Blazers become Lakers' latest victims
LOS ANGELES — Once again, the Lakers have the best record in the NBA.
Kobe Bryant scored 26 points, Pau Gasol added 19 and Los Angeles beat the Portland Trail Blazers 100-86 Sunday night for its sixth consecutive victory and 15th straight at home.
The defending Western Conference champion realize that not having home-court advantage against the Celtics in last year's finals probably cost them the NBA title, and they want to do something about it this time around. They are 27-5, one fewer loss than Boston and Cleveland.
"It's obviously important to have homecourt advantage, so we look at it as a challenge to achieve that goal," Bryant said. "Obviously we have a long way to go. It's a great opportunity. We have quite a few home games here, so we look forward to trying to stretch this out a little bit. We have plenty more gears to go to. Plenty more. I haven't even played in third gear yet."
LaMarcus Aldridge led Portland with 22 points and 11 rebounds, as all five starters scored in double figures. But the Blazers shot only 39 percent overall.
"They are a good group, and they are on a mission," Portland coach Nate McMillan said. "They definitely know what they need to do to win, and right now everybody is healthy for them. Phil (Jackson) can push a lot of buttons and he has a lot of different combinations that he can go with, as far as playing big or small."
Facing the Trail Blazers for the first time since a season-opening, 96-76 win — Portland's lowest point total ever against the Lakers — Los Angeles pulled away with a 15-3 run that increased its four-point lead to 75-59 with 2:12 left in the third quarter.
"They came out with the momentum in the third quarter and took over the game," Aldridge said. "A lot of guys had open shots. We just didn't make them. Kobe kind of took over and did what he does."
Bryant and Gasol got the Lakers' pivotal rally going with 16-foot jumpers, Derek Fisher added a 3-pointer and Sasha Vujacic capped the rally with a four-point play — converting the free throw after Rudy Fernandez fouled him on a 3-pointer.
"I like that play a lot," Vujacic said. "Sometimes I'm worried that if the guy's not very cautious or if he comes to me at a high speed, I've got to kind to jump back because I can sprain my ankle. So it's not easy. In the first half, he kind of threw himself into my legs on my pick-and-roll with Andrew (Bynum), so I knew he was going to foul me on that play and I kind of isolated him and just took a shot."
Vujacic, playing despite a case of tonsillitis, had 11 points in 26 minutes. Vladimir Radmanovic had 16 points off the bench for the Lakers, 12 of them in the fourth quarter. Portland made only three of 14 shots during the first 6:06 of the quarter, all of them 3-pointers, and never got closer than 14 points.
"It's always a good sign to be on top, but you just can't relax," Gasol said. "There's too many games and too much competition to just relax and get comfortable and be satisfied with the best record."
The Lakers, hoping to get out to a fast start against a Portland lineup missing leading scorer Brandon Roy because of an injured right hamstring, didn't take their first lead until Trevor Ariza's two free throws put them ahead 51-50 with 52.5 seconds left in the first half. Portland led 25-19 through one quarter after forcing nine turnovers — all of them in a 7:25 span and one fewer than the Lakers had in Friday's win over Utah.
"It happens every once in a while," Bryant said. "Sometimes the rhythm isn't there, you can't quite get a handle on the ball and the team that you're playing against is playing extremely well with a lot of energy. So you just have to put a stop to it somehow. But some of those turnovers were self-inflicted."