Pau Gasol waited for Kobe Bryant before approaching the bench for a timeout. They smiled at each other, Pau rubbed Kobe on the back of the head and suddenly, a familiar phenomenon resurfaced; one that seemed to come and go as this past season has progressed. Just a few seconds before Portland called the timeout, the shot clock ran down to its final few seconds when Kobe penetrated, jumped like he was going to take a shot, but passed to his left where Pau was waiting. In one swift move, Pau caught the ball in midair with both hands, lowered his left arm, and guided the ball with his right — two points.

The phenomenon that was there throughout last season’s championship run but seems to have gone missing through so much of this season? A kindred spirit — that kinship and natural affinity towards each other, in this case, out there on the hardwood.

Last season’s Laker team was overflowing with this kinship. They had one mission — a championship title; one strategy — defense; and they had one collective attitude — all or nothing.

This season, however, this kindredness has been difficult to identify.

This Sunday afternoon game was the second of a nationally televised double-header with the Orlando Magic and Cleveland Cavaliers playing first (Note: Does anyone notice how the Lakers seem to lose on the same days that the Cavaliers lose? Just a strange observation). Though the Lakers have already secured home court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs, and beating Cavaliers out of the best record in the league is now impossible, a secondary goal of at least staying ahead of Orlando for the second best record was set, just in case the two teams were to meet again in the Finals.

Unfortunately for the Lakers, getting from Game 1 of the playoffs to Game 1 of the NBA Finals will not be a cakewalk. First they have to get through teams in the tougher of the two conferences and their first round possible match-up could be their opponents today — the Portland Trailblazers.

Still without two of their big men, many analysts have counted out the Blazers. With a young core, however, combined with three veteran players in Andre Miller, Juwan Howard, and Marcus Camby, Portland is the last team anyone should overlook and the Lakers played the majority of the game respecting their opponent.

They matched the Blazers’ energy on both ends of the court without playing erratically (they only had six turnovers to the road team’s 11). They exposed Portland’s defensive lapses to get to the hoop with ease (Lamar Odom took advantage of all the open lanes in transition to get lay-ups). They clamped down on shooters (no Blazer attempted more than four shots from downtown and they made 6 out of 15).

Pau and Lamar, who work seamlessly together since Pau’s arrival in 2008, were the movers of their team this afternoon. Since Andrew Bynum has been out, Pau has popped back into the center position, scoring and rebounding at will. Whether it’s a jump shot from 17 feet, a quick lob inside, or spin-move to a driving lay-up, Pau is a threat from anywhere but the three-point line. Today he had 23 points on 9-13, 12 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks.

When Lamar is active, especially offensively, the Lakers are that much more capable of beating anyone they play. Today he scored on inside passes that led to uncontested dunks, on his signature defensive rebound, coast-to coast transition lay-up, on shots from well outside the paint. He also took care of the glass. Lamar finished with 16 points on 8-15, 15 rebounds and 3 assists.

After missing the last two games, Kobe Bryant felt well enough to play today. Though he shot a paltry 8-23 from the field, he did in the last few minutes what he always does. First, he shot a long three to cut the Portland lead to two. He then followed that with a driving scoop shot with a foul to make it 86-87. However in the end, he missed two key free throws.

Derek Fisher, who has not been shooting well all season, had 14 points on 6-11. Andre Miller fouled him in the waning seconds of the game after Pau rebounded Kobe’s second missed free throw and threw a pass to Derek for safekeeping or scoring. Placed in another moment to be his clutch self, he missed the first free throw. Kobe turned away and smiled, probably wondering how he and his co-captain, who have bailed out their team repeatedly, could have put themselves in this position. They could have been up by three at that point.

With the game tied 88-88, Portland inbounded the ball and Derek fouled Martell Webster in the middle of a three-point attempt; a strange and very uncharacteristic for a veteran player. Webster hit all three free throws and with 3.1 seconds left, Pau Gasol was the only player in position to attempt a three-pointer for overtime. Unfortunately, he is not efficient from that spot.

Portland played to win this game, despite missing Brandon Roy for the second half, in hopes of getting a win and avoiding the Lakers in the first round. The Lakers played to win… until the very end where untimely errors crushed their attempt.

Orlando won today, by the way, and overtook the second best record in the league. If the Lakers know what’s good for them, they will cross that bridge to Orlando when (or if) they get there. In the meantime, seven Western Conference teams would gladly take that trip in June to the East Coast for them.

Pre-game Thoughts: Kobe’s playing today. Hopefully, the two missed games will be his last break of the season.

Half-time Thoughts: 45-46, Lakers. It has been a game of mini-runs so far. Each time the Lakers established a relatively good lead, the Blazers catch up quickly.

Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Since we have run out of words to describe disappointment in the bench… again, this category goes to Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant in the last minute of the game. They combined for three missed free throws and for Derek, fouling a three-point attempt.

Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom both played efficiently, energetically and purposefully today. They combined for 39 points on 17-28 shooting, 27 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 blocks and a steal each.

  • GQ

    first

  • SliqRiq

    You should have wrote about the biggest problem as it is with every game and that is our sorry pieces of worthless garbage of a bench we have, other than Mbenga its the same old story with this bench by far “Worst in the NBA”

    Fisher's brain fart of a foul at the end and the 0-9 to start the fourth by our SCRUB bench should be your “Most Thoughtless Players of the Game”

    • GQ

      I thought ref don't don't decide a game by ft at the end

      • GreenFlannel

        Only if its the Lakers.

  • Laker4 Life

    This was just a disappointing game. How the hell did Kobe and Fish miss three free throws in a row. They are on e of the best free throw shooters, especially fisher. If he at least made boththe loakers would have won by 1 point. Even though kobe missed 2 free throws, I would give the most thoughtless player to Fisher because he is a good free throw shooter and missed one that cost the lakers and the bad foul he committed was a bad veteran play. The blazers got lucky in this game or else if it wasn't for the missed free throws Lakers would have won. Another problem Lakers had was their defense. They were leaving the shooters wide open and they knockedv them down. They need to start palying better defense or else they will no win a championship this year. Also the Lakers bench is horrible. Farmar, sasha, luke, morrison, and powell need to be traded in the summer. Those 5 don't help the Lakers at all, they actually make lakers worse.

  • jack

    more time for sasha plzzzzz. less for farmer and brown. sasha will be kobe's shield once again in these playoffs.

    • sasha_

      vujacic will be our ariza from last year in the playoffs.

      • wrong

        Get the fuck out of here

      • mrlaker19

        Yea u fuccin nuts bro

    • wrong

      That goes for you too.. Sasha can't even shield himself.

  • airkobe

    it's ok I rather have oklahoma than portland in the first round. I still believe lakers all the way in play off!!

  • 242LakerFan

    This team is really making a believer out of me…
    a believer in the critics who say they lack the heart, the commitment, the confidence it takes to repeat as NBA Champs. They've constantly used the comparison to the '01 team to justify a sub-par year. That team struggled through the regular season…this team had a better record at this or that point…blah blah blah…
    The difference? That team went into the playoffs playing its best ball, on a huge streak, feeling good. This team is stumbling into the playoffs having lost several games, blowout style, to non-playoff teams and a few in let-down fashion to teams they needed to make statements against. This team has given up a spot in overall standings and home-court advantage to a team they could face in the Finals. This team makes stupid mistakes when it counts. It loses fourth quarter leads. It finishes weak.
    I never thought I'd hear myself criticising the Lakers at this point in a season, but I can't get around the fact that their play in the last month has drained me of all reason to be confident about their playing into June this year.
    So I'm down to the last resort of a fan; blind, heartfelt but factually unfounded support of a team based solely on emotional attachment built on 30 years of bleeding Forum Blue and Gold.
    Maybe, just maybe, the heart of a fan can inspire the heart that's been sorely lacking in this team.
    Go Lakers!!! We're here for you!!!!

  • xtro

    i think they tanked the game yesterday. how in the hell could kobe bryant miss two free throws by hitting the same area of the rim? how in the hell could fisher miss a free throw and then commit a silly foul on martell webster. then, i saw kobe smiling slyly on the side before the final seconds and then pau taking a 3-pointer instead to tie the game instead of kobe. they tanked it so they don't have to face portland in the first round. the blazers and thunder are going to play a crucial game this week as well. something was definitely fishy in yesterday's game

  • DanG

    Why is Kobe playing instead of resting??? Make no sense to me at all!

    • GreenFlannel

      No one is going to rest at all. Two non play-off teams against the Lakers? It shouldn't be difficult game and the bench should come in early. Kobe will start, yes, but don't be worried. I do not think Phil will wear him out these last two games. 6 guys have injuries that you can sit out with. If Kobe can rest, so can the other 5. We don't want to lose. Clearly, but Phil's intelligence will be shown on how he plays these 5 guys (Bynum is out).

      • GreenFlannel

        These guys do not care anymore. I don't think, Kobe doesn't think, and Phil donesn't think that you can just flip the switch come playoff time. Well if they can't do that then what now?

  • dclaker

    I feel the comment Charles Barkley said 2 two weeks ago is true….we are missing Ariza.Don't get me wrong Artest is beast but Trev is quicker.Some guys just fit perfectly in the triagle more than others.I feel we can repeat but gotta give props to Cleveland.They play as a TEAM even when Lebron has 40pts,10assist,9rebs.Lakers (except for Kobe,Pau,LO,Artest,D.Fish,Mbenga) are lost and rely too much on our starting 5…STEP UP TIME NOW!!!

  • Cameron

    Final shot was beyond bizarre.