Live from the Moda Center as the Portland Trail Blazers host the Los Angeles Lakers.
Or, more accurately, your Portland Trail Blazers host my Los Angeles Lakers.
I suppose this is as good a time as any to admit it: I was born in LA county and lived in Southern California until I was 15, so naturally (and by the grace of Chick Hearn) I've been a Lakers fan my whole life.
Oh, hey! You kept reading! Cool. Where was I? Right: Since a fateful summer night in 1987 when five-year-old me watched a family friend (born in Boston) melt down in front of the TV as Showtime shined past the Celtics in the Finals, through the fun (though mostly futile) "Lake Show" 90s, to the [REDACTED] of the early 2000s, right up to the present disaster of season, I've loved LA.
I know, I know. I've been in Oregon longer than I've claimed residency anywhere else. I've never set foot in Staples Center. Kobe "Bean" Bryant. But as many times as I've heard the chant ring through the Rose Garden, I haven't "BEAT LA" back from my fandom. Yes, I proudly reside 1,000 miles (and a million degrees of livability) from the City of Angels, but as sure as hundreds of Nick Van Exel cards stashed in my folks' attic are worthless today, my allegiance is secure.
That said, these are dark days. Not my father's Lakers? Sheeeeeit, these hardly resemble my once-proud franchise—and now might be a perfect time to leap from the rolling-dumpster-fire-of-a-roster Lakers and get behind the home team.
Will tonight's game finally make me see the world through Rose-colored lenses? Will I fall for Dame's icy gaze, RoLo's likable swagger or Wes' unwavering grit? Could I go from loving LA to ... loving L(aMarcus)A(aldridge)? Probably not. But click past the jump to find out!
Lakers (13-39, 14th in West)—Wayne Ellington and Jordan Clarkson at guard. Ryan Kelly at forward. Tarik Black and Robert Sacre both at center, doing their best two-headed monster.
Off the bench: Nick Young, Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Price, Wesley Johnson, Jeremy Lin, Ed Davis.
Trail Blazers (35-17, 4th in West)—Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews on guard. Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge up front. Robin Lopez in the middle.
Off the bench: Dorrell Wright, CJ McCollum, Will Barton, Meyers Leonard, Victor Claver, Allen Crabbe, Steve Blake, Thomas Robinson.
As is the custom for Laker games, a pack of purple and gold surrounded the visitors' entrance about an hour before tipoff, jerseys draped over the ends of the tunnel in the hopes that Kobe might emerge with a Sharpee in his hand. Don't hold your breath, guys. And I'd offer the same advice if anyone favoring the visitors is expecting a win tonight. The restful promise of a nine-day All-Star break looming for both teams, the Blazers hope to grab their fourth win in five games while handing LA a historic 11th straight road loss. Oof.
With an injury-ravaged roster in tatters at this point (HOFers Bryant and Steve Nash, along with proven-to-be-serviceable Jordan Hill and exciting-but-immediately-injured rookie Julius Randle are out for the season), there might actually be a few Rip City fans in the building feeling sympathy for their most hated rivals. And to their credit, the Lakers have played Portland tough: They led in the final minute of their last meeting in this building, right up until Lillard took over. There's little doubt the Lakers aren't convinced of Lillard's All-Star skill: The newly minted back-to-back Western selection is only averaging 36.5 points, 57% shooting, six assists and just two turnovers against LA. If the Lakers even try to keep this close, it's likely Dame will have the last word before his no-longer break.
Just prior to tip, Blazers owner Paul Allen and GM Neil Olshey present Aldridge and Lillard with their All-Star jerseys. Four-time All-Star Aldridge smiles, but Dame mad-dogs the hell out of the camera. Game face!
11:06—Batum hammered on the way to the hoop and the Blazers strike first with a pair of free throws. After a Laker possession fizzles into missed hook shot by Black, Matthews drills a 3-ball on the other end. Blazers lead 5-0. Portland fans arriving like LA fans typically do are greeted with early cheers as they walk hurriedly along the concourse.
9:12—RoLo dishes to a streaking Lillard baseline but he smartly dishes out. Blazers work the ball around the key and Batum drains a 3-ball. On the other end, Kelly answers with a triple of his own.
6:37—Matthews with another 3 from the corner after Portland misses two long-rangers in a row. After a fruitless LA possession, Matthews hits another jumper from the baseline to give Portland an seven-point lead here. Blazers playing at their pace, and getting high-percentage shots. Lakers show a little quickness in transition, but have little working offensively.
4:56—Timeout on the floor, Blazers up 20-17. Both teams shooting 50%, playing hard.
3:24—Lillard dribbles around Johnson like he's standing still and deftly finishes at the rim. As that part of his game (finishing) keeps improving, Lillard won't have to wait as long for an All-Star bid. He leads Portland with seven points, and Portland is up six.
2:00—Blazers nearly turn it over at midcourt after an errant pass nearly crosses midcourt, but Leonard prevents the over-and-back with a leaping save that causes Lin to collide with (and foul) Lillard. Both land a bit awkwardly (Lillard stays on his feet), but appear fine. Blazers on a 6-0 run and leading 28-20.
0:53—Aldridge with a pair of free throws and Portland leads by 10. But on the other end, Davis cleans up a rebound and dunks, which brings a slight rumbling of a cheer from the LA fans in the crowd. Cherish it, kids.
