No excuses for Lakers in victory
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Benjamin Franklin once said, "He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else."
There were plenty of built-in excuses available to the Lakers on Saturday.
Kobe Bryant wasn't playing, his sprained left ankle causing him to sit out his first game because of injury in more than three years.
Andrew Bynum got hurt, landing awkwardly on his hip just a minute into the game and then not playing a minute in the second half.
The Lakers were at the Rose Garden, where they had gone nine up and nine down in their past nine visits, like a baseball team facing an unhittable closer.
It was the second night of a home-road back-to-back and their fifth game in seven days, a schedule more akin to, again, loafing on the baseball diamond than executing coach Phil Jackson's basketball triangle.
But the Lakers didn't accept any of the easy outs available to them and trounced the Trail Blazers 99-82 using the parts that they did have, finally earning their Susan Lucci win in Portland.
The whole game was a reminder of that scene in "Apollo 13" in which the crew back in Houston has to figure out how to build a carbon dioxide filter out of the hodgepodge of excess items available to the crew on the spaceship.
("We've got to find a way to make this [guy holds up a square plastic item] fit into the hole for this [guy holds up a skinny plastic cylinder] using nothing but that [guy points to a space suit, some rubber hose and duct tape].")
"We had every reason not to win this game," Lakers captain Derek Fisher said. "In terms of injuries, Andrew was banged up as well, the schedule, coming off a disappointing loss [to Denver] last night, so to find what we found to win this game is hopefully something we can build on."
The thing is, just like all the items that were needed to build the CO2 filter were already on the space shuttle, all the skills needed to beat the Blazers were already on the Lakers' roster. They just needed to put them together.
With Bynum out, somebody needed to crash the boards. Lamar Odom did that, hauling in a career-high 22 rebounds. Odom helped the Lakers to a plus-17 advantage on the glass and limited the Blazers to only two offensive rebounds.
With Bryant out, somebody needed to spread the floor to keep Portland's defense honest and prevent it from just packing it in on L.A.'s other All-Star, Pau Gasol. Ron Artest, Fisher and Jordan Farmar did that, combining to knock in seven 3-pointers on 11 attempts.
With Gasol admitting his legs were so heavy after the recent rush of games that "it was pretty noticeable out there," somebody needed to provide some unexpected energy. Sasha Vujacic did that, chipping in 5 points, 2 rebounds, an assist and a steal in eight minutes.
With Bryant's and Bynum's combined scoring average of close to 45 points out of the lineup, somebody needed to put the ball in the bucket. And just about everybody else did. Six Lakers scored in double digits, led by Artest's 21 and followed by Shannon Brown's 19, Fisher's 14, Gasol's 13, Farmar's 12 and Odom's 10.
"Everybody knows that there's going to be some opportunities, and no one can get into the position where they're trying to do too much out there, yet if you do the things we ask execution wise, guys are going to have shots and guys are going to have opportunities to do some things," Jackson said.
A lone dollar bill was lying on the floor in the Lakers' locker room after the game near Brown's and Adam Morrison's lockers. I'm not sure who ended up picking it up, but the dollar was gone when all the players had cleared out to head to the bus.
It made me think of the old joke that Bill Gates actually loses money when he bends down to pick up a dollar because his salary figures out to so much more money per second, but it also reminded me of a phrase that I've heard both Bryant and Jackson use in the past couple of weeks when asked about the goals for their team.
"We want everything that's in the pot."
The contents of that pot include the best record in the Pacific Division, best record in the Western Conference, best record in the league and ultimately a second consecutive NBA championship.
It's an ambitious goal, but it just might be attainable if the Lakers continue to use all the parts they already have available to them together.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.