The Portland Trail Blazers have plenty of incentive to move up and avoid the Lakers in the first round.
Portland has lost 14 of 16 at Staples Center heading into a visit with the NBA champions Sunday afternoon, but Bryant may again be on the bench in a game critical to the Trail Blazers’ playoff seeding.
The Lakers (56-23) are 3-5 in their last eight games, but that slump hasn’t been enough to damage their status as the West’s top team.
Andrew Bynum(notes) has missed the last 10 games with a strained left Achilles’ tendon and won’t return until the playoffs, and it remains to be seen if Bryant might sit out the last three games as well.
Coach Phil Jackson gave Bryant a night off to rest his legs and aching right index finger in a 98-96 loss at Denver on Thursday, and the 12-time All-Star remained a spectator Friday. He wasn’t needed in Minnesota, though, where Pau Gasol(notes) scored 29 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in a 97-88 win that guaranteed Los Angeles the West’s top record.
“Advantage goes to the people who have home court, no doubt about it,” said Jackson, who was non-committal about his plans for Bryant on Sunday. “It doesn’t guarantee you anything. It guarantees you an extra game.”
That extra game could mean a lot if the Lakers were to meet Portland (48-31) in the opening round. The Lakers had lost nine straight at the Rose Garden prior to a 99-82 win Feb. 6, but they’ve won five straight in the series at home by an average of 13.0 points.
The Trail Blazers can still finish as high as fifth but will likely find themselves in sixth, seventh or eighth. They had a chance to pull into a tie with Oklahoma City for sixth Friday night but lost 83-77 at home to Dallas in a physical, contentious contest that saw three Portland players earn technical fouls and several courtside fans escorted from their seats.
“I said (to my players), ‘This is what we’re going to be facing (in the playoffs),’” coach Nate McMillan told the NBA’s official Web site. “You’re going to be facing this type of intensity, where every call is going to be questioned. You have to stay calm on that floor and be able to get to the next possession.”
Portland finishes the season by hosting the Thunder on Monday and Golden State on Wednesday.
“The next two games, it’s going to keep that type of atmosphere,” McMillan said, “and we have to be able to play with it.”
Both meetings this season have come in Portland - Bryant sat out in February with a sore ankle - and the NBA’s fourth-leading scorer at 27.1 points per game has averaged 36.4 in his last seven home games against the Trail Blazers.
Roy has only faced the Lakers on the road three times - missing three others to injury - and he hasn’t been effective. The former Rookie of the Year has averaged 14.7 points and shot 36.2 percent.
Los Angeles is 5-2 without Bryant this season.