Trail Blazers 112, Lakers 108

That might be the worst Lakers’ loss in my three seasons on the beat. It felt that way at least. When you looked at the schedule after the All-Star break, you had to think the Lakers could beat Portland and Boston at home and Golden State on the road and bounce back from their five-game losing streak with three wins.

Now it’s the first six-game losing streak of Phil Jackson’s coaching career. The Lakers gave up 112 points on nearly 60 percent shooting to a 24-32 team that was playing the second game of a back-to-back. They got lit up by two rookies (LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy) and a second-year player in Jarrett Jack.

I still have a hard time understanding Phil Jackson’s rationale for sitting Kobe Bryant with eight minutes left. We’ve seen Bryant play the entire fourth quarter of games when the stakes are the highest. A good example was the Sunday game to finish the eight-game road trip at Cleveland. He’s the NBA’s best closer, after all.

Jackson said he thought Bryant was trying to do too much in the fourth quarter – – we’ll get to his four-point first half in a little bit – – and decided the offense might open up if Bryant went to the bench. That didn’t work and Portland did the bulk of its damage in a 16-2 run with Bryant watching from the sidelines.

Bryant and Jackson have been on the same wavelength the last two seasons. I thought Bryant might voice some frustration after the game but he didn’t question Jackson’s decision to sit him.

“It’s a matter of us having to step up and make plays when we need to make them,” Bryant said. “Whether I’m in the game or on the bench is irrelevant. We have to perform. That being said, we’ve had games where we’ve performed when I was out of the game and games where we haven’t. Now moreso than ever we need everybody to step up and make plays.”

(Jackson also opted not to bring back Bryant when the Lakers ran into trouble almost immediately in the fourth quarter. Andrew Bynum brought the ball down and let Dan Dickau come in from the backside for a steal, leading to a fastbreak basket for the Blazers. Jackson called timeout with 7:31 left but Bryant didn’t return.)

Lamar Odom is supposed to hold together that bench unit while Bryant is resting. He didn’t want to hear that the game was lost during that stretch. “I look at that and you can point to that but you look at the whole game,” Odom said. “They were still not missing, getting whatever (shots) they wanted.”

It’s worth noting that Bryant scored nine points for the Lakers after he came back and finished with 13 of the team’s 28 points in the fourth quarter. The Lakers obviously are relying too much on Bryant but they also had to win Wednesday and suffered a terrible loss instead.

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Another reason why Wednesday’s loss was devastating: Houston now leads the Lakers by five games for fifth in the Western Conference standings. The Rockets are on pace to finish 52-30, which means the Lakers would have to go 22-5 the rest of the way just to tie them. See you on the Riverwalk in San Antonio in May.

Or maybe we’ll all end up in Utah . . . where Vladimir Radmanovic can show Jackson in person just where he separated his shoulder on that patch of ice in Park City.

* * *

The Lakers scored 28 points to start Wednesday’s game before Bryant drove for a layup with 54.1 seconds left in the first quarter. That was his first basket of the night; the Lakers scored another 22 points before Bryant had a second field goal. He hit a twisting layup just before halftime to give the Lakers a 54-52 lead.

Bryant’s first half line: four points on 2-of-7 shooting with five assists and seven rebounds.

As has happened more than a couple times this season, every starter scored before Bryant. It’s hard to say if the Lakers are well served this way but they were leading at halftime and Bryant did move the ball as Portland sent two defenders in his direction. He wound up taking 10 of his 22 shots in the fourth quarter.

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Jackson was happy with how Smush Parker played, especially in scoring 16 points in the first half. Parker made the Blazers pay for leaving him alone, hitting three 3-pointers. But Jackson wasn’t thrilled with Parker’s out-of-control shot with 3:27 left in the game, coming on a drive in which he was all turned around. Jackson said he thought Parker took a “premeditated” shot instead of seeing what was available.

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As hard as it is to believe, the Lakers had a six-point lead and the chance to create some separation in the third quarter. They couldn’t do it and wound up taking just an 80-78 edge into the fourth quarter. As always, the longer you let a team stick around, the greater the chance of getting burned in the end.

The whole team was guilty of blowing the opportunity to build a double-digit lead. Bryant uncharacteristically missed the first of two free throws on consecutive trips to the line. Odom forced a pass to Bynum that was stolen. Roy hit a big-time 3-pointer and Jack connected on another. Zach Randolph bullied Ronny Turiaf for a basket.