0:00—Blazers up 32-24. Lillard leading all scorers with nine, followed by eight a piece for Aldridge and Matthews.
11:33—Leonard drains a 3-ball (because of course he does), and Portland is up 11.
10:22—Young goes strong to the hoop and banks one in +1 as Leonard fouls him. Swaggy P converts the free throw and the Lakers pull within eight.
7:35—McCollum with a nice drive-hesitation-layup to bring the (Blazers) crowd up a bit. On the other end, Young with a jumper in the lane to pull LA back within eight. Timeout on the floor, Blazers up 41-33.
5:44—Batum with a nifty backdoor pass to Lillard, who soars to a reverse lay-in. Better pass or finish? Either way, Blazers back up 11.
4:40—Timeout on the floor, Portland up 46-37. They haven't trailed all game and don't appear to be putting that in jeopardy any time soon. Young has shown a flash of NBA-level ability, but that's about it for the Lakers.
2:18—LA takes a timeout after Kelly drains a 3 and the Lakers are back within eight. Both sides shooting their fair share from behind the arch, with Portland hitting 41% of its 3s so far.
2:08—Robinson flashes across the lane and hits a left-handed hook. Nice move/touch for Robinson there. Blazers up 10.
HALFTIME: Blazers lead 54-46. Portland takes a timeout with 2.6 seconds left on the clock to set up an Aldridge shot from his favorite spot, but it rattles out. No matter: Blazers are in total control of this one behind 11 points from Lillard, 10 points from Matthews and eight points, seven rebounds from Aldridge. Full stats.
THIRD QUARTER Lakers starting with it, both teams running their starters out for the second half.
11:25—Aldridge hits a free throw, and that's 12,000 career points for #12.
8:46—Oh my. Matthews with a hustle steal after a layup and finds Lillard, who forges ahead full-speed amid traffic and jams it one-handed, sorta Tomahawkish. Blazers up 12 and Lillard's latest gif is currently being created.
7:53—Batum lobs an alley-oop attempt to Matthews, who's fouled but manages to tap it in, +1. He converts the 3-point play, and the Blazers are on a 9-0 run, up 67-50.
6:54—Lopez outmuscles a group of Lakers for a rebound and tips one in, +1. He converts the free throw (Portland is now perfect in 19 tries from the line tonight) and Rip City is up 18.
5:24—Matthews hits a 3 and after a Blazer turnover, Aldridge finishes a shot in the lane. Blazers up 77-56 and LA takes a timeout. Blazers have already scored 23(!) this quarter, and the Lakers will bring in a fresh five off the bench.
4:25—Aldridge out on the run and gets behind the defense. Blake finds him for a layup. *DEAFENING L-TRAIN SOUND EFFECT*
2:18—Timeout, Blazers. They're up 83-63 behind 18 points and 9 rebounds (so far) from Aldridge. Matthews leading scorer with 20 and Lillard has 15. Goodnight, Los Angeles.
1:22—Matthews with another steal, and once again finds an open teammate in McCollum, who drains a 3 from the wing. Blazers up 21.
0:00.2—Young fouls Blake as time expires and goes limping back to the bench. Not a good sign for the injury-wrecked Lakers. After review, Blake is awarded two free throws and 0.2 seconds are added to the clock. He hits them both, and....
0:00—Blazers lead 88-65. LA, beat. Huge third quarter for the home team, whose All-Stars might've started their break early with that effort.
10:17—Lopez with a nifty little left-handed hook in the lane. Seemingly quiet night for RoLo, but still 9 points and 8 rebounds.
8:53—Officials' timeout, Blazers up 90-72. Lakers on a 7-2 run to start the quarter—Ellington has 16 points to pace 'em.
8:13—"BEAT LA!" chant starts briefly before Lopez is fouled. He hits 1 of 2 and Portland is back up 20.
6:52—Johnson with another 3 and we have timeout on the floor. Portland has this one well in hand, up 94-77, and there are a number of guys on the floor who
6:40—Leonard rattles in a 3-pointer out of the timeout. Blazers back up 20.
4:13—Leonard with another 3, this time from the top of the key. Blazers lead 100-77 now.
2:58—Lakers take a timeout, down 100-81. Blazers have never trailed and never will. (NEVER!) Lillard and Aldridge haven't seen the floor this quarter and the fans are starting to stream out of here to get out ahead of Portland's growing (artisan?) traffic scene.
FINAL: Blazers win 102-86 Portland leads all the way and busts it open with a massive third quarter to win their fourth game in five tries before the All-Star break. Six Blazers finish in double figures, led Matthews who had 20. Aldridge, finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds, while Lillard scored 15, Leonard had 11 and McCollum and Lopez added 10.
Clarkson led the Lakers with 17 points and six rebounds, followed by Ellington, who finished with 16 and 8. Final stats here.
So, I guess this means it's officially All-Star weekend! That means nine days without meaningful professional basketball, but lots of hoop(s)la. And while Lillard and Aldridge will suit up for the West and Matthews will compete in the 3-point contest, the rest of NW-Division-leading Portland will enjoy a much-needed spell before returning to action on Feb. 20 at Utah.
The Blazers are back in the Moda Center on Feb. 22, when they host Memphis.