and out of the paint, opening up passing lanes and sewing confusion in the Portland D. Guys drained shots from every spot on the floor, and when the shots didn't go down, the Lakers rocked the offensive glass and rolled up second-chance points. Possession after possession, they attacked the rim and left the Blazer defense disorganized and near-helpless.

Lamar Odom bounced back from a poor game against Toronto to rediscover his All-Star form. He tossed in 21 points on 15 shots, pulled down 12 boards and handed out three assists. Lamar's movement away from the ball is textbook right now, and he and Pau are just in perfect sync. It's exhilarating to see those two dish the rock back and forth as defenders scramble to keep up. Derek Fisher chipped in with 12 points on 10 shots. He's been quietly playing pretty well. Ron Artest is the unsung hero of tonight's win. His defense on Brandon Roy (eight points on nine shots) rendered the Blazer star a nonentity, and for a change the Ronster efficiently harvested good looks in the paint. It's feeling like Ron's starting to find his shot again after a shaky start to the year.

And what can we say about the Laker bench? This crew is looking fantastic. In seasons past, it would've been all too predictable for the reserve unit to cough up a huge chunk of the lead and force the top-line talent to put out the fire. This year's different. Oh so wonderfully different. The Steve Blake-Shannon Brown-Matt Barnes core is holding its own and then some against opponents' backups. Shannon in particular seems like a new player this season. His jump shot is smoother and looks to have better arc, and his overall game is much more controlled and intelligent. Rookie Derrick Caracter is emerging as the ninth man in the rotation. He played 17 minutes tonight, by far his highest total of the season, and looked good doing it. If he can relegate Theo Ratliff to mop-up duty, I think we'll all be pleased.

By the way, something the Lakers are doing really well these days? Making their free throws. They've made 82% of their freebies so far and haven't dipped below 77% in any one game. It doesn't matter much in total beatdowns like the one we saw tonight, but it will when they find themselves in tighter contests.

At 7-0, the Lakers now sport the best record in the NBA. An obscenely inept Minnesota team visits on Tuesday, making it a sound bet the Lakers will be 8-0 when they visit Denver on Thursday night. So much for post-championship hangovers.











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