Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Sunday evening home contest against the New Orleans Hornets, the Lakers looking for their seventh straight victory, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Gasol and Bynum
Hornets: C. Paul, M. Belinelli, T. Ariza, C. Landry*, E. Okafor
*Landry was starting in place of David West, who tore his ACL last week.
6:00 Entirely obvious right away: the Hornets just do not match up well with the Lakers. Most teams can’t match L.A.’s length inside, but the particularly small squad from N.O. features 6-10 Emeka Okafor at center, and 6-9 Carl Landry at power forward, both of whom saw L.A.’s two seven-footers combine for eight boards and eight points as L.A. took an early 14-9 lead.
0:26 A three-pointer from Bryant made him the early scoring leader with 11, following consecutive games in which he scored 42 and 37 points, while subsequent hoops from Shannon Brown (a transition dunk) and Gasol (nine points, six boards) saw L.A.’s lead climb to 11 at 30-19.
9:30 L.A.’s coaches are watching their second unit closely. In short, they want to see things slow down a bit, as the pace at which Blake, Brown, Barnes, Odom and Bynum have been playing has been a bit too fast for ideal production. Assistant Jim Cleamons told me after Saturday’s practice that Blake and Barnes in particular have been so eager to pass and move the ball that sometimes the offense doesn’t have a chance to get set up, and that also hurts the defense, which isn’t able to get back when the O doesn’t dictate tempo.
8:53 Of course, when Brown takes off in the air with the ball in his right hand, looks over his shoulder to a trailing Hornets center (Aaron Gray) and then switches the ball to his left hand before jamming home, L.A.’s coaches will take it. That put the Lakers up 10 at 36-26.
4:04 New Orleans cut L.A.’s once 12-point lead down to four behind Landry and his 13 points, but back came Gasol, amassing two blocks, a rebound, two buckets and extra free throw in a minute and change as the Lakers went up 13 at 50-37 (a 10-1 run). He had 14 points and eight boards at that point. The run would improve to 17-5 by quarter’s end, giving the Lakers a big cushion at 57-41. Bryant was already up to 19 points.
9:38 One thing not going LAL’s way was Bynum’s foul situation, as the big man’s fourth came 30 seconds into the second half, bringing Odom off the bench. Shortly thereafter, Odom snuck into the paint to tip in Gasol’s miss, keeping the margin at 15.
3:48 With Bynum struggling with foul trouble all game, Gasol took care of the glass for the Lakers, grabbing his 14th board and then finishing Odom’s pass at the other end to get to 19 points, just short of Bryant’s 24. LAL were still comfortably ahead at 72-55.
2:55 After missing his first seven shots, Fisher nailed an absolute rainbow that seemed to nearly hit the scoreboard before dropping through. But as Phil Jackson explained before the game, he couldn’t care less if Fisher scores, and wishes he wouldn’t be judged by his stats. Fisher is in to manage the game, which he does better than anyone else Jackson could put into the triangle, and finds ways to contribute defensively at key moments. Jackson seemed almost annoyed that one would suggest Fisher isn’t doing exactly what the Lakers want him to do. BTW: N.O. trimmed the lead to 11, 74-63, after three.
6:09 The Hornets continued an 8-2 run to close the third with a 9-4 push to start the fourth, cutting L.A.’s lead down to just six. Jackson, however, stuck by his bench, and was rewarded with a quick 5-0 push that restored the lead to double digits. The energy of Barnes and size of Bynum were the two keys.
4:15 Jackson finally put the starters back in out of a time out, his team up 11, though Blake remained in for Fisher (25 minutes) and Odom replaced Bynum (22 minutes, five fouls). It was Blake connecting right away on a triple off Bryant’s pass, making it 90-76.
1:28 The game had been essentially over since the first half, but a jumper from Odom and two Bryant free throws (28 points) served to put it completely out of reach at 95-82. Sixteen games since the All-Star break, and the Lakers had won 15, the only loss the last-minute failure of execution at Miami. Stay tuned for Postgame Numbers.