Curse of the Willamette continues

By John Hollinger

PORTLAND -- Here's a good example of why it pays to look deeper than the trinity of points, rebounds and assists in the box score.

Kobe Bryant had 32 points, eight boards and seven assists tonight against Portland. His counterpart, Brandon Roy had 32 points, five rebounds and six assists. Sounds like they played to a draw, right?


One big difference: Roy got his points on just eleven shots. Bryant, meanwhile, needed thirty-seven hoists to achieve his 32 points. Throw in five turnovers for Bryant against none for Roy, and it explains why the Blazers prevailed 107-98.

Bryant, of course, was battling a painful finger injury that one suspects is bothering him more than he's letting on -- in addition to the assorted winces and hand wiggles after plays in traffic, Bryant is 33-for-90 from the floor in his past three games.

Roy's numbers, including 14 free-throw attempts, vexed the Lakers more than Bryant's off night. Phil Jackson said Bryant had good looks and just missed them, but was perplexed by his team's inability to guard the injury-riddled Blazers.

Once again, dribble penetration was a major weakness for L.A. -- Andre Miller, Jerryd Bayless and Roy combined for 70 points as Portland torched the Lakers for 107 points on only 86 possessions. Coming on the heels of a subpar effort against the Clippers, the Lakers have fallen from the league lead in Defensive Efficiency.

Or maybe it's just the Curse of the Willamette. L.A. has now lost (summoning up the principal's voice from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off") nine times in a row in the Rose Garden Arena, and 22 of the past 26. It's so bad that Jackson joked he just marks the Portland games as losses when the schedule comes out.

But if the Lakers want to gain the league's top seed and home court advantage for a presumptive return to the Finals, it' s no laughing matter -- they need to beat shorthanded teams like the Blazers, with or without Pau Gasol. They'll get another crack at it on Feb. 6, and while Gasol should play in that one, a few of Portland's walking wounded (Rudy Fernandez, Nicolas Batum, Steve Blake) will dress as well.

One thing's for sure -- L.A. has no shot if Bryant needs three times as many shots as Roy to get the same number of points. Should he fail to outplay Roy in the rematch, there's a good chance the Lakers' Rose Garden skid will hit ten.