Monthly Archive for April, 2011

4-30 Injury Update: Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant said after Saturday’s practice that the left ankle/foot he hurt in Sunday’s Game 4 at New Orleans is “fine” heading into L.A.’s Western Conference Semifinal series against Dallas.

Of course, whether or not Bryant is completely fine or not, he’s going to play through it, as he did in Tuesday and Thursday wins that closed out the Hornets.

Yet, when asked for his thoughts on Bryant’s injury, Phil Jackson chose some different words from his shooting guard.

“It still affects him a lot,” said Jackson. “It’s not going away anytime soon.”

Bryant did not practice on Saturday, instead rehabilitating the ankle/foot, and Jackson said he doesn’t expect No. 24 to practice much throughout the Round 2 series.

“It’s tender to the touch still,” Jackson continued. “He’s still limping when he walks. It’s a limited amount of improvement.”

Nonetheless, the four days between Game 6 and Monday’s Game 1 certainly helped Bryant who argued that he “Finished off Game 4 fine … played Game 5 fine, Game 6 was fine, I’m fine.”

We get the idea.

Lakers Second Round Schedule

The Lakers open up their second round playoff matchup with the Dallas Mavericks Monday night at STAPLES Center. DESKTOP SCHEDULE WALLPAPER

Game 1 – Mon May 2 Dallas at L.A. Lakers 7:30PM TNT
Game 2 – Wed May 4 Dallas at L.A. Lakers 7:30PM TNT
Game 3 – Fri May 6 L.A. Lakers at Dallas TBD ESPN
Game 4 – Sun May 8 L.A. Lakers at Dallas 12:30PM ABC
Game 5 * Tue May 10 Dallas at L.A. Lakers TBD TNT
Game 6 * Thu May 12 L.A. Lakers at Dallas TBD ESPN
Game 7 * Sun May 15 Dallas at L.A. Lakers 12:30PM ABC

* if necessary

L.A. 98, N.O. 80: Game 6 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Thursday evening road contest at New Orleans, the Lakers — up 3-2 in the series — looking to win a close-out game for the 11th time in 12 tries, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Gasol and Bynum
Hornets: Paul, Belinelli, Ariza, Landry, Okafor

FIRST QUARTER
11:00 The close out game, for this Lakers team, is as tempting as a Hershey’s Cookies & Cream candy bar is to Lamar Odom. L.A. has won 10-of-11 straight games with a chance to put an opponent away for good, with Bryant scoring at least 30 points in an NBA record eight straight opportunities. Among the early keys pointed out by Phil Jackson before the game was controlling the foul situation, which was the case early as N.O. committed two fouls in the first two minutes trying to deal with Bynum and Gasol.

6:28 New Orleans became something like the 15th franchise to use “Beat L.A.!” t-shirts, in Hornets teal, and had some reason to cheer early with L.A. missing plenty of good looks (2-for-10) as Kobe struggled to get his ankle loose, and Artest (who’d been seventh in the entire playoffs in FG% coming in) missed consecutive open shots. But L.A.’s D was very good, allowing a 14-10 lead minutes later despite 6-for-17 shooting as a team.

0:00 In short, L.A. was relatively poor on offense but very good on D in a quarter they claimed 18-16, despite a late breakdown in which Gasol was stripped in the paint and Artest committed a clear path foul in transition to ensure the Lakers wouldn’t get the ball back. Phil Jackson just looked down at the floor, not too amused.

SECOND QUARTER
9:09 It was as if we were back in Game 3 before Bynum tweaked his knee, the young center dominating N.O. in the first three minutes of the second. He scored six straight points, and got up to seven rebounds by putting back Odom’s miss. When he forgets about his knee and just goes — or perhaps more accurately, just feels better — L.A. can reach the peak of its power. In non-related news, N.O. pulled the old jumbotron skit of the mascot stuffing a pie in a Lakers fan’s face.

2:05 Another strong defensive stretch paid off at the other end, L.A. taking a 40-32 lead on 1-of-2 Odom free throws that followed Fisher’s open jumper. Fish had previously assisted on consecutive hoops from Odom, Artest and Bryant during the 10-2 spurt that called up memories of so many Lakers close out games.

