HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We hesitate here at Hang Time to act too prematurely, to jump the gun, to make a statement that’s obsolete in five minutes. But we’ll venture on a limb and say tonight’s game in Portland between the Blazers and Lakers (10:30 ET, TNT) has statement-making written all over it.
Just look at the Blazers. What are they doing leading the Northwest Division, ahead of Denver (another neat story going on there) and especially Oklahoma City, the sexy pick to make it out of the West? Isn’t this supposed to be a year of adjustment in Rip City, if only because Greg Oden is down (and perhaps out for good) again and Brandon Roy hung it up?
Well, nobody told LaMarcus Aldridge anything about that. Same goes for the rest of the Blazers, who are piecing together a rather fine start and making you suspect this crew might have some staying power in a 66-game season.
Portland has made a habit recently of overcoming crummy luck to carve out some respectability for itself, and this season appears to be no different. Obviously the Oden situation remains haunting, and nobody saw Roy suddenly developing senior citizen knees and Rudy Fernandez never worked out to the satisfaction of everyone, especially himself. Still, the Blazers have stockpiled some solid talent in spite of everything, and more important, the talent seems to work well together. Ray Felton, Gerald Wallace, Jamal Crawford and Wesley Matthews were very nice pickups the last few years, and somebody needs to tell Marcus Camby (almost 10 rebounds a game) he’s old. Wait, don’t bother, since he won’t act his age, anyway.
It makes for a tricky visit by the Lakers, because as Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times reports, the Rose Garden has often been very thorny for Kobe and Co:
It’s that time again — unfortunately, for the Lakers.
Coach Mike Brown has no idea what awaits him Thursday at the Rose Garden, a misguided arena name if ever there was one for a Lakers opponent.
The issues are much more than thorny up here. They’ve lasted almost a generation for the Lakers.
Since acquiring Kobe Bryant in a draft-day trade in 1996, the Lakers are 6-23 in Portland in the regular season, falling to the Trail Blazers year after year, whether rain or hail or the occasional burst of sunshine as their bus pulls into the oversized garage.
Phil Jackson used to blame the weather. Then he blamed the team’s semiannual visits to the Nike store in nearby Beaverton. Then he went back to blaming the weather.
It will be noisy — the Blazers’ fans are among the best in the league — adding a Super Bowl-type din to their den whenever the Lakers arrive.
Lest we all think this has more to do with the ear-splitting volume in the building than the players on the court, John Canzano of the Oregonian is here to set us straight on these Blazers:
For your information, the Trail Blazers don’t want to be known as scrappers anymore. Turns out that NBA players who spend hours perfecting the nuances of their game, and employ agents, personal chefs and publicists, respond to being called a “scrapper” as if you’ve dropped their toothbrush on the bathroom floor.
Call them tough. Call them gritty. Call them determined.
But whatever you do, do not call the Blazers scrappers.
Wesley Matthews cut me off days ago as I tried to tell him that the Blazers will steal some games in this shortened season because they’ll real scra – “I think we have as much talent as anyone,” he said. Also, Gerald Wallace bristled at the label. And Jamal Crawford talked on Wednesday, not about how gruff and tough his teammates are when elbowing Blake Griffin in the throat, but how happy they are when others on the team have success.
“It goes beyond being unselfish,” he said, “you can see that the guys are happy for each other.”
Is that different than other NBA teams?
“Without question it’s different,” Crawford said.
Still, what about the Lakers? They began the season playing three games in three nights, all without Andrew Bynum. And now that the big fella has returned, he’s looked like a beast. Maybe Bynum was overcome by a sense of guilt, stemming from his ‘bow to the chops of J.J. Barea, which earned him a five-game (reduced to four) suspension to start the year. Also, while Bynum never went to college, he can read, and he certainly didn’t miss all those reports that had him going to Orlando in some package for Dwight Howard.
Well, Bynum loves playing and living in L.A. Hey, he’s young and single and famous, who wouldn’t? And he appears hell-bent on proving he can do the same things for the Lakers as Howard could. So, while Howard is impressively doing a 20-20 number (points, rebounds) in Orlando, Bynum is putting up some impressive numbers himself. He’s not on Howard’s level defensively, but close enough all around.
In three games he’s averaging 22.7 points and 17.0 rebounds, career highs by a long shot. And while nobody thinks those numbers will remain that inflated, Brown is demanding that Bynum get touches, to the point of telling Kobe — imagine, telling Kobe! — to feed the big man early. Of course, Kobe responded by shooting more, so go figure.
Brown’s reasoning is sound. The Lakers need to feed Bynum’s ego by giving him the ball and making him a first or second option, something Bynum has never experienced as a Laker. If Bynum continues to put up solid numbers, either he’ll be irresistible trade bait to the Magic, or the Lakers will just keep Bynum.
Anyway, Lakers-Blazers ought to be a good one. Two teams trying to make a statement on the same night, in the same game. Enjoy this one.