Lakers-Trail Blazers Preview
The Portland Trail Blazers spent part of Friday's practice debating what kind of reception Kobe Bryant will get in his final game in the Rose City.
After all, Bryant broke loyal Trail Blazers fans' hearts by helping knock off their beloved team in the 2000 Western Conference finals.
Whether the Trail Blazers defeat the Lakers for the eighth straight time will be an afterthought Saturday night, as Bryant appears in Portland for the last time.
Bryant's career regular-season average of 27.9 points at Portland is his third-highest on the road against any opponent, although it's his exploits there nearly 16 years ago that still resonate locally.
He was in his fourth season in 1999-2000, as Los Angeles and Portland met in the West finals. He totaled 43 points and 14 assists in two road wins that gave the Lakers a 3-1 series lead before the Trail Blazers evened it to set the stage for a Game 7 triumph in Los Angeles in which Bryant had 25 points, 11 boards and seven assists.
Portland (19-26) hasn't been that close to the NBA FInals since. Coach Terry Stotts said Friday that he thought the Blazers fans may boo Bryant in a sign of ultimate respect, but some players feel otherwise.
"I think they'll cheer for him, I mean I think you can't help but to cheer for him even though what he did that year to Portland in the playoffs, I'm sure they'll still embrace him very well," forward Maurice Harkless said.
The Trail Blazers took turns praising the retiring legend and his impact on the sport, with Damian Lillard saying he's grown closer to Bryant this season. Still, talk of 2000 wasn't far off anyone's minds among current players who weren't in the NBA back then.
"It's unfortunate it's going to be his last game in the Moda Center," guard C.J. McCollum said. "I know a lot of people appreciate what he's done for the game of basketball except for what he did for us in 2000."
Any memories of Bryant's heroics are just that with the guard shooting an NBA-worst 34.3 percent as he struggles through pain in his final campaign. He scored five points on 2-of-9 shooting in Friday's 108-95 defeat to San Antonio.
Western Conference-worst Los Angeles (9-36) has lost five straight and nine of 10. Rookie D'Angelo Russell scored 18 points and Jordan Clarkson and Lou Williams each added 16.
"Nobody played great," coach Byron Scott said. "We played arguably the best team in the NBA tonight."
The Lakers, the NBA's worst shooting team at 41.1 percent, are 1-9 in the second half of back-to-back games.
Portland opened a season-high seven-game homestand with Thursday's 104-98 loss to Atlanta. McCollum scored 28 points for the Blazers, who missed 22 of 31 from 3-point range.
Lillard is averaging 16.0 points on 33.9 percent shooting in his last three games. He totaled 59 points on 47.7 percent shooting with 20 assists in two wins over the Lakers in November.
Portland led by an average of 11.0 points after one quarter in those wins by a total of 26 points. Bryant averaged 19.5 points on 31.0 percent shooting, making 1 of 10 3-pointers.