Trail Blazers-Lakers Preview
The Los Angeles Lakers want to show their tribute to late owner Jerry Buss is more than just a one-game thing.
Emotions ran high in the first game after his passing, something the Lakers look to carry over - along with the drive to succeed in his honor - into Friday night's matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers and throughout the season.
This game at Staples Center comes on the same day Buss will be buried in a private service. He died Monday at the age of 80 after watching his Lakers win 10 championships since he bought the team in 1979.
In the team's first game since his death, Los Angeles easily defeated archrival Boston 113-99 on Wednesday. The Lakers locker room had "R.I.P. Dr. Buss" written on the board.
Dwight Howard, who had been the subject of trade rumors before general manager Mitch Kupchak said he would not be dealt, expressed the desire to honor Buss by making something out of what has been a disappointing season full of turmoil.
"I was thinking about it all day, getting this win for Dr. Buss," said Howard, who had 24 points and 12 rebounds. "We came out with a lot of energy, a lot of intensity. We have to keep working every day in practice to get better and hopefully this season can happen for us."
Howard making a bigger mark on offense could be key. After an eight-game stretch in which he failed to score in double figures six times, he's done so in five straight games and has averaged 20.3 points in the last three.
The Lakers (26-29) certainly seem to be better off when Bryant focuses more on distributing. In their last nine wins, he's averaged 16.1 points and 8.9 assists. In their last nine losses, he's averaged 23.7 points and 5.1 assists.
Bryant's outside shot has been off anyway, going 1 for 34 from 3-point range over the past 15 games and missing his last 16 attempts.
As much of the focus has been on how the offense operates, defense has been a truer sign of success lately. The Lakers have alternated wins and losses over the past seven games, allowing an average of 116.0 points on 53.1 percent shooting in three defeats compared to 90.0 points and 41.4 percent in four wins.
Defense has become a big problem for Portland (25-29), loser of six straight as opponents have averaged 108.5 points and shot 51.9 percent.
The Blazers are riding their second six-game skid of 2013 and lost for the 14th time in 19 contests Tuesday, 102-98 at home to Western Conference-worst Phoenix. They're a half-game behind the Lakers and four back of Houston for the West's eighth playoff spot.
"We're well aware (the season) can get out of hand," center J.J. Hickson said. "We know that every game is important from here on out. We're trying to make this push to make the playoffs."
Hickson and backup Meyers Leonard have been no match for Howard, who has averaged 27.5 points and 14.0 rebounds in two meetings this season as each team won on its home floor.
Portland has lost five straight and 10 of 11 on the road in this series.
Damian Lillard had 23 points in a season-opening win over the Lakers but scored 11 and shot 4 of 17 in a loss at Los Angeles on Dec. 28. The rookie point guard has averaged 23.0 points in his last three games but has nearly as many turnovers (13) as assists (14).
Starting backcourt mate Wesley Mathews (ankle, elbow) could miss a second straight contest.