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Pivot Points: NBA's Black Friday Consumes Lakers, Other Top Contenders

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IJanuary 9, 2010

PORTLAND, OR - APRIL 08:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers battles for the ball with Brandon Roy #7 the Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden on April 8, 2008 in Portland, Oregon.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers continued their misery in Portland by dropping their ninth consecutive game to the Trail Blazers in the Rose Garden, but were able to retain their league-best record due to losses by the rest of the NBA's top contenders.

It was a strange night indeed, which saw Boston lose to Atlanta, Orlando lose to Washington, and Cleveland lose to Denver, with all those losses coming on the road.

For the Lakers it was their third consecutive road loss in a city in which the Lakers have been unsuccessful since the season of 2008, a streak so long that Laker coach Phil Jackson was able to find humor in it.

Jackson said he usually looks at the schedule and marks an "L" in the loss column whenever he sees a road game against the Blazers, and his team re-inforced his premonition by playing as if the game were already lost.

The Lakers prolonged their longest road streak to any team in the NBA by losing the battle in almost every category in the stat book, and counted the days to the return of injured forward Pau Gasol.

Both teams played short-handed, but the effort Portland mustered without their top two centers in Greg Oden and Joe Przybilla was great, while forward Nicholas Batum was impressive.

They out-shot the Lakers 50 percent to 43 percent, out-rebounded them 42 to 38, had more assists, a better free-throw percentage, and guard Jerryd Bayless out scored the entire Laker bench 21 points to 10.

It was a thoroughly dominant performance and it left the Lakers with no answers to a stream of very familiar questions pertaining to their inability to defend the perimeter, and the continued inconsistent play of centerย Andrew Bynum.

Los Angeles didn't have a player capable of staying in front of Bayless and Bynum gave another un-inspired performance in the post on a night in which he was set up to rule the paint.

It could be due to the Lakers' inability to get the ball to Bynum as he had only 13 attempts from the field on a night which saw the Lakers shoot only 10 shots from the charity stripe while Portland managed 39.

The discrepancy would leave room to question the officiating, but the Lakers left little space for that as they strangely reverted to a jump-shooting team when their obvious advantage was in the paint.

Kobe Bryant did score 32 points but it took him 37 shots to get it and he only attempted four shots from the free-throw line, while counter-part Brandon Roy scored the same amount of points on 11 attempts and 14 shots from the charity stripe.

The Lakers reluctance to go to Bynum in the post may be more of a trust issue since that can be the only explanation for Los Angeles failing to take advantage of Bynum's pairing against smaller players in LaMarcus Aldridge and Juwon Howard.

The Lakers desperately need the hamstrung Gasol back and Jackson indicated he may make his return in Sunday's home game against the Milwaukee Bucks, and it can't come soon enough.

Rebounding is usually a strong point for the Lakers but on this night they failed to block out, were slow to recover on long shots, and allowed the smaller Trail Blazers to establish position in the post.

The final score should have been worse than 107-98, as the Blazers held leads as large as 20 points, but the Lakers were able to muster a run in the fourth quarter which made the final margin more respectable.

There was nothing respectable about the lack of effort on the part of the Lakers, and their reserves made matters worse with a totally useless performance when their energy was needed the most.

To only manage 10 points through the course of an entire game is a travesty, and although Jackson is reluctant to tinker with the roster this late in the season, he should explore the possibilities of aย move.

Under no circumstances should one player out-perform an entire bench, and it's not like Bayless lit up the scoreboard, it's just the Lakers had no one with the ability or willingness to match him.

So the road woes of a normally strong road team continue and the Lakers find themselves mired in their second losing streak of the season after suffering their fifth loss away from the Staples Center.

Actually, theirย fourth loss away from Staples since the last game was against the Clippers, but the crowd and the court were changed to reflect the blue and red of the other Los Angeles team.

Even though the Lakers were able to maintain the league's best record in the midst of defeat, they can find little solace in that fact since it was largely due to default, as the rest of the NBA's elite fell victim to a black Friday.

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