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It could always be worse, I guess. You could be the Miami Heat and be looking at the photo on the front of tonight with Dwyane Wade being taken to the hospital in a wheelchair.

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By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

The light at the end of the tunnel couldnt have looked any dimmer than it did Wednesday night for the Lakers, who arrived at the NBA trade deadline as the first Phil Jackson-coached team in history ever to have lost six consecutive games.

They suffered a dispiriting 112-108 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center, falling apart with Kobe Bryant on the bench midway through the fourth quarter and playing indifferent defense from start to finish.

What was a one-point game when Bryant checked out with eight minutes remaining turned into an 11-point Portland lead in a matter of 3 1-2 minutes. All Jackson could say afterward was, “That game got away from us real quickly.

The Blazers arrived for the second game of a back-to-back set as the NBAs third-lowest scoring team, averaging 93.8 points per game. They scored 18 points more than that average Wednesday and shot a season-best 59.7 percent.

The Lakers lost their fifth straight home game – – with the boos starting late in the fourth quarter – – and fell five games behind Houston for fifth in the Western Conference standings. They are just 4-12 in their last 16 games.

All that was left was for the Lakers to work the phones and try to convince the New Jersey Nets that they were better off without the remaining $41 million on Jason Kidds contract than they were with the All-Star guard.

Jackson portrayed things in less than favorable terms before the game, saying that he didnt think the “momentum was there to make a deal after spending the afternoon huddled with general manager Mitch Kupchak.

At the same time, Jackson questioned whether the Kidd rumors had taken a toll on his young players, saying, “They get focused on the fact that theyre going to be traded or their life is iffy and I think it makes them insecure.

After coaching nine championship teams and winning 907 games in his career, Jackson took stock of his first six-game losing streak and said, “I think we deserve it.

“Weve had a little bad luck with our injury situation, Jackson added, “but we have not outplayed people or played harder than people. Weve made mistakes in situations in which I told them theres a pattern almost to their losses.

Bryant finished with 25 points, eight rebounds and six assists, but the most telling stat came with the Lakers being outscored 25-11 in the 8:17 he spent on the bench. Maurice Evans tied a career-high with 23 points and Smush Parker added 18.

It looked as if Bryant would play to the final horn when he came back for the start of the fourth quarter. He banked in a shot and drove for a layup but Jackson decided to sit Bryant with 8:03 remaining.

“I thought he forced the action in the fourth quarter and I almost felt I needed to get him out, Jackson said. “He wanted to do so well so bad or he wanted to carry the team that his actions made it more difficult. That was one of the areas that we got stalled in.

“Then I took him out and we immediately were even worse off after that. It went from bad to worse. That was what I thought maybe we had to do to get our offense moving the ball the right way again.

The results were disastrous for the Lakers. Jackson called one timeout after Dan Dickau stripped Andrew Bynum in the post and Portland ran out for an Ime Udoka layup at the other end. As it turned out, the Blazers were just getting started.

Evans missed a jumper and Zach Randolph scored for the Blazers. Sasha Vujacic fell down on a drive and Lamar Odom missed a 3-pointer, leading to a LaMarcus Aldridge basket for Portland.

Dickau missed a 3-pointer but the Lakers couldnt grab the rebound, which went to Randolph. He floated in a shot as Portland went ahead 98-89, forcing Jackson to call timeout again and bring back Bryant with 5:06 left.

“It was very helpless, Bryant said. “It was difficult to watch. We just didnt come out ready to play in that particular time.

The Blazers went ahead 100-89 on Brandon Roys jumper, finishing a 16-2 run. The Lakers closed to four points but Jarrett Jack and Randolph got to the foul line while Bryant missed a 3-pointer and layup.

But the Lakers, who are now giving up 102.4 points per game, kept coming back to defense. They watched Jack drive his way to 30 points and Aldridge drain one jumper after another in finishing with 18 points off the bench.

“(For) a team to shoot 60 percent tells us were not putting pressure on the ball, Jackson said, “were not taking teams out of their offense, were not forcing turnovers or making teams take difficult shots.

Jackson had suffered two previous five-game losing streaks in his 16-year coaching career but never had tasted six consecutive losses. The losing had taken enough of a toll that Jackson joked beforehand about his goals for the seasons final 28 games.

“Undefeated, Jackson said.

The Lakers will settle right now for a victory over the Boston Celtics on Friday and an end to the misery. The All-Star break only interrupted the losing and left Bryant to offer a grim solution: “You have to try to will yourself out of the stretch.