Posted December 28, 2012 on AP on Fox
The Los Angeles Lakers appeared to have found their groove before coming up short their last time out. While they might normally like their chances of getting back on track with Portland coming to town, the Trail Blazers are playing some of their best basketball of the season. The Lakers try to regroup Friday night against a Blazers team hoping to avoid a 10th loss in 11 meetings at Staples Center. After getting off to a rough start, Los Angeles (14-15) established itself with a season-best five consecutive victories. While Kobe Bryant did his best to extend that run by scoring 40 points Wednesday, the Lakers couldn't slow down Denver in a 126-114 road loss. "It just seemed like we were a step slow. It just seemed like we had a wheel stuck in the mud. We played old," said Bryant, who's scored at least 30 in 10 straight games. "It was like we were in a lower gear all night. It's a little bit more alarming now because of the way we started the season." Los Angeles, which surrendered its highest point total of the season Wednesday, played most of the second half without Dwight Howard after he was ejected for a flagrant foul 2. The Lakers were outscored 58-38 in the paint and gave up 25 second-chance points on 20 offensive rebounds. Los Angeles now turns its attention to Portland (14-13), which has dropped four straight and 18 of 21 on the road in this series dating to 2001. The Blazers, though, pulled out a 116-106 home victory in their season opener, overcoming Howard's season-high 33 points and 14 rebounds and 30 points from Bryant. Portland's Nicolas Batum led the way with 26 points in that game while rookie Damian Lillard scored 23 to go along with a season high-tying 11 assists. Wesley Matthews scored 22. Playing at home versus on the road has a made a world of difference for Portland, which is 10-4 on its own court and 4-9 as the visiting team. The Blazers have won six of seven, with their only loss over that stretch coming 108-96 at Sacramento on Sunday. Portland, though, exacted revenge Wednesday in the back-end of a home-and-home set, beating the Kings 109-91 "We just wanted to come home and take care of home court and try to get a win before we go out on the road," said Aldridge, with had 28 points and 12 boards. Lillard also came up big with 17 points, 11 assists and a season-best eight rebounds for the Blazers, who compiled a season-high 31 assists. Portland is averaging 25.2 assists over its last five games - significantly better than its season mark of 20.3. "We've been moving the ball really well, and I just think that that shows how much more we trust each other now," said Lillard, who leads all first-year players with 18.6 points and 6.7 assists per game. "We're just making plays for each other and guys have enough confidence to make shots." In addition to trying to contain Aldridge and Lillard, the Lakers could have their hands full with J.J. Hickson. The big man had 17 points and 14 rebounds Wednesday for his ninth consecutive double-double - the longest such stretch by a Blazer since Kermit Washington in 1980. Portland could be without Matthews for a third consecutive game due to a lingering strained left hip. After missing eight games earlier this month with knee tendinitis, the Lakers' Pau Gasol was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis. He's listed as probable for this game.
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