PORTLAND, Ore. — That must have been the Princeton defense.
The Lakers can’t put much of anything together two games into the season, failing to stop the Portland Trail Blazers a day after showing an extraordinary inability to score against Dallas.
The problem Wednesday was a lack of stops, the Lakers surrendering at will on the defensive end in a 116-106 loss to the Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden.
That they lost in Portland was about as surprising as the rain falling during the day. They are 4-17 here since 2002.
Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson used to blame the ever-present gray sky, saying it put everybody in a dour mood, but the Lakers were as pleasant and generous as could be on Wednesday.
Rookie Damian Lillard moved effortlessly through them for 23 points and 11 assists, up-and-coming forward Nicolas Batum had 26 points and Wes Matthews threw in 22 points for good measure.
“Defensively, we didn’t do a good job,” Lakers Coach Mike Brown said in a classic understatement.
It got worse for the Lakers a minute into the third quarter. Steve Nash left the game, trying unsuccessfully to hobble around the court after getting kneed in the lower left leg while turning to run late in the second quarter.
Nash, 38, has been durable despite his age, missing an average of 4.3 games a season since 2005. He basically spent the entire second half Wednesday in the locker room, getting treatment on his bruised leg.
“I couldn’t plant on it or push off or decelerate,” said Nash, who had two points and four assists after getting only seven points and four assists in his Lakers debut.
He said he hoped to play Friday against the Clippers. The Lakers, by the way, haven’t started a season 0-3 since 1978-79.
There were blunders not necessarily connected with the Lakers, punch-line plays more suited for lottery teams.
Portland guard Sasha Pavlovic rebounded his own missed free-throw attempt in the third quarter and scored as Antawn Jamison, Dwight Howard and Jordan Hill watched in the lane. Bryant fumbled a simple drop-off pass out of bounds, uncharacteristically taking his eyes off of it.
Distracted? Maybe. Wavering under the crush of expectations? Possibly. Unable to put together a full game? Absolutely.
“That’s the tough part about it,” Brown said. “You see flashes of us moving the ball well, you see flashes of us cutting well, you see flashes of us passing well. Even defensively, at times, we’re doing the right thing. We have to put it together for 48 minutes in order to be good in this league.”
Right now, they’re not very good in this league.
Portland fans loved it like they always do, beating the Lakers the equivalent of winning the Super Bowl up here. The crowd began the “Beat L.A.” chants well before pre-game introductions and cheered gleefully as the scoreboard showed Lakers fans exiting in the final minute.
Funny thing, though, the Lakers’ Princeton-based offense wasn’t entirely bad, scoring 57 points in the first half and mustering some punch in the second half despite missing Nash.
Howard had 33 points, 14 rebounds and five assists. He also made 15 of 19 free-throw attempts a day after making only three of 14 from the line.
There were, however, an unacceptable 24 turnovers.
Bryant had 30 points and seemed irritated in the second half. He picked up a technical foul for arguing a non-call and could have easily earned another one late in the game for spiking the ball on the court after being called for a foul.
There won’t be many jokes in the Lakers’ locker room in the near future.
“It’s going to be a little edgy because I’m not a very happy camper walking around here right now,” Bryant said. “There’s some things we have to shore up. We have to make sure we keep a sense of urgency.”
The Lakers, not a happy bunch. The Clippers, eager to see them soon.