The red hot Los Angeles Lakers (49-20) play host to the surging Portland Trail Blazers (40-29) without the services of Andrew Bynum, serving a two game suspension for the flagrant foul two on Michael Beasley during their 106-98 victory Friday night. The Lakers are looking for their fourth consecutive victory against a team they could possibly see early in the playoffs, with a win tonight they claim the season series even before the fourth and final game, a feat that has only happened twice in the last eighteen seasons.
The biggest adjustment in this game will be the lack of interior presence; Bynum has been on a tear since the all-star break, averaging 11.8 points, 13 boards, and 2. 6 blocks per game. The sixth-year center had been a key component to the Lakers sizzling 11-1 post all-star record. Pau Gasol will start at center; he has had great stats in two games versus Portland averaging 19 points, 14 rebounds, and 7.5 assists. He should have continued success as this current Portland team is light in the post, with only one true center Marcus Camby receiving considerable minutes and isn’t starting. LaMarcus Aldridge is going to be the Lakers biggest problem, the all-star snub is averaging 22.3 points, 8.7 rebounds this season, and since being snubbed has arguably played as good if not better than any forward in the league.
It was good to see Kobe get off to a good start shooting 3 of 5 field goals in the first quarter; over the last five games Kobe is averaging 37% from the field, but over 88% from the line. He seems to be readjusting to the severe left ankle injury he suffered last Saturday against Dallas. The most fierce competitor in the league will play if he feels healthy enough too, a good thing at times, but uncertain at others. Bryant will do anything to win, in addition to the tender ankle; Bryant is playing with a stiff neck. In the second and third quarter Kobe shot 1 for 7, but turned it around in the fourth by helping the Lakers make their final push and close the gap. Bryant made brilliant moves to the rim, nice dishes for easy looks, and ignited a huge steal and converted a fast break dunk to tie the game at 72 a piece with 2:20 in the fourth. Derek Fisher played the passing lane, came up with another big steal and converted the scoop layup on the other end. After a big Lakers defensive stand Kobe hit a leaner putting them up four. The next trip down Kobe showed why he is the ultimate closer knocking down a tough 13-foot base line fall away over the outstretched hands of Brandon Roy. Bryant went 5-7 in the fourth helping the Lakers solidify the 84-80 victory.
The Lakers are 12-1 since the all-star break and play host to the Phoenix Suns Tuesday. Once again they will be with out the services of Andrew Bynum, at times during the Portland game he was really missed, but other players eventually stepped up and got it done. Lamar Odem scored 16, grabbed 11 boards, and dished for 6 assists. Pau added 14 points, 13 rebounds, and 2 blocks. The reason for the win was unselfish play and team balance. The Lakers look to continue the great stretch of ball as they are obviously peaking at the right time.