Trail Blazers-Lakers Preview
The Los Angeles Lakers wrapped up the Western Conference’s top
seed with Kobe Bryant resting, leaving little reason for the
reigning finals MVP to take the floor again prior to the
The Portland Trail Blazers have plenty of incentive to move up
and avoid the Lakers in the first round.
Portland has lost 14 of 16 at Staples Center heading into a
visit with the NBA champions Sunday afternoon, but Bryant may again
be on the bench in a game critical to the Trail Blazers’ playoff
The Lakers (56-23) are 3-5 in their last eight games, but that
slump hasn’t been enough to damage their status as the West’s top
Andrew Bynum has missed the last 10 games with a strained left
Achilles’ tendon and won’t return until the playoffs, and it
remains to be seen if Bryant might sit out the last three games as
Coach Phil Jackson gave Bryant a night off to rest his legs and
aching right index finger in a 98-96 loss at Denver on Thursday,
and the 12-time All-Star remained a spectator Friday. He wasn’t
needed in Minnesota, though, where Pau Gasol scored 29 points and
grabbed 15 rebounds in a 97-88 win that guaranteed Los Angeles the
West’s top record.
“Advantage goes to the people who have home court, no doubt
about it,” said Jackson, who was non-committal about his plans for
Bryant on Sunday. “It doesn’t guarantee you anything. It guarantees
you an extra game.”
That extra game could mean a lot if the Lakers were to meet
Portland (48-31) in the opening round. The Lakers had lost nine
straight at the Rose Garden prior to a 99-82 win Feb. 6, but
they’ve won five straight in the series at home by an average of
The Trail Blazers can still finish as high as fifth but will
likely find themselves in sixth, seventh or eighth. They had a
chance to pull into a tie with Oklahoma City for sixth Friday night
but lost 83-77 at home to Dallas in a physical, contentious contest
that saw three Portland players earn technical fouls and several
courtside fans escorted from their seats.
“I said (to my players), ‘This is what we’re going to be facing
(in the playoffs),'” coach Nate McMillan told the NBA’s official
Web site. “You’re going to be facing this type of intensity, where
every call is going to be questioned. You have to stay calm on that
floor and be able to get to the next possession.”
Portland finishes the season by hosting the Thunder on Monday
and Golden State on Wednesday.
“The next two games, it’s going to keep that type of
atmosphere,” McMillan said, “and we have to be able to play with
Both meetings this season have come in Portland – Bryant sat out
in February with a sore ankle – and the NBA’s fourth-leading scorer
at 27.1 points per game has averaged 36.4 in his last seven home
games against the Trail Blazers.
Bryant wasn’t the only star to miss these teams’ most recent
contest. That was one of 12 straight games Brandon Roy sat out with
a strained hamstring.
Roy has only faced the Lakers on the road three times – missing
three others to injury – and he hasn’t been effective. The former
Rookie of the Year has averaged 14.7 points and shot 36.2
Los Angeles is 5-2 without Bryant this season.