After getting ejected from a game for the first time this season, Kobe Bryant will return to the lineup as the Lakers go for their ninth straight win Tuesday when they host the struggling Blazers, who will likely be without Brandon Roy because of an ankle injury.
Bryant had 21 points and 10 assists in just 26 minutes before he was tossed in the third quarter of Sunday’s game at Seattle for arguing with official Brian Forte about a no-call.
“I’m disappointed, but I’m not going to comment on the official. I don’t want to get fined anymore,” Bryant said. “Watch the replay.”
Despite Bryant’s absence, the Lakers (39-17) beat the Sonics 111-91 for their season-high eighth straight victory. They have claimed the best record in the Western Conference with their longest win streak since taking 11 straight near the end of the 2003-04 season - the last time they reached the NBA finals.
“Now we are in a situation where we can control our own destiny and that’s important,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
Sunday’s win was the Lakers’ seventh straight on the road, where they’ve played 12 of their last 13 games. They went 11-2 over that span, and are entering a stretch of six of eight at Staples Center.
“We’re starting to understand it doesn’t matter if we play at home or on the road, execution remains the same,” Bryant said. “We’ve been doing a pretty good job executing, building up some big leads and playing from there.”
Los Angeles will put its win streak on the line against a Portland team that could be playing without Roy, who aggravated an ankle injury in Sunday’s 112-102 loss to Boston.
Roy, last season’s Rookie of the Year and an All-Star this season, is awaiting results of an MRI, but didn’t sound optimistic Sunday, speculating that he could need up to two weeks to recover.
The Blazers (29-27) have lost seven of eight games to fall to 10th place in the West, and Roy’s injury is yet another setback in their hopes of advancing to the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Portland has been without Greg Oden all season because the No. 1 overall pick underwent knee surgery in September.
“We are upset that we are losing but we’ve been in this situation before, at the beginning of the year when we were losing tons of games,” said guard Steve Blake, referring to Portland’s 5-12 start before a 17-1 stretch from Dec. 3-Jan. 9. “We just have to find a way to fight through it.”
This will be the first of four games between these teams, who meet again Friday in Portland.
The Blazers won their first two games against the Lakers last season, but lost the last meeting as Bryant scored an NBA season-high 65 points in the Lakers’ 116-111 overtime victory. Bryant’s 65 points were also the most ever scored against the Blazers.
Bryant is averaging 38.0 points in his last 10 games against Portland - a stretch that includes a 50-point performance on April 14, 2006.