Tuesday , Feb , 17 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Lakers look to start second half strong

(Sports Network) – The Los Angeles Lakers try to put the memory of an injury-
plagued first half behind them tonight, when they kick off their post-All-Star
slate against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Staples Center.

The Lakers, who have played a good portion of the season without stars Karl
Malone, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, finished their first half on a sour
note Wednesday evening, as they fell 102-87 to the Houston Rockets at the
Toyota Center.

O’Neal, who was named the MVP of Sunday’s All-Star game, scored 24 points and
hauled down nine boards, while Gary Payton chipped in 19 points for the
Lakers, who had a two-game winning streak stopped.

Bryant, who netted 20 points in Sunday’s All-Star game, returned to the
Lakers’ lineup after missing seven consecutive games with a lacerated finger,
and finished with 14 points in 36 minutes.

Picked by virtually everyone the win the NBA Championship this season, the
Lakers raced out to a 20-5 start, but injuries have ravaged the team. O’Neal
missed 12 games with a strained right calf and one to suspension and Bryant
sat out games 13 with a sprained right shoulder and a severe cut on his right
index finger. Malone, meanwhile, made his first-ever trip to the injured list
and has been sidelined since late December with a knee injury.

Los Angeles, which currently occupies the fifth spot in the Western
Conference, has won six of its last eight at home and is 20-4 as the host this
season.

The new-look Trail Blazers went into the All-Star break on a losing note on
Thursday, as they dropped a 107-98 decision to the upstart Denver Nuggets.

Shareef Abdur-Rahim totaled 20 points and 12 rebounds in his first game as a
Blazer. Last Monday, Portland traded away star forward Rasheed Wallace and
Wesley Person to Atlanta in exchange for Abdur-Rahim, center Theo Ratliff and
guard Dan Dickau. Ratliff put up 14 points and brought down 10 rebounds in his
debut while blocking four shots.

Derek Anderson netted 17 points and Darius Miles chipped in 15 for Portland,
which fell for just the third time in its last 10 games.

Portland has won six of its last seven on the road and is 16-10 away from home
this season.

The Blazers defeated the Lakers earlier in the season, but could be at a
disadvantage tonight, as the home team in this series has won 10 consecutive
meetings. Portland, though, has won two straight and four of the last six
overall matchups, but has dropped seven of its last 10 in LA.

LAL POR