PORTLAND, Ore. — Even when their seasons ended with confetti and a hoisted championship trophy, the Lakers traveled up here and fell faster than the rain that soaks this city.
So, in a bizarre season in which the Lakers remain at the bottom of the Western Conference and are competing in June for a top lottery pick instead of an NBA title, somehow their fortunes changed.
Few anticipated the Lakers' 107-106 victory Monday over the Portland Trail Blazers at Moda Center for way too many reasons. The most notable: The Lakers' latest victory marked only their eighth win out of 33 games in Portland since Kobe Bryant's rookie season 18 years ago, an achievement surprisingly more dismal than the Lakers' current 21-39 record. Not a bad way for the Lakers to begin a six-week stretch that includes six sets of back-to-back games and 16 contests against teams with at least .500 records.
“As long as they fight and as long as they're competitive and playing together and showing a good spirit,” Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said, “we'll be in most games and surprise some people.”
The Lakers sure provided a few surprising developments against Portland (41-20), which saw its five-game winning streak snapped. The Trail Blazers hold a one-game lead over the Clippers (41-20) for third place in the Western Conference.
But first, those final moments.
After nearly squandering a 15-point lead, the Lakers secured the win after Kent Bazemore inbounded a lob pass to Wesley Johnson, who quickly converted for a 107-106 lead with 6.1 seconds left. Bazemore stormed to the huddle jumping up and down, a much different demeanor than he had while he waited for officials to eventually determine on the previous possession that Portland's forced turnover went off Bazemore's defender and not his hand.
Damian Lillard then missed a 3-pointer at the top of the key just as time expired. It appeared Portland would climb back after the Lakers missed four consecutive shots in the final two minutes. With the Lakers leading 103-98 with 3:47 left, Jordan Farmar forced a turnover only for Johnson to swipe the ball from behind. That set up Nicolas Batum's wide-open three-pointer to cut the Lakers' edge to 103-101 with 3:36 left. Three minutes later, Farmar's foul on Lillard set him up to make one of two free throws for a 106-105 lead with 34 seconds left, before stealing the rebound from Pau Gasol.
Somehow, the Lakers prevailed on an improbable inbounds pass from Bazemore to Brooks.
D'Antoni said beforehand his players would have to compensate with athleticism and shooting because there's no way his small-oriented lineup could out-rebound Portland, which leads the league in that category. The Blazers still beat them, 53-46, in that area. But the Lakers adjusted elsewhere.
Despite ranking near the bottom on defense for nearly every game, the Lakers scored 32 fastbreak points from 12 steals and forced 20 turnovers.
Gasol's 22 points on 10-of-20 shooting and nine rebounds marked the third game in the past six he posted at least 20 points. Jodie Meeks' 21 points featured a pair of unexpected dunks, including a one-handed throwdown in the second quarter over Batum. Bazemore's 14 points included a career-high 4-of-5 mark from three-point range. Johnson's 14 points memorably included the game-winner.