LOS ANGELES &
Kobe Bryant established the tone for this season from opening night: He's going for his fourth championship instead of his third consecutive NBA scoring title.
Bryant got 11 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter and the Los Angeles Lakers held Portland to 36 percent field goal shooting, beating the Trail Blazers 96-83 Tuesday night for their ninth straight victory. The 10-time All-Star added nine rebounds and seven assists.
"The real value of a super player is that he makes other players better," coach Phil Jackson said. "You can see the apparent emphasis of Kobe's game to get other people involved and make the rest of his team better."
Second-year backup point guard Jordan Farmar tied a career high with 21 points for the Lakers, who lead the Western Conference by one game over San Antonio and Phoenix and are 40-17, just two wins behind last season's total with 25 games to play. Pau Gasol had 15 points and 10 rebounds.
"We have, in my estimation, the best bench in the league," Bryant said. "Guys come in and do an extremely good job of playing, moving the basketball, knocking down shots and just playing extremely well."
The Lakers have won nine championships in Los Angeles, finishing with the best record in the West the first seven times they won it all. The last two times they captured the title, they were second in the conference in 2001 and tied for second in 2002. The Lakers were the best in the West in seven other seasons without winning a title, losing four times in the finals. So winning a conference title doesn't necessarily guarantee a ring.
"I have not mentioned it to them. I've just talked about home-court advantage and what we want to do in terms of getting ourselves in position to compete in the playoffs," Jackson said.
"It's all about what team you're going to match up well against, then start to analyze the teams that are going to be in your bracket and see what your chances are. I think almost every team in our conference that's going to make the playoffs in the bottom ranking is going to say, 'We've got a good chance against the team above us.'"
LaMarcus Aldridge led Portland with 24 points and Joel Pryzbilla tied a season high with 16 rebounds.
The Trail Blazers converted their first 21 free throws before Martell Webster missed both attempts with 1:33 remaining. But the undermanned Blazers shot under 40 percent from the field for the 10th time this season and the sixth time in their last 16 games. Coach Nate McMillan was ejected with 3:05 to play after arguing about a foul.
The Blazers have lost eight of their last nine and 15 of 22 following a 17-1 surge. As a result, they are only one game over .500 (29-28) in the tightly bunched West, where the top nine teams are separated by just 61/2 games. Portland is in 10th place, 41/2 games behind Denver and 51/2 behind Golden State for the eighth and final seed.
"We did some good things the first half of the season, but that's the first half," McMillan said. "The second half is going to be a huge challenge for us to try and win games going down the stretch and get our team to play well as a unit. It's a long season, and part of what we're doing here is trying to teach these guys how to get through an 82-game schedule playing at this level and with this type of intensity, mentally and physically."
Travis Outlaw, who led the Blazers in scoring in each of their previous four games while averaging 23 points, had 18 against the Lakers in his first start of the season. All-Star forward Brandon Roy, who aggravated a sprained right ankle in the third quarter of Sunday's 112-102 loss against Boston, was back in Portland getting an MRI exam.
The Lakers erased a 15-point first-quarter deficit and took a 67-65 lead into the fourth on Ronny Turiaf's 3-point play. They pulled away with a 14-2 run capped by Farmar, whose 3-pointer and layup gave them an 81-71 lead with 5:54 left. Portland got as close as 84-79, but the Lakers closed it out with a 12-4 spurt.
Jackson believes the return of Derek Fisher has made Farmar a better and more confident player.
"I think he's really encouraged Jordan to play well and hasn't made it competitive to that it's a battle out there between the two of them," Jackson said. "I think Derek really values the fact that he can share the time with Jordan and give him some instruction and information and continually help him know the league and the players."
Notes: A win Thursday against lowly Miami would give the Lakers their 21st double-digit winning streak in franchise history and their 17th since moving from Minneapolis to Los Angeles &
including an NBA-record 33-game run in 1971-72. .. Portland was outscored 23-14 in the third quarter, the seventh time in eight games it had fewer than 20 points in that period. ... The Lakers and Blazers, who faced each other for the first time this season, have a rematch on Friday at Portland after the Blazers spend another night at Staples Center playing the Clippers. They have lost eight straight to the Clippers in Los Angeles. ... Lakers F Vladimir Radmanovic missed his second game with a right calf strain.
Blazers, sans Roy, can't hold lead in loss to Lakers
LOS ANGELES &