Prickly Showdown In Rose City

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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.

15 Comments

  1. Ritesh Patel says:

    Lakers at the Rose Garden… Oh No!!! This is a game that the Lakers definitely need to win to keep the critics quiet. It is only one game of the regular season but this defines the Lakers in regards to where they will finish in the western conference. Portland have never been a push over and I am sure the Lakers will be pumped up for this one. I think it’s going to be a close match-up. If Bynum gets another double double, the Lakers should win this one.

  2. jer says:

    You can’t ever count out Dallas ond OKC or the Lakers but in the words of LeBron Portland does “stack up” talent wise to those teams and they have a great Coach. Go Blazers

  3. Baha says:

    who really cares about this game…for Kobe and lakers its more about making it to finals and winning that championship…they have done it even with 6-23 and will do it with 6-24 so please write about something that we dont already know…looks like thats the only thing Portland done so far beating lakers couple times and never making to even western conference finals….

  4. forumblue87 says:

    Indeed L.A does not fair well in the rose garden… it will be interesting to see how mike brown can navigate the squad. This would be big for the mike brown era, to topple a giant (atleast to la on the road) and really start picking up some momentum for this season.

    lakers… 16 time champions… say something

  5. Eric says:

    im not worry for the blazers this matchup.Wesley will play trmendous d on kobe.and aldridge will shut pau down. the only guy im worry about is bynum.

  6. Erik says:

    Its time I let everyone know the secret to the Trailblazers beating LA at home. Portland and there fan base consider the Lakers as there number one must win rivals and have for years and years. We circle all the dates we play them on the calender we talk about the game days in advanced and we pack the arena and scream at the top of our lungs BEAT LA!BEAT LA! even our broadcasters get in on the action. No matter what the Blazers are doing that year its like a civil war game in football as long as you get that one there is still some gratification. This year is no different in fact the hype in Portland is huge for this game. The Lakers on the other hand and rightfully so don’t really think of Portland in the same way. I am sure being the historically winning franchise and who they are there are a lot of teams that consider them there rival. I’m sure Boston is the team that la thinks of as there rival. I am sure they see Portland as just another NBA team and at most a tough place to play on the road. Kobe has always been a Blazer killer but LA just doesn’t approach the game with that rivalry mentality Portland does. The arena tonight I am sure will be a playoff atmosphere and expect a huge game from Gerald Wallace as he feeds off of the rose gardens energy like a conduit. Still with all that said the Lakers are still a very good team and this game can go either way. I am picking Portland because…. well mainly I always pic them my dad fed me blazer kool aid from birth and I have loved the blazers for better or worse for 30 years. I also like Portlands overall depth and swagger right now. I will say though that Portland is very capable of getting off to slow starts in games in this very young season and that could be trouble.

  7. Nick says:

    The Western Conference comes down to 3 teams this year: OKC Thunder, Portland Blazers, and Denver Nuggets. Lakers will be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, as will the Spurs. The Utah Jazz is going to surprise everybody and make it to the playoffs, but will also be eliminated in the first round. Lakers and Spurs are old news. Memphis is finished without Zach Randolph. The Clippers are good and might make it to the second round, but no further.

    It’s going to be between the Blazers, Thunder, and Nuggets.

    • Person B says:

      And what about the Mavs? I suppose they’ll be losing in the first round as well?

    • The real Nick says:

      You can’t be serious. It will be Lakers and OKC, if not Dallas, in the Western Conference finals.

  8. Aaron says:

    I think it’ll be a close game, but Portland will come out on top.

  9. Devon says:

    I hate when we have to go to portland :/

  10. nba big fan says:

    I think for the lakers the biggest problem will be defending the guards …. felton is very quck …… but if kobe has a good game and i’m pretty sure that bynum and gasol will have a very good game they can get out with a win !!
    The blazers will go hard on kobe , but they cant stop their bigman …

  11. dj sweaty dank says:

    bynum was suspended for 5 games, which was shortened to 4.

  12. Michel says:

    Bynums suspension was cut from 5 games to 4, not 6 to 5

  13. This game just happens to be my NBA Game of the Day (http://randomnbafan.com/01/05/2012/nba-game-of-the-day-los-angeles-lakers-at-portland-trail-blazers/). The Trail Blazers not only lead the Northwest Division, but they also have the best record in the Western Conference.

    The Lakers are winless on the road this season and will be seeking their first road win against a Trail Blazers team that is undefeated at home.

    If Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant both have dynamic nights, the Lakers just might be able to scrap their way to a road win in Portland.