The Portland Trail Blazers held shootaround at the Staples Center this morning in preparation for tonight’s game against the Lakers in Los Angeles (tipoff scheduled for 7:30 PM on TNT and 620 AM). Some notes …
— Last year, the Trail Blazers and Lakers had an epic late-season battle at the Moda Center. The Lakers were fighting to get into the playoffs while the Trail Blazers had lost eight-straight and were long since eliminated from playoff contention. The game, which the Lakers won 113-106, was highlighted by Kobe Bryant, who scored 47 points while playing all 48 minutes, and Damian Lillard going blow for blow in what was one of Bryant’s last games before rupturing his Achilles tendon.
This year, the roles are reversed. The Lakers, usually stalwarts of the Western Conference playoff race, were one of the first teams mathematically eliminated from
postseason play while the Trail Blazers are holding out hope of passing the Rockets in the standings to secure home-court advantage in the first round.
“This is a big game for us,” said Nicolas Batum. “The way we play, at least the last three games, is pretty good. We’re ‘back on track’ almost since LA is back. We played great defense, played together so tonight’s game is big for
us because this team has no pressure. You can see the last couple of games they’re playing great basketball, blowout Phoenix, huge win against New York, a team battling for a playoff spot. You know it won’t be easy so we need a good game tonight.”
The Trail Blazers were also defeated 107-106 by the Lakers on March 3 at the Moda Center, which was arguably their worst loss of the season when taking into account what losing to the Lakers in Portland means to the fan base. So any concern that Portland would be playing the record rather than the opponent seems unwarranted.
“We might have underestimated a little bit last game,” said Batum. “We lost on a last play at them, so we owe them a little payback.”
And just in case playoffs and payback weren’t enough, the players are still hearing from fans that there’s nothing wrong with kicking the Lakers while they’re down.
“I like coming to L.A. and I tweeted ‘LA!’,” said Damian Lillard, “and a bunch of people quoted the tweet and said ‘You forgot BEAT.’ Like ‘Beat L.A.’ I got that a lot of times. I can definitely see that passion behind it.”
— Lillard is also well aware of the passion Lakers fans have for their team as well, as they’ve been prone to approach the second-year point guard about their desire that he one day play for in purple and gold.
— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) May 17, 2013
“That’s what fans do,” said Lillard. “On the social networks they see something, they biting at any chance to get under your skin or say something that going to go completely against what you said. Like if I say ‘I love the Blazers’ or I say ‘I love L.A.’ then it’s ‘Come to the Lakers!’ Come play with Kobe.’ You’re going to get that from fans but I think it’s fun.”
Lillard admittedly enjoys visiting Los Angeles, but that’s where the interest ends. His affinity for staying in one place, along with his disdain for moving, has him thinking long-term with the Trail Blazers.
“I know where my heart is, I know that I really want to be with Portland,” said Lillard. “It’s just fun to me, honestly … I’ll be here as long as they’ll have me.”
— Finally, today is Robin Lopez’s 26th birthday. And as luck would have it, the California native was able to recreate a birthday celebration of his youth thanks to the Trail Blazers arriving in Los Angeles Monday afternoon for Tuesday night’s game.
“One of the traditions that I’ve had — and it actually worked out nice because the friend is in town — is there’s two sets of brothers that (identical twin brother) Brook and I are really close friends with and ever since seventh grade we’ve gone to Disneyland together. So I was able to go with one of those friends. We went out for dinner and went to Disneyland for a couple hours after that. It actually worked out perfectly being in L.A.”
One might think, at 7-feet tall and 255 pounds, that Lopez might not be too large to ride the rides. Not the case. While there are minimum height requirements, no such maximum restrictions must exists, as Lopez rode Big Thunder Mountain, the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, his personal favorite, on his birthday trip to the Happiest Place On Earth.
Lopez says he’s heard all the jokes about how it makes sense that he and his brother, considering their size and eccentric personalities, were born on April Fool’s Day, though his real complaint is the similarity between his and Brook’s origin story and that of another set of twins from a popular young adult novel series.
“J.K. Rowling stole it and gave that birthday to Fred and George Weasley from ‘Harry Potter’,” said Lopez. “They’re twins, too … I know the Weasley’s were always pretty tall, they usually have somewhat unruly hair. Fred and George both ended up running a joke shop. I should definitely look into suing. I know J.K. has a few galleons in her pocket.”