Losing in Oregon isn't unique

January 9, 2010, 2:04 AM

By: John Ireland

Feb. 23, 2005.

That was the last time the Lakers won in Portland. And after Friday night's 107- 98 loss in the Rose Garden, one of the great mysteries of my life rolls on.

I consider myself to be a fairly knowledgeable person, particularly when it comes to the Lakers. But for the life of me, I cannot explain why the Lakers have been unable to beat the Blazers for nine straight games in this city. Friday's loss continues the longest road losing streak against one opponent since the Lakers lost 10 in a row at Seattle from 1991 to '94.

Keep in mind that this losing streak at Portland has occurred during a stretch in which the Lakers have made the playoffs in every season, reached the NBA Finals twice and won the title last year. It has happened with Phil Jackson as the coach, during Kobe's MVP season, and, for five games, after they traded for Pau Gasol.

But losing in Oregon isn't unique. Since 1993, the Lakers' record in Portland is now a staggering 6-28. There is no other city in the league where the team has struggled this much -- not even close. Take a look at the Lakers' five lowest winning percentages in road arenas during that span:

.364, 12-21, Jazz

.375, 12-20, Spurs

.353, 6-11, 76ers

.333, 5-10, Pacers

.176, 6-28, Trail Blazers

As you can see, the Lakers lose almost twice as much in Portland as in any other city. And it isn't as if L.A. can't beat the Blazers. The Lakers have dominated the games in Los Angeles over that same period, winning 23 games and losing only 10.

There just isn't a logical explanation for why the Lakers struggle here during the regular season. As anyone who reads Malcolm Gladwell can tell you, it is the definition of an "outlier." Or as Lakers TV guy Joel Meyers said on the air, "What is it about this place? The water? The building? The City?"

Those of us who cover the team regularly have asked every question imaginable to the Lakers' players and coaches in an attempt to explain this. Over the years, Phil Jackson has speculated (half-seriously) that the rain in Portland is depressing and it contributes to the Lakers' troubles. He has threatened to cancel the annual team trip to the Nike Employee Store, because "it might be taking too much out of them." Last season, Jackson allowed Kurt Rambis to serve as head coach for one of the games here when Phil wasn't feeling well. He joked that "maybe Kurt can win … I haven't been able to up there." Even though the Lakers came in riding a five-game winning streak, Rambis lost anyway.

But this time around, the Lakers had their best chance to win in years. Even though Gasol sat out his third straight game with a strained hamstring, that was nothing compared with the injury bug that has hit Portland.

Both of the Blazers centers, Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla, have suffered season-ending injuries. Also out for Friday's game: starting forward Nicolas Batum (shoulder); Steve Blake (pneumonia); Rudy Fernandez (back); and Travis Outlaw (foot). Even the coach, Nate McMillan, ruptured his Achilles tendon, and can barely walk.

But none of that mattered when the ball went up. Portland dominated the Lakers from the start -- leading by six at the end of the first quarter and by 12 at halftime. The second half was more of the same, and the Lakers never led -- not once.

Two things stood out: The Blazers made 56 percent of their shots in the first three quarters, as well as 32 of 39 free throws for the game. The Lakers shot only 10 free throws, making five.

Both things indicate that the Lakers' defense is broken. If you allow the other team to shoot the lights out, you probably aren't guarding its players closely enough. And if they shoot five times as many free throws, you probably fouled them when you tried to correct that.

After the game, Jackson pointed out that this was the second consecutive game that the defense had let the team down (the Lakers lost to the Clippers 102-91 on Wednesday).

"I wasn't happy with our defense in either game," Jackson said. "Both teams [Portland and the Clippers] aren't teams that should score 100 points, and we allowed both to do that."

The two-game losing streak comes at a bad time. The Portland game started a stretch of games in which the Lakers play 10 of their next 13 on the road -- including stops in Dallas, San Antonio, Cleveland and Boston.

At least they don't return to Oregon until next month.


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