PORTLAND — The fans provided the first part of the sentence — “Beat L.A.!”
Then, the Blazers added “to a pulp.”
Thursday, Portland didn’t look like a team just hoping to hang with a club that has won two of the past three NBA championships. No, after dominating the Lakers 107-96, it looked like the team with the best record in the Western Conference.
Gerald Wallace dropped 31 points on 13-of-19 shooting. LaMarcus Aldridge added 28 points and 10 rebounds while going 11 of 20. And collectively, the Blazers (5-1) committed just four turnovers.
Then again, history would suggest Thursday’s result was not a surprise but rather an expectation.
Since the Lakers acquired Kobe Bryant in 1996, they are 6-24 in the Rose Garden. Moreover, Wallace won eight of 10 games against the Lakers while with the lowly Bobcats, and is 2-0 versus L.A. when in a Blazers jersey.
Wallace punctuated his mastery of the 16-time champs with an open-court windmill dunk in the third quarter, and when asked why he is so successful against the Lakers, he initially answered, “I don’t know,” before adding “I’ve done well against the Lakers and am hoping to bring that tradition here.”
So far, he has.
The Blazers’ 107 points were the most any team has scored against the Lakers (4-4) this season. Portland also committed 11 fewer turnovers than L.A. — this coming a week after the Blazers gave the ball up a whopping 25 times in their last game in the Rose Garden.
And really, that ball control was the difference Thursday.
The Lakers hit 9 of their first 10 shots and ended the first half shooting 61 percent. Somehow, the Blazers were still within four points by halftime despite shooting 43 percent. By game’s end, L.A. had outshot, out-rebounded, and out-free-throwed Portland.
And yet, there was no disputing who the dominant team was.
Part of that was due to Portland’s bench production — particularly that of Jamal Crawford. The 31-year-old scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half, in which he hit five of his nine shots. By comparison, the Lakers’ bench accounted for just 14 points while missing 19 of 24 attempts from the field.
Bryant led L.A. with 30 points on 13-of-24 shooting, but made just 5 of 13 in the second half. Much of that was a result of Wesley Matthews’ disrupting him on defense, which he has a history of doing.
“He (Kobe) is my favorite player,” said Matthews, who finished with 16 points. “That’s what happens when you go up against the best.”
Andrew Bynum added 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Lakers, who missed all 11 of their 3-point attempts.
The Blazers, who will take on the Suns in Phoenix on Friday, are the only team in the West to have lost just one game. Thursday, Aldridge asserted that the season was too young to draw any conclusions, but that compared to last year’s squad, “the chemistry is better. Nobody is complaining about shots or minutes. We got guys in it to win it.”
Because the preceding game on TNT between Miami and Atlanta went to triple overtime, fans expecting to watch the Blazers-Lakers game that followed were unable to view the first half.
The Rose Garden fans, of course, had access to those entertaining 24 minutes, but were also amused during timeouts — perhaps most so when the scoreboard showed interviews with various players asking what they might change their name to a la Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest).
Nicolas Batum said Paris World Peace, Aldridge said Metta World Peace 2, and Kurt Thomas glared stone-faced at the camera and responded, “Not a good question.”
On that note, the best sign in the Rose Garden Thursday? Tough to argue against “Tonight, I’m against World Peace.”