PORTLAND, Ore. -- Maybe the Rose Garden by any other name really isn’t still the Rose Garden when it comes to giving the Los Angeles Lakers fits.
The Lakers played for the first time in the re-named Moda Center on Monday and looked nothing like the team that routinely made the 960-mile trip up the West Coast only to get their doors blown off by the Trail Blazers, even in their good years.
This season wouldn’t classify as good, or even decent. More like dreadful. But Monday’s game was an escape from all that.
For the second straight game, the Lakers came out hitting on all cylinders on offense and all the scoring fueled their effort on defense. It wasn’t quite the season-high 126 points they scored against the Sacramento Kings or a franchise record 19 made 3-pointers. Then again, this game was against a Portland team that came into the night with the third-best record in the Western Conference, including a 23-7 home mark.
“As long as they’re fighting and as long as they’re competitive and they’re playing together and showing a good spirit, then we’ll be in most games and we’ll surprise some people,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said before his team's 107-106 victory.
Surprise, not shock. With 22 games left in the season, even D’Antoni conceded at shootaround in Portland “we’re not making the playoffs.”
But what once seemed to be a death march in store for the Lakers the rest of the way -- especially with Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant’s returns this campaign looking less and less likely -- is now turning into a bit of a late rebirth for the Lakers.
How it happened: The Lakers led by as many as 15 points in the first half and took a seven-point lead into intermission by improbably controlling the boards 26-23 through the first two quarters and outscoring Portland 22-4 in fast-break points and 32-18 in points in the paint. L.A. kept its cushion for most of the third quarter before it got sloppy with the ball, leading to back-to-back 3-pointers by Dorell Wright to cut the Lakers’ lead from nine to three with 1:55 remaining.
The Lakers’ lead stood at the start of the fourth quarter. But things seemed to be slipping away when Jodie Meeks was called for a five-second violation for not inbounding the ball to Jordan Farmar in time from the sidelines. Farmar pounded the ball on the floor in frustration and had a few sharp words for Meeks for not passing it in sooner. But on the very next possession, the Lakers forced a turnover and it was Meeks and Farmar running the two-on-one break with Farmar finding Meeks for a 3 that put L.A. up by eight.
Portland got it back down to six thanks to LaMarcus Aldridge scoring two of his 21 points, but L.A. surged right back with a 5-0 run thanks to a 3-point play by Meeks and a Robert Sacre deuce, giving the Lakers an 11-point advantage.
Portland responded, cutting it back down to two after Wes Matthews stripped Farmar of the ball and passed it back down court to a wide-open Nicolas Batum for a 3 with 3:37 to go. Portland had a chance to tie it a couple minutes later, but Damian Lillard was called for a travel after dragging his pivot foot with 1:35 remaining, giving L.A. new life. Pau Gasol missed a shot, however, opening the door for Matthews to tie it up with a fadeaway jumper with 1:10 remaining.
The Blazers finally broke through on their next possession, with Lillard going 1-for-2 from the free throw line to give the Blazers their first lead since the first quarter and corralling the ball after he missed the second one, to boot. Matthews missed a shot from the corner after a Portland timeout, leading to Kent Bazemore streaking up the floor with a chance to get L.A. the lead back, but he lost it out of bounds.
At least that was the call on the floor. The referees went to the video monitor to check the replay after it was unclear if Matthews had hit the ball out of Bazemore’s hands clean or Bazemore touched it last. The call was overturned and L.A. got the ball back with 7.1 seconds left leading to an excellent play call -- Bazemore finding Wesley Johnson with a lob at the rim to give the Lakers a 107-106 edge with 6.4 seconds remaining.
Portland went to their Mr. Everything on their final possession, but Lillard was defended well by Meeks and his shot fell short at the buzzer.
What it means: The Lakers have some fight in them yet. Which isn’t necessarily a good thing for a team with a first-round pick in June’s upcoming draft.
Hits: Johnson had 14 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals, two blocks and the game winner.
Bazemore hit a career-high four 3-pointers en route to 14 points.
That dunk Meeks had on Batum in the second quarter.
Gasol chipped in 22 points, Meeks had 21.
Farmar and Kendall Marshall combined for 16 points and 17 assists playing the point jointly.
Misses: That dunk Robin Lopez had on Robert Sacre in the second quarter.
Stat of the game: 0.7. The amount of time that went off the clock from the time Bazemore threw the ball in with 7.1 seconds left to the time Johnson put in the winning layup with 6.4 seconds remaining.
Up next: The Lakers play the second night of a back-to-back Tuesday at home against the New Orleans Pelicans. They follow that up with another back-to-back this week by hosting the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday, then traveling to Denver to play the Nuggets on Friday.