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Lakers 96, Trail Blazers 107: Wallace & Vomit


Remember Lamar Odom? Mobile, long-armed power forward? Sweats a lot? You know who I'm talking about. He's off to a dreadful start in his new job as a Maverick. Really dreadful, if we're being honest. That fact has mollified Laker fans, myself included, whose reactions to his preseason trade to Dallas blended confusion with outrage. It hasn't felt like we've been missing Lamar, but tonight in Portland the Lakers needed him something fierce. His size and ranginess would've been an all-but-ideal defensive solution to the problems presented by Gerald Wallace, the Blazers' spidery swingman. Too strong for Matt Barnes and too fast for Metta World Peace, Wallace gashed the Lakers for 31 points at the Rose Garden this evening en route to a 107 to 96 Blazer victory. The result dropped the Lake Show back down to 0.500 and confirmed their status, at least for the time being, as a second-tier Western Conference team.

Wallace was the sharp, poisonous tip of a Portland attack the Lake Show didn't come close to stopping. The Blazers scored 1.19 points per possession, all night long exploiting the Lakers' heavy feet and ugly transition defense. The purple and gold kept pace for a half behind hot shooting from Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum. In the third period, though, the Blazers erased a four-point deficit and began out-executing the Lakers in every imaginable way. After a slow start Jamal Crawford found his stroke and finished with 17 points. LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored 28, was a third offensive threat the Lakers didn't know how to deal with. The points just came in steady, punishing waves until a few minutes remained in the fourth quarter. By then the Lakers' third road loss in three tries was a done deal.

On offense the Lakers were decent in this one. Not amazing, but decent. They scored 1.07 points per trip, an OK mark considering the opponent and the venue. For the most part they did a sound job of getting the ball into the post and working through Bynum, who put up 21 points and 12 boards. Kobe (30 points on 26 shot attempts, including free-throw possessions) shot the ball pretty well. Pau Gasol (19 points on 12 attempts) had a nice touch on his midrange set shots.

But the Big Three got precious little support. The entire rest of the team made only eight field goals combined. Steve Blake (2 for 9) at least tried to shoot when he found an open look. Troy Murphy (0 for 1 in 29 minutes) spent the game passing up open threes. Metta World Peace (0 for 5, three turnovers) would've had a better night if he'd never come off the bench. As a team the Lakers failed to make even one three-point shot, missing all 11 attempts. It's the first time they've hung a zero in the three-point column since November 2003.

So yeah, there's room for improvement on the offensive end. But on the defensive end... I don't even know where to start. The Lakers defended with little energy, spirit or thought. In the half court they were bad. In transition they were worse. On the perimeter Crawford and Wesley Matthews had no difficulty getting loose for jumpers off basic screens. Wallace cut Barnes and MWP to ribbons off the dribble. The guards were terrible at providing defensive balance in the backcourt, allowing Portland to push the ball even off made shots. When Bynum wasn't in the game, no one stepped in to guard the rim.

The most telling stat, the one that reveals exactly how unbothered the Blazers were by what passed as the Lakers' defense, was turnovers. Portland coughed it up only four times all game, once in each quarter. There wasn't any disruption from the Laker D. No active hands, no ball pressure, nothing to take the Blazers out of their offensive game plan. It didn't help that Josh McRoberts sat out with a toe injury. His frantic style could've generated a few more loose balls. But aside from Bynum, I just don't know that there are any impact defenders left on the Lakers' roster. That doesn't mean they can't play good team defense, but Mike Brown has some work ahead of him whipping them into shape.

From here the schedule gets easier in one respect and harder in another. The next seven opponents are the Warriors (home), Grizzlies (home), Suns (home), Utah (on the road), Cavs (home), the Clippers and Mavericks (home). That's a beatable slate. Those seven games, though, will be played over 11 days, which will tax the already-weary legs of an old team. This could be a stretch in which the Lakers start to string together some W's. Or they might just plod along around the 0.500 mark. The latter seems more likely, but hey, tomorrow's a new day, and each game they play seems to give a different impression of how good this team really is.










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