Lakers run and gun, make plays in clutch to beat Blazers
Robin Lopez sat stone-faced and glassy-eyed by his locker at the Moda Center Monday night.
The Trail Blazer's 7-footer wasn't blitzed out after a marathon session of watching episodes of "Breaking Bad," either.
Lopez's ire was directed at his team's shocking 107-106 loss to the lowly Los Angeles Lakers.
"They outworked us," Lopez said. "We gave then way too many easy ones. We were hitting tough shots; they were hitting layups.
"Everybody, including myself -- I don't think we came to play tonight."
The Lakers did, though, even with Steve Nash sitting on the bench in street clothes and Kobe Bryant back home at his Newport Beach mansion.
With players such as Kent Bazemore, Wesley Johnson and Jodie Meeks filling key roles, the team that entered the night tied for the Western Conference's worst record -- and with a 4-14 mark in its previous 18 games -- left the scene with a victory.
"The Lakers played really well," said coach Terry Stotts, whose Blazers (41-19) saw the end to a five-game win streak. "They kept the pressure on us the whole game. They came out with more energy and they sustained it throughout the game.
"They started in fifth gear; we started in third gear. Eventually we caught up and made a great comeback to take the lead. We did a good job defensively in the second half, but couldn't quite get over the hump. We weren't good enough tonight."
Especially in the early going. The Lakers (21-39) used a 13-0 edge in fast-break points to take a 33-20 lead after the first quarter. The margin was 63-56 at the half.
"They were making shots," Portland's Wesley Matthews said. "They were making their jumpers. We were deflated all the way around. Their energy was a little bit higher than ours."
"They started the game off a lot better than we did," said Portland's Damian Lillard, who had 20 points, five rebounds and five assists. "We ended up playing out a hole."
It took the Blazers nearly 48 minutes to dig their way out. When they finally did, the outcome came down to two plays, both which went the Lakers' way.
Portland had the ball and a 106-105 lead when Matthews missed a 3-point attempt with 13 seconds to go. The Lakers rebounded and sped the ball up court, but Bazemore -- hounded by Matthews -- lost the ball out of bounds driving to the basket with 7.1 seconds left.
The ball was initially ruled Portland's, but after a video replay, it was ruled that Matthews last hit the ball and it was awarded in frontcourt to the Lakers.
"I was surprised," Stotts said. "I didn't see the replays, and I couldn't tell (when the play happened). It's hard to argue when (the officials) have the benefit of replay. If they saw enough overturn it, overturn it."
Matthews said he was surprised, too, that video evidence was enough to change the officials' mind.
"I thought that was going to be a tough call to overturn, but they had three sets of eyes," he said. "They saw it that way."
After a timeout, the Lakers lined up in what Matthews called "that football/bunch/formation thing."
Johnson came off a pick in the key area and took a perfect lob pass from Bazemore at the rim, dropping it through over the outstretched arms of Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge for a 107-106 lead with 6.4 seconds remaining.
"Bazemore made a great pass, (Johnson) did a great job of executing it," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We were trying to get two or three guys open and (Bazemore) piked the lob, which was spectacular."
The Blazers called timeout, then in-bounded to Lillard. The all-star point guard -- who has hit three game-winners in similar situations this season -- couldn't get around Meeks and launched a 3-pointer from the top that fell far short as time expired.
"Jodie did an unbelievable job on Lillard that last play," D'Antoni said. "He shut him down, stayed in front of him."
When asked what play he drew up, Stotts said, "I just wanted to get (Lillard) a shot. Any pick-and-roll, they would have trapped it. The best opportunity was for him to try to get a shot off."
"We didn't really draw up anything," Lillard said. Stotts "said, 'Run the line, get (the ball) in, flatten out.' "
So Lillard was in ad-lib mode.
"I got the ball, and two seconds went off by the time everybody got out of the way," he said. "I could have done a lot of things, but I went to a jumper. I tried to head-fake (Meeks), but it ended up a tougher look than I thought it would be."
Lillard seemed to vacillate when asked if he wishes he'd driven to the basket.
"I thought about it," he said. "I knew (the Lakers) would try to suck in on me. There wasn't much time left. I didn't want to get in there where it would be too crowded.
"I probably could have done that. If had to do it again, I'd probably make (Meeks) back up a little more and do the same thing. I probably should have drove, though."
Stats told a big story. The Lakers ruled the battle in fast-break points 32-9 and points in the paint 58-40.
"They sustained their style of play from the very beginning," Stotts said. "They got us on our heels right away. We got back, but what the Lakers did more than anything is they sustained it for the entire game."
The Blazers shot only .310 (9 for 29) from 3-point range, committed 20 turnovers -- eight in the first quarter -- and missed eight of 19 free throws.
"We were a little off of who we usually are," said Matthews, who scored seven points on 3-for-12 shooting. "Every team is good. Every team has talented players. Anybody can beat anybody on a given night. That showed tonight."
NOTES: Portland closes out its long homestand Wednesday night against Atlanta. Pau Gasol and Lopez waged a great battle in the post. Gasol scored a game-high 22 points to go with nine rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots. Lopez had 19 points on 9-for-13 shooting and 16 rebounds with three blocks. He has notched a season-high in scoring in successive games after scoring 18 points in Saturday's win over Denver. Lopez had his 23rd double-double of the season. Aldridge scored 21 points on 9-for-19 shooting and had six rebounds in 32 minutes. It was his 43rd game scoring 20 points or more. Small forward Batum, who had 17 points, 15 rebounds and five assists, has 31 boards in the last two games. He had his sixth double-double of the season. Batum joins Kevin Durant (2013-14) and LeBron James as the only NBA players since 1985 with 400 rebounds, 300 assists, 100 3-point shots and 40 blocks in his team's first 60 games. Portland falls to 23-8 at home this season. ... The Lakers won despite losing the rebound battle 53-44, the Blazers matching a season high with 20 off the offensive glass.
The Lakers have beaten the Trail Blazers in only four of their last 16 visits to Portland. Meeks scored 21 points and Bazemore added 14 with seven rebounds, sinking 4 of 5 shots from 3-point range. D'Antoni, pre-game on the reasons for the Blazers' improvement from a year ago: "They're healthy, for one thing. They were in the hunt for the playoffs last year before getting injury problems. Lillard is older, better. It's their second year together, so they're playing better. And Lopez is playing really well. They've shored up the middle." Lopez, D'Antoni said, "is a big body who runs the floor and does what they need. He sets good picks, he dives hard, he's a presence inside, he covers Aldridge so that Aldridge can roam a little bit." Lillard, D'Antoni said, "has hit a lot of big shots to win games. He played like an old pro last year, and he just keeps getting better."