Will Blazer offense show up?
• Portland must find cure for anemic shooting in Game 2 of Laker series
LOS ANGELES Ñ Rick Fox said a curious thing after Sunday's Game 1 of the Los Angeles-Portland playoff series. The Hollywood actor and squeeze of Vanessa Williams moonlights as a small forward for the Lakers and offered that the two-time defending world champions would have preferred opening the series with a 30-point blowout of the Trail Blazers.
'They have spoken about how they feel they can beat us and how they basically don't respect us,' Fox said.
Nobody with the Blazers Ñ not even Ruben Patterson Ñ has said he doesn't respect the Lakers in this first-round series, which resumes Thursday in L.A.
Respect and fear are different entities. The Blazers have a healthy respect for the Lakers and would have preferred meeting any other opponent in the first round. That doesn't mean the Blazers don't think they can beat the Lakers, who are more vulnerable than they have been in three seasons.
L.A.'s 95-87 victory in the opener didn't change that at all.
'We could have won the game,' said Patterson, the ex-Laker who got booed loud and often Sunday from the folks at Staples Center. The implication:
Kobe-stoppers aren't welcome here.
'It was right there in our hands,' Patterson said. 'I mean, we can match up with these guys.'
Shaquille O'Neal sank 10 of 17 from the field, collected 25 points and nine rebounds and proved way too much for anyone who tried to guard him Sunday. For whatever reason Ñ sore big toe, too many pounds and a recent 30th birthday Ñ Shaq isn't working as hard on the boards or on defense as he once was, though. That means there are more opportunities to rebound or score than before.
Kobe Bryant had all kinds of good numbers: 34 points, seven rebounds, three assists, three blocked shots, two steals and only one turnover in 44 minutes.
Yet except for one flurry at the end of the first quarter Ñ when he nailed consecutive 3-pointers, then a 20-footer in three possessions immediately after Patterson entered the game Ñ his perimeter shot was as errant as a beachball tossed in a windstorm. He finished 10 of 28, making 5 of 8 in the first quarter, 2 of 15 in the next two and 3 of 5 in the final period.
The rest of the Lakers do what they can, draining the occasional three, moving the ball in the triangle, working at the defensive end. But they are a forgettable lot, drawn to championship territory by the greatness of Shaq and Kobe and their pompous leader, coach Phil Jackson.
'They have a certain arrogance,' said Portland's Scottie Pippen. 'They have a swagger, but they deserve to because they are winning games.' The Lakers won Game 1 with a just-good-enough performance, shooting .427 from the field, getting outrebounded 44-41 and managing only 10 fast-break points.
Portland led through much of the first half, had the score tied early in the third quarter and kept the Laker lead in single digits most of the rest of the way. The Blazers' defense was adequate but their offense anemic, following a trend that began exactly a month ago in a 108-99 win at Minnesota. Since that day, the Blazers have shot better than 45 percent in just three of 15 games and under 40 percent six times.
On Sunday, Derek Anderson came off the bench Ñ and, really, out of nowhere Ñ to sink 8 of 14 shots and score a career playoff-high 22 points. Rasheed Wallace provided 25 points and 14 rebounds (though he hit only 8 of 20 shots, and 2 of his last 9); the rest of the starters combined for 25 points on 10-of-34 shooting.
Outside of Anderson, no Blazer shot better than 40 percent. As a team, the Blazers fired at a .366 clip. That won't get it done against the Lakers. 'In order to beat this team, we have to make shots,' Portland coach Maurice Cheeks said. 'If we don't make shots, we won't win.'
Halfcourt offense in a slump
During the recent shooting slump, it has sometimes been a case of a Blazer blowing an open opportunity. More often, the Blazers haven't been able to get much out of their halfcourt offense.
