YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


No spark, yet, to rekindled rivalry

October 29, 2008|MARK HEISLER | Heisler is a Times staff writer.

What rivalry was that again?

Going off Tuesday night's 96-76 Lakers romp, we must be in the very early stages of the resumption of their storied rivalry with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Nor was the ballyhooed center matchup between Andrew Bynum and Greg Oden exactly like watching the rookie Kareem Abdul-Jabbar going against Wilt Chamberlain.

It was more like a pitchers' duel with Bynum winning, 2-0, in the first half. That was the only one Oden played in, going scoreless in his debut, lasting only 11 minutes before spraining his right foot and leaving. In an ominous note, the Trail Blazers said X-rays were inconclusive and Oden would undergo an MRI exam today.

Well, the matchup certainly sounded intriguing, at least until it started.

Even Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, who spends considerably more time zinging opponents than praising them, was impressed by the Trail Blazers' promise, saying he saw them as "the Hornets team of last year."

"We've talked about this matchup," Portland Coach Nate McMillan said before the game. "This could be a matchup that goes on for a long period of time, for years.

"The Lakers are a very young team with [Pau] Gasol and Bynum. Kobe [Bryant] has a number of years left and I think the league is going to look at marketing this.

"This could be a rivalry with Bynum against Greg and LaMarcus [Aldridge] matched up against Gasol and Kobe [Bryant] and Brandon Roy, the Lakers and the Blazers."

Eliminating the suspense from the get-go, Bynum got the opening tip and the Lakers immediately turned into the team that so many have picked to win the title. Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers turned into a Boy Scout troop.

If Bynum and Oden have bright futures, their coaches pointed out before the game that if either is ever to score a lot of points, it will be in the future.

"He's still a young player on our team," Jackson said of Bynum. "We're not asking him to do anything but rebound and defend. That's basically his job out there."

"I want him to focus on defending the paint and rebounding the ball," McMillan said of Oden. "Offensively, we're going to go through Brando and LA [Aldridge]."

With the accomplished Gasol playing the post in the triangle offense and Bynum on the weak side, Bynum's role has diminished from what it was when he was hurt last season, before the Lakers acquired Gasol.

Oden is not only the No. 5 option among Portland's starters, he's coming off a year off. So it shouldn't have come as a surprise when he went scoreless in his first professional half, missing all of his four shots -- one of them a dunk attempt that Gasol blocked -- and both his free throws.

Meanwhile, Bynum was getting his first shot blocked -- by Oden -- and going 0 for 4 from the field.

On the other hand, there are only about 28 other teams that would kill to get their hands on either of them.

If Oden had his ups and downs in his first exhibition season, it could be nothing compared to his first week in the NBA, facing Bynum and the Lakers in his debut, Tim Duncan and the Spurs in his second game, Shaquille O'Neal and the Suns in his third.

Then in his second week, he could rest up against Yao Ming and the Rockets and Dwight Howard and the Magic.

That's if he's able to play.

McMillan, who was one of Mike Krzyzewski's assistants at the Olympics this summer, was with the U.S. team when he first got the bad news, which, at least, amused the rest of the staff.

"Mike D'Antoni cracked up laughing at the schedule when I received [it] this summer," said McMillan. "I understand the league wants to see our guys, young guys up against some of the good teams and top players as matchups."

As far as McMillan is concerned, they just didn't need to see them all in the first two weeks.

"We were just a little nervous," McMillan said afterward. "The Lakers came out, they're on a mission. . . . The level of play went up tonight and we weren't ready for it."

It's early yet, but at this point, the Trail Blazers look more like the Hornets, circa 2004.


Los Angeles Times Articles