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Thursday, January 5, 2012
Rapid Reaction: Portland 107, Lakers 96

By Brian Kamenetzky

For the third time this season, the Los Angeles Lakers ventured out on the road, and for the third time they came home empty-handed. Thursday, after a strong start in the Rose Garden, a place where, put mildly, they've struggled, Portland used a red-hot third quarter to give them an advantage they wouldn't surrender.

Final score, 107-96. Here are six takeaways...

1. What they're doing with Kobe inside the offense needs to continue.


Sam Forencich
As it was against the Rockets, Kobe Bryant got the ball in great position early, but the Lakers couldn't sustain the momentum.


Following the loss in Denver, Mike Brown said he and Bryant re-examined how Kobe was getting the ball. The result was a host of mid- and low-post touches against Houston, and more of the same against Portland. Kobe consistently made catches in all his sweet spots, from the free-throw line extended to lower on the block. Perimeter jumpers came on catch-and-shoot opportunities, with off-ball action helping spring him. Only by accident it seemed was Bryant put in stationary isolation.

The results were incredibly strong early. Particularly with the starters on the floor, the Lakers sustained an effective offensive rhythm. The ball moved, players moved, shots for L.A.'s big three were clean and plentiful. Combined, Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol hit 13 of their 15 attempts, and while the percentage is a little fluky, none of the shots were the type you'd expect any of the three to miss.

Then the wheels fell off. Later in the game, as the Lakers tried to eat up Portland's lead, the flow wasn't as smooth. Kobe was more often in isolation, and the shots got harder. The Lakers still lack a secondary shot creator to take pressure off Bryant, but the template for Bryant in the offense is there if the Lakers can access it consistently.

He finished with 30 points on 13-of-24 from the floor, plus eight rebounds and three assists. High-end work.

2. The bench, it struggled.

Five points in the first half, nine in the second. As a group, they were 5-of-24 from the floor, and given the total lack of production it's not surprising the Blazers used their collective presence to great advantage. This won't be a refrigerator door box score for Metta World Peace, who finished with more turnovers (three) than field goals (zero). Matchups and ineffectiveness gave Devin Ebanks his first burn since losing the starting small forward gig to Matt Barnes, but he didn't exactly capitalize.

3. The Lakers miss Josh McRoberts.

Troy Murphy was, and will likely continue to be, $1.3 million well spent. Against a team like the Blazers -- who don't have much heft up front but sport plenty of active, mobile players -- there aren't many natural matchups for him. As a result, not only did Murphy struggle to do the things he does well (hit the glass, spot up outside), but he picked up fouls like a lint roller does cat hair. There's no way to hide him defensively. McRoberts, on the other hand, provides the sort of mobility and athleticism that comes in handy given the matchups Nate McMillan's crew can force. L.A.'s depth is still a fragile thing on good nights, and the Lakers don't have anyone on the bench who can replicate McRoberts' skill set at his size.

4. The Lakers aren't yet equipped to go dry like they did in the third.

It is very difficult to play defense against a talented offensive team when the ball never goes through the other squad's basket. It leaves you constantly in transition, cross-matching against an attacking team. There's little structure. For the Lakers, still coming together on the defensive side of the floor despite solid early-season performances, it leads to breakdowns. Certainly Jamal Crawford was able to take advantage as the game progressed. In the first half, the Lakers struggled preventing penetration off the pick-and-roll. Multiple times, Portland guards (led by Raymond Felton) were able to split L.A.'s defenders. Later, there were moments when, as it was against Denver, the Lakers simply failed to account for players bleeding out after shot attempts.

The latter particularly is something that will be on every team's scouting report when they play the Lakers going forward, until they stop it. And if they don't stop it soon Brown's head might explode.

5. Andrew Bynum is 4-4.

As in four games, four strong performances. He didn't miss a shot until the third quarter (7-of-7 in the 24 minutes), and worked hard getting up and down the floor to establish post position. Generally speaking, Bynum did a decent job recognizing where double teams were coming from and either spinning away from them or kicking to a teammate. While his second-half shooting (2-for-9) marred what could have been a truly stellar line, more often than not if Bynum gets the kind of looks he received Thursday he'll exceed the 21 points he posted. More importantly, the Lakers looked for him consistently on the block, rewarding him for good position.

Together with Gasol, it was a productive night offensively for L.A.'s big men. The pair combined for 40 points, 19 rebounds and five blocked shots.

6. After a host of bad games from the perimeter, the Lakers finally set the bar low enough it will never be surpassed.

Because you can't do worse than 0 percent. Eleven tries, no splash. I remain hopeful, but at some point the Lakers have to become a much more threatening team from outside.