'Nobody is getting good looks,' said Damon Stoudamire, who made Portland's first basket Sunday, a 3-pointer, and went 0 for 7 the rest of the way. 'It didn't just start tonight; it started about a month ago. I don't know why. The offensive rhythm hasn't been there. I can't speak for anyone else, but if I have been taking 13 or 14 shots a game, I probably get six I want to take. The others are contested shots or shots with the (shot) clock running down.'
This Portland team needs to get much of its offense in transition. To do that, it must rebound and get out on the fast break, or create opportunities through turnovers.
The Blazers finished second in the league in rebounding percentage during the regular season, but fell off late. In their last dozen regular-season games, they won the rebounding battle only four times. Sunday's total was bloated by six offensive rebounds on the first two possessions; in the second half, Portland had one board off the offensive glass, the Lakers seven.
The bigger problem is getting bogged down in the halfcourt offense. The high pick-and-roll freed Wallace for seven 3-point attempts Ñ he made four Ñ but little else worked Sunday.
'In the first half, we got up the court for some easy buckets,' Cheeks said. 'We didn't have to rely on the halfcourt offense as much. The second half, we didn't create as many turnovers up the court as I'd like. We didn't keep the pressure on them.'
Bonzi Wells' game was as quiet as he was in the locker room afterward Ñ he refused to speak with reporters Ñ hitting only 4 of 12 shots while scoring eight points. That just a week after going for 33 in the double-overtime win over the Lakers in Portland.
Wells and Patterson have to be major factors on offense. The Lakers have no answer for their bull-like and sometimes acrobatic post-up moves, at least when the two young Blazers are on.
'We should start going to Bonzi and me a lot in the post,' Patterson said. 'The Lakers are going to have to double us. But when we swing the ball, guys have to hit shots.'
Said Stoudamire: 'We do get an advantage when both of them go down and post up. Either somebody gets fouled or somebody else gets a decent shot. That may be something we need to think about more.'
Blazers regroup at home
The Blazers returned to Portland immediately after Sunday's game and won't head back to L.A. until Wednesday afternoon. Good idea, Stoudamire said. 'Last year, we stayed in L.A. for five days between games, and it almost seemed as if we were on vacation instead of playing basketball,' he said. 'This will give us a chance to regroup.'
As for defending O'Neal, Dale Davis did about as much as he could, given Shaq's immense proportions, strength and skill level. Unless Cheeks elects to go with a zone or box-and-one Ñ not a bad idea, by the way Ñ or referees begin to call the Laker center more for offensive fouls or traveling, the Blazers are simply overmatched on the box.
'You can't blame Shaq,' said Davis, who finished with more fouls Sunday (six) than rebounds (five) or points (two). 'If they aren't going to call it, why stop doing it? He uses his body well.'
Added Blazer assistant coach Caldwell Jones: 'That's the way Shaq has been playing since he came into the league. Dale just has to keep fighting him, that's all. You have to make him work for the shots he get. I like Dale and Rasheed in the game at the same time, with a body on him and one in front of him. But we need to keep Rasheed fresh for offense, too.'
NOTES: Before the series, the Tribune asked Cheeks for an unsung player or two on the L.A. roster he was concerned about. 'Brian Shaw and Devean George,' Cheeks answered. 'Brian is a playoff-tested guy who can hit big shots. Devean is a talented kid who has gotten better over the years.' Shaw and George each scored seven points and were the Lakers' most effective players off the bench Sunday. É The Blazers are 0-9 on the road this season against the top four teams in the West: Sacramento, San Antonio, L.A. and Dallas. É Anderson scored more than 22 points only twice during the regular season. É Of the 16 playoff teams, Portland goes in with the most playoff experience Ñ a combined 673 games. Pippen owns nearly a third of that with 201. The Lakers are second with 636. É Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (237) has participated in more playoff games than Pippen. É The Lakers finished the regular season with 15 wins at Staples Center. Last loss: Feb. 19 vs. Boston. The Lakers were 34-7 at home during the regular season. É Only four teams have won three consecutive titles: Minneapolis (1952-54), Boston (1959-66, eight straight), Chicago (1991-93 and 1996-98).