Lakers forward Pau Gasol grabs a rebound against the Trailblazers on April… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
Reporting from Portland, Ore. — It's that time again — unfortunately, for the Lakers.
Coach Mike Brown has no idea what awaits him Thursday at the Rose Garden, a misguided arena name if ever there was one for a Lakers opponent.
The issues are much more than thorny up here. They've lasted almost a generation for the Lakers.
Since acquiring Kobe Bryant in a draft-day trade in 1996, the Lakers are 6-23 in Portland in the regular season, falling to the Trail Blazers year after year, whether rain or hail or the occasional burst of sunshine as their bus pulls into the oversized garage.
Phil Jackson used to blame the weather. Then he blamed the team's semiannual visits to the Nike store in nearby Beaverton. Then he went back to blaming the weather.
It will be noisy — the Blazers' fans are among the best in the league — adding a Super Bowl-type din to their den whenever the Lakers arrive.
Ready, Brown? Not really.
"I think we have history with everybody," Jackson's replacement said. "I have a green sweater vest and somebody said I can't wear the green sweater vest even though it says 'Lakers,' because we have a history with Boston. Somebody told me we had a history in Sacramento, that I'd be hearing cowbells and all that, so we have a history there. We have a history with the Nuggets. Now we have a history up in Portland. So, hey, bring it on. I'm OK with it."
If you say so.
The Lakers had lost nine of 10 in Portland until the basketball heavens almost collapsed over the city in February. The Lakers won in overtime, 106-101, after the former Ron Artest scored a season-high 24 points, including a step-back three-point shot out of nowhere that rallied his team from a seven-point deficit with 1 minute 30 seconds left in regulation.
A trip to Portland six weeks later ended predictably. Andrew Bynum had food poisoning and the whole team looked sick in a 93-86 loss, surrendering 19 layups and eight dunks.
"These guys just don't want to play hard right now," Jackson said at the time, a telling observation a few weeks before the Lakers' playoff collapse.
Welcome to Portland!
To add more petrol to the flames, the Trail Blazers (4-1) are surprisingly strong so far this season. They held Kevin Durant to 19 points on eight-for-26 shooting in a 103-93 victory Tuesday in Oklahoma City.
And, of course, they're 3-0 at home.
Brown watched a few minutes of that Oklahoma City game from his Staples Center office before the Lakers played Houston on Tuesday.
"They look athletic, they look like they can score inside and outside," Brown said. "And they look like they try to get up and down the floor and play a wide-open game, knowing that they do have a post-up guy to go to if they want to in [LaMarcus] Aldridge."
For all their issues in Portland, the Lakers are 22-6 against the Trail Blazers at Staples Center since acquiring Bryant. Going from LAX to PDX, however, causes them to unravel.
"I think their home crowd just gives them a lot of energy, man," Bynum said. "They go out and they run up and down and they beat us in transition ever year. That's our biggest weakness, transition defense. I think we do well with them when they come in here and we do poorly up there. We need to change it around."
The Lakers are 2-9 in Portland since drafting Bynum in 2005.
"Tell me about it," he said. "I don't think I play that well [there]. I'm going in there and really going to be aggressive and try to get started early."
Bynum hasn't done much in his first three games this season.
Twenty-nine points and 13 rebounds against Denver.
Eighteen points and 16 rebounds a day later against the Nuggets.
Twenty-one points and 22 rebounds against Houston.
"They did what I was afraid was going to happen," Houston Coach Kevin McHale said, as the Lakers kept going down low to Bynum.
He'll need to be effective against Portland. If not, everybody knows what will happen.