Lakers Have Played Big in Big Games

Lakers TeamThere’s one factor that stands out above all others in L.A.’s 52-13 start to the 2008-09 season: the Lakers have really brought it when it’s counted, with almost no exceptions throughout the season.

Of the Lakers 13 losses, only three (arguably) have come against serious title-contending teams (Utah, San Antonio, New Orleans), and each had its own reasonable out-clause (fatigue, injury, interest). The other losses generally came when the Lakers simply didn’t match their opponent’s energy, for whatever reason. Now, there’s no suggesting that it’s a good thing not to bring it 100 percent, but after all, it’s an 82-game season, and chances are slim that a lack of energy will plague the purple and gold in the playoffs.

Alas, here’s a list of L.A.’s losses, with the primary reason for losing in parentheses: vs Detroit (energy), at Indiana (energy), at Sacramento (energy), at Miami (energy), at Orlando (lack of respect), New Orleans (energy, game 7), at San Antonio (injuries), Orlando (three-point shooting, energy) Charlotte (energy), at Utah (fatigue, game 7), at Denver (energy, game 7*), at Phoenix (energy, game 7) and at Portland (energy vs. crazed team/fans [game 7]).
*The opponent played as if it were their own game seven in the playoffs.

Excuses about energy, lack of respect for an opponent and the like are certainly easy to come by, and could probably be said about the league’s other two elite teams in terms of wins and losses (Boston and Cleveland). Simply put, other teams go after the league’s top dogs with more fervor. However, L.A.’s record clearly shows that when they do come to play, they almost always win, no matter whom they’re playing. The evidence follows below, with quick summaries of and links to each of L.A.’s important games this season. Our respective Lakers Gameday pages include links to each game’s running diary, postgame story, box score and more.

Take a gander:

Nov. 12: Lakers 93, Hornets 86 (7-0)
- Coming days after decisive road wins in Denver and Dallas to start the season, this victory was particularly impressive as the Lakers came out with guns fully blazing, forcing the Hornets to exert full effort just to get back into the game. L.A. emerged unblemished with a 7-0 record.

Nov. 20: Lakers 105, Suns 92 (9-1)
The Lakers improved to 4-0 in four tough Western Conference cities against a team featuring Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire and Shaq with a Lakers-hating fan base. No matter.

Dec. 23: Lakers 100, Hornets 87 (23-5)
After last-minute losses in Miami and Orlando – L.A.’s first two-game losing streak of the season – the Lakers responded with wins in Memphis and, more impressively, in New Orleans for the second time. At this point in the season, the Lakers had yet to lose when bringing a full effort.

Dec. 25: Lakers 92, Celtics 83 (24-5)
This game was set to be L.A.’s biggest of the regular season even before Boston marched in with a 19-game winning streak, but thanks to Kobe Bryant’s 27 points, nine rebounds and five assists and some clutch hoops from Pau Gasol, the Lakers were equal to an important task.

Jan. 13: Lakers 105, Rockets 100 (31-6)
Sinking late three-pointers was to become a frequent custom of Kobe Bryant’s, but his final-minute bomb put the next of L.A.’s tough road victims down in Houston.

Jan. 14: Spurs 112, Lakers 111 (31-7)
The first of L.A.’s losses in a game where they gave full effort came very narrowly, when Roger Mason Jr. hit a jumper with 10 seconds left and made a free throw after being fouled by Derek Fisher. L.A. was shorthanded, however, missing both Luke Walton and Sasha Vujacic to injuries, and Lamar Odom had come back from a bone bruise early to play.

Jan. 19: Lakers 105, Cavaliers 88 (32-8)
One game after L.A. took Orlando lightly for the second time – and lost due to late three-pointers for the second time – there was no messing around with the Cleveland Cavs. L.A. dominated the Eastern Conference contenders, not allowing LeBron James much room at all thanks to Kobe Bryant’s defense.

Jan. 25: Lakers 99, Spurs 85 (35-8)
The Lakers avenged their earlier loss to the Spurs in style, getting a solid effort from Andrew Bynum (his first of a torrid stretch) to win by 14. Boston, Cleveland and San Antonio had all come out of STAPLES empty-handed.

Feb. 2: Lakers 126, Knicks 117 (38-9)
A game after the emotional letdown of Andrew Bynum’s ACL injury, Kobe Bryant was completely ridiculous en route to an NBA season-high 61 points, all of which L.A. needed against an offensively effective if defensively weak Knicks team.

Feb. 5: Lakers 110, Celtics 109 (40-9)
Without question, this was the signature win of L.A.’s season. Going into Boston – this time riding a 12-game winning streak – and winning a hard-nosed game without backing down made as big of a statement as can be made in the regular season.

Feb. 8: Lakers 101, Cavaliers 91 (41-9)
Just three days after the huge win in Boston, L.A. became the first team to beat Cleveland at home on the season, getting an inspired 28 points and 17 rebounds from Lamar Odom, who’d been huge in Andrew Bynum’s absence.

Feb. 11: Jazz 113, Lakers 109 (42-10)
L.A. certainly brought a solid effort in perhaps the toughest road arena in the league, but looked tired in its 8th game in 14 nights – in eight different cities. Utah took advantage and ultimately won on a Mehmet Okur three with just over a minute left.

Mar. 11: Lakers 102, Rockets 96 (51-13)
L.A. had just lost three consecutive road games in which it was clear that its respective opponents had come with more energy. Denver, Phoenix and Portland had all brought considerable fire to the Lakers, who couldn’t ultimately match it in March. Furthermore, Houston had won 12 in a row at home and L.A. was without Lamar Odom, but the team re-found their mojo thanks in part to Kobe Bryant’s huge fourth quarter.

Mar. 12: Lakers 102, Spurs 95 (52-13)
Returning to the building that had produced a narrow lost, L.A. made no mistake about their chance for redemption, exploding to a huge first quarter and holding on to compile a 7-1 record against contenders San Antonio, Boston and Cleveland.

Put it all together, and L.A. is 12-2 against the league’s best when putting forth a full effort, with or without Andrew Bynum. That ain’t bad.