DETROIT — The Lakers might as well call Detroit the Portland of the Eastern Conference, even though it doesn't have the look or feel of a drizzly day in a quaint Pacific Northwest city.
The Lakers have endured a drought here that more than matches their futility streak in Portland, an 0-9 mark in the Motor City tracing back to their last victory here in March 2002.
It includes some blowouts (103-81 in 2005 and 111-88 in 2003), a last-second loss (90-89 in January 2008) and, most famously, three consecutive one-sided defeats in the 2004 NBA Finals.
The rosters have shifted for both teams over the years, but the losses haven't stopped dropping on the Lakers.
"They play defense, you know?" guard Derek Fisher said. "It makes it tough to win games there."
This might be the Lakers' time to sneak in a victory tonight against the injury-riddled Pistons.
Despite an early-season victory in Los Angeles, the Pistons (34-36) simply aren't what they used to be.
Point guard Chauncey Billups was traded to Denver during the first week of the season, and his replacement in Detroit, Allen Iverson, hasn't fared so well, shooting only 41.7% and scoring what would be a career-low 18 points a game. Iverson has missed every game this month because of a back injury and is not expected to play tonight.
Pistons shooting guard Richard Hamilton also has been sidelined, missing five games because of a groin injury, as has center Rasheed Wallace, who has missed eight games because of a sore calf. Neither player is expected to play tonight, though Hamilton appears to be closer in his recovery than Wallace.
Wallace and Iverson each had 25 points in the Pistons' 106-95 mid-November victory at Staples Center as the Lakers were pushed around in the post. Adding insult to ineffectiveness, former Lakers center Kwame Brown didn't look half bad for Detroit, finishing with 10 points and 10 rebounds in one of his first games after signing a two-year, $8-million deal with the Pistons.
"He outplayed Andrew [Bynum] tonight," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said at the time.
Last season in Detroit, the Lakers fought back from a 17-point deficit only to lose by one after Lamar Odom airballed a 19-footer with two seconds left.
"That was a tough one," Jackson said this week.
Maybe things won't be so tough tonight. The Lakers could use a victory to stay with Cleveland in the race for the league's best record. Maybe they can finally end their frustrating jinx in Detroit.
"There are a lot of reasons why, but we don't plan on allowing it to continue," Fisher said.
Return of the reserves?
The Lakers' backups outscored their Oklahoma City counterparts Tuesday, 39-22, but Jackson wasn't ready to call their recent turnaround complete.
"They're getting close," he said. "I'm not sure that they're right exactly where I want them to be, but I like the fact that Jordan [Farmar]'s aggressive, he's looking for his shot. Luke [Walton] seems to be in rhythm again, playing the kind of ball that exemplifies his game and helps his teammates. Josh [Powell] got untracked too."
Walton had 11 points on five-for-six shooting and added three assists in 18 minutes. Farmar had six points, four rebounds and two assists. Powell had 14 points in almost 21 minutes.
Rookie guard Sun Yue sprained his left ankle while practicing Monday with the Lakers' Development League affiliate and is expected to miss three to six weeks.
Sun was assigned to the D-Fenders last week and was going to play at least one more week with them while the Lakers were on a seven-game trip.
Sun will miss the rest of the Development League season and will rejoin the Lakers when he is healthy.