Lakers vs. Portland

Lakers sweep series, 3-0.

Game 1: April 22

Lakers 106, Trail Blazer 93

Lakers Save Best for Last

The fourth quarter. Again.

The Lakers, territorial to the point of obsessiveness, took to their postseason with another final flourish, with five more perfect minutes that again chased off the very game Portland Trail Blazers.

Before a frantic Staples Center crowd that had seen something like this before, the Lakers scored 32 fourth-quarter points and defeated the Trail Blazers, 106-93, in the first game of the best-of-five Western Conference playoff series.

The Lakers scored 19 consecutive points from deep in the third quarter to nearly halfway into the fourth, sending out ripples of memories from last year's conference finals, the dramatic Game 7 Laker victory, an agonizing meltdown for the Trail Blazers.

In the spirit of a victory that propelled them to last season's NBA title, and with defense and rebounds and a resurgent Kobe Bryant, the Lakers took a taut game from a 72-70 deficit to an 89-72 lead. They played with energy befitting that of a short series, where home losses can be devastating.

That adds up to two lousy playoff fourth quarters in a row for the Trail Blazers, in this building, with Shaquille O'Neal under the rim and the house coming down.

O'Neal (seven for 21) and Bryant (nine for 20, 0 for 7 in the first half) had spotty shooting games, but O'Neal had 20 rebounds and Bryant had seven assists and no turnovers. O'Neal finished with 24 points, Bryant with 28 and Derek Fisher with 21.

It was enough to hold off the Trail Blazers, and Rasheed Wallace, who scored 24 points, and enough to spark the run they hope will set the tone for a series they expected to be arduous.

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IN QUOTES

"It just happens. Usually, if you lose, it's going to be somewhere along the line. I don't think that's even in our mind-set. Does it mean anything down the line? I don't think so."

MIKE DUNLEAVY

Portland Coach

Portland Falls Apart

Game 2: April 26

Lakers 106, Portland 88

Composed, the Lakers are a victory from playing through the Portland Trail Blazers, who are going to pieces.

A year wiser, a championship wiser, the Lakers defeated the Trail Blazers, 106-88, at Staples Center and took a two-games-to-none lead in the best-of-five series.

As the delicate Trail Blazer psyches crumbled further, the Lakers went mercilessly to Shaquille O'Neal, who scored 32 points and took 12 rebounds. The chemistry-lab experiment in Portland bubbled up again.

At the end, the technical fouls fell like confetti. Damon Stoudamire. Scottie Pippen. Rasheed Wallace, of course, two with 4:42 to play, and the ejection. The Trail Blazers had five in all, and two ejections.

On one of the technicals, the one after Stoudamire threw the ball into the air after a charging call, Laker Coach Phil Jackson sent to the line . . . O'Neal. He made the free throw.

On another technical, Pippen grabbed Kobe Bryant, who scored 25 points on eight-of-11 shooting, by the very ribs Pippen claimed to be unhurt. Bryant and Pippen squared off for a moment, but only snapped at each other.

The open, abject hostility that bridged Games 1 and 2 was gone for three quarters, washed away in the mechanics of a game that turned again on O'Neal and all the Trail Blazers must create to hold him.

Then, a few minutes into the fourth quarter, with the Trail Blazers sliding closer to their 0-2 hole, Dale Davis loaded up his left elbow and nearly struck Robert Horry in the chest, then balled his fist and looked trigger-close to punching either Brian Shaw or Derek Fisher. Davis, assessed a second-degree flagrant foul, was ejected.

Held to seven-of-21 shooting in Game 1, O'Neal made 14 of 24. Arvydas Sabonis toppled backward and drew an offensive foul, the stuff O'Neal hates, but mostly Sabonis' backpedaling was saved for eluding the shrapnel left from O'Neal's dunks.

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IN QUOTES

"I'm a funny guy like that. You throw an elbow at my face and I get a little upset."

Blazing a New Trail

Game 3: April 29

Lakers 99, Portland 86

Back from the dread that they might never become the team they were a season ago, the Lakers were 99-86 winners at the Rose Garden and so swept the Portland Trail Blazers in three efficient, convincing efforts.

With one last grunt, the Lakers swept their first playoff series in 10 years. Their in-season difficulties suddenly seem at least that distant, particularly as Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal suffered through so-so shooting games, forcing them to hold tight and trustingly to the players around them.

O'Neal scored 25 points and took 15 rebounds and Bryant, who played again with sore ribs, had 22 points and a career-playoff-best nine assists. Point guard Derek Fisher played his third consecutive game without a turnover, scored 17 points and had eight rebounds. Rick Fox scored 13 points.

They vanquished the Trail Blazers, saddled with talent even in the absences of Bonzi Wells (injured), Dale Davis (suspended) and Stacey Augmon (suspended). Portland built its team to excess with the Lakers in mind, got the Lakers, and was doomed by its own roster lavishness and emotional instability.

Rasheed Wallace missed 15 of 19 shots. Scottie Pippen missed 10 of 13. Steve Smith and Damon Stoudamire each scored 25 points, but stood no chance when the Lakers pressed their advantages in rebounding and, yes, defense.

The demise of the Trail Blazers, and their imminent vacation, became Bryant's theme. In the fourth quarter, when the once-game Trail Blazers lost their grip and appeared to quit, Bryant tumbled out of bounds near their bench. He pulled himself up, looked over to no one in particular and said, "This is your last day at the office."

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IN QUOTES

"We may be a little better [than last season]. I think our confidence might be a little higher, our confidence and our ability to execute. We might be a little better, especially mentally."

KOBE BRYANT

Laker guard

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