The Trail Blazers have been more than a thorn in the Lakers' side at the Rose Garden, winning the teams' last six games in Portland and turning the Lakers into sneaker tread near the city that Nike calls home.
The Lakers haven't won there since Feb. 23, 2005, an 86-83 victory over a Portland team that finished 27-55 that season. (Not that the Lakers were much better, finishing 34-48 and missing the playoffs for the first time in 11 years.)
Happily for Lakers fans, their team has improved since then, but so has Portland (39-23), hanging tight in the mass of teams behind the Lakers in the Western Conference. Given the Blazers' notable 26-5 home record this season, would anybody be surprised if the visitors lost again tonight?
"I don't want to talk about that," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said Sunday. "It's been belabored too many years now. It happened before I even started and just continued on here for years. Mark it down to rainy weather, depressing faces."
The Lakers were the ones with the long faces after their last two road games -- losses in Phoenix and Denver. In the from-bad-to-worse category, they continue onward to Houston and San Antonio after Portland, three potential pitfalls awaiting them as their schedule catches up with a vengeance.
Ten of their next 13 games are away from Staples Center, which will certainly test the team with the league's best road record (21-8).
Jackson reached into his motivational toolbox a few days ago by saying the Lakers would be happy just to win two of the three games on this trip.
They wouldn't mind seeing Lamar Odom snap out of a three-game slide in which he has totaled eight points. Nor would they mind recapturing the road swagger they showed on their 6-0 trip before the All-Star break that included victories over Boston and Cleveland.
"We're ready to go," Kobe Bryant said. "It's a good test for us. It's a good game to start off this road trip in an environment where they play extremely well and we seem to play poorly. It's going to be fun."
The Lakers' 112-103 loss last April was symptomatic of their shortcomings in Portland.
They were locked in a down-the-stretch skirmish with New Orleans for the top spot in the Western Conference, but Portland's Brandon Roy tied a career high with 12 assists, LaMarcus Aldridge took a season-high 16 rebounds, and Channing Frye hit season highs with 22 points and 11 rebounds for the Trail Blazers, who were playing for nothing but pride.
"They looked like they were the team that was preparing for the race in the West," Odom said at the time. "We looked like the team that was preparing for the long vacation."
Fast-forward to Sunday, and Odom, like the rest of the Lakers, couldn't pinpoint why they've been so ragged at the Rose Garden.
"I don't know," Odom said three times. "They're tough up there. They're tough up there for everyone. They're young, and of course they probably go through their troubles on the road and are great at home. We look forward to playing our best game and go up there and get one."
Odom has one of the tougher assignments. He'll be asked to defend the talented Aldridge.
Aldridge is listed at 6 feet 11, but because of Aldridge's long wingspan, Odom said it's like guarding a 7-footer. That makes it even tougher to defend Aldridge, Portland's No. 2 scorer (18 points a game) and rebounder (seven a game).
"He's done well against us too, in the past," Odom said. "It's going to be a challenge for all of us to try and keep the ball out of his hands, double-team him and give him different looks and really attack him."
Odom worked on his game Sunday, shooting extra free throws before practice after a poor outing against Minnesota in which he missed all four free throws.
"It was just up here," he said, pointing to his head. "Almost two airballs. That won't happen again."
After practice, reporters had to wait while he lifted weights.
"I wanted to get strong, get ready for this run, get my mind ready to attack the rim and go to the free-throw line," Odom said.
Sun staying put
Guard Sun Yue will not be part of the Lakers' three-game trip unless they suffer injuries, Jackson said.
The rookie from China played a second game with the team's Development League affiliate, the D-Fenders, and scored 12 points on five-for-seven shooting Saturday in a 97-95 loss to Anaheim. He had only one assist but a game-high four blocked shots. Sun will play again for the D-Fenders on Friday against Idaho, Jackson said.
On the air: TV: Channel 9; Radio: 570, 1330.
Where: Rose Garden.
Records: Lakers 50-12, Trail Blazers 39-23.
Record vs. Trail Blazers: 2-0.
Update: For all their troubles on the road against Portland (0-6 since a February 2005 victory), the Lakers have had little difficulty at home against the Trail Blazers this season, winning the season opener, 96-76, and an early January game, 100-86. Portland center Greg Oden has been sidelined by a bone chip in his left knee and will not play tonight.
-- Mike Bresnahan
LAKERS AT PORTLAND
Tonight at 7, Channel 9
Wednesday, 5:30 p.m., Ch. 9
AT SAN ANTONIO
Thursday, 5 p.m., Ch. 9, TNT