0:00 For the second straight quarter, L.A. made a mental error in the final seconds as Bryant and Fisher couldn’t connect on a routine perimeter pass, but N.O. couldn’t capitalize, trailing L.A. by six at the break as Paul did hit his first shot of the game (only two FGA’s) a possession earlier. It was interesting to see the Hornets try hard to get their wings involved, Ariza & Belinelli combining for 13 FGA’s, as N.O.’s been much better simply letting Paul do everything himself.

THIRD QUARTER
7:21 A potentially key play early in the third as Bryant drove into Okafor to get N.O.’s center his 4th PF, bringing Aaron Gray into the action. Gasol had also finally gotten going a bit on offense, hitting his first two field goals of the game in succession.

5:44 L.A. started running its offense through Kobe, and with New Orleans opting to aggressively double team him, open looks were created for first Gasol and then Bynum, pushing the lead to 10. Phil’s road formula had been followed to a T at that point.

3:37 But as soon as Jackson didn’t like what he was seeing, this after a turnover and a defensive breakdown led to a 4-0 Hornets run, he called time out. With 11 titles as a coach, Jackson’s quick to recognize a flow he’s not fond of, and is much more likely to act upon it in a close out game than one where he’d like the team to figure it out themselves.

0:00 The Lakers couldn’t have drawn up a better close to the quarter, getting a strip and resulting layup from Artest (and the obvious ensuing bicep flex) and then two free throws from Bryant after he drew a flagrant foul on Jason Smith. Bryant then clapped his hands together for a good 10 seconds, his expression suggesting that he was more than game for a bit of extra contact.

FOURTH QUARTER
10:12 Some terrific play from L.A.’s second unit continued that strong finish to the third to put the Lakers in full control, consecutive offensive boards producing an Odom three and Bynum 15-footer. After another defensive stop (N.O. failed to score on four straight trips down), Odom added two free throws to make it a 76-59 Lakers lead.

7:22 And that may have been the best stretch of the season for L.A.’s bench. With Bynum and Odom leading the way, L.A. pushed its lead to 20 (82-62) with a 13-5 run to start the quarter. Bynum was everywhere, reaching 16 points with 11 boards by grabbing his eighth offensive board of the game, while Odom’s stat line jumped to 14 points, seven boards and four assists.

3:35 New Orleans was still scrapping as it had all series, even knocking Bryant hard on the back of the head with an elbow (Landry, who’d been almost as chippy as Chris Paul), trying to generate any kind of late momentum. But two Bryant free throws and Gasol’s tip in kept L.A. in front 90-73, a trip to the second round just a matter of running out the clock.

0:00 Monty Williams gave his starters a final substitution so they could be cheered by an appreciative audience as two Matt Barnes three-pointers pushed L.A.’s lead back to 20. The final score, after a final N.O. dunk, was 98-80. On to the second round.

POSTGAME NUMBERS
8 Consecutive times Kobe Bryant scored at least 30 points in a close out game for the Lakers, an NBA record snapped on this day primarily because LAL’s second unit was so great to start the fourth quarter.

11 Times in the last 12 playoff series in which the Lakers have closed out an opponent the first time they had such an opportunity. They did it in all four 2010 playoff series, and 3-of-4 in 2009, the only loss coming in Game 6 against Houston in the Conference Semi’s.

12 Rebounds for Andrew Bynum, eight of which came on the offensive end, as the young center dominated the paint at both ends for much of his time on the floor. He added 18 points, two blocks and a steal in a terrific all-around effort.

14 Points off the bench for Lamar Odom, just seven fewer than N.O.’s entire second unit. Odom also pitched in eight boards and four assists in perhaps his best game of the series.

42 Hornets shooting percentage for the game, L.A.’s D playing excellent throughout while setting the tone in a first half N.O. managed just 16 and 18 points in respective quarters. The Lakers forced 14 turnovers, and held Chris Paul to only 10 points with 11 assists.

Phil & Kobe’s Lakers Great in Close Out Games

While past performance is no guarantee of future results, the Lakers head into Thursday evening’s Game 6 in New Orleans with a 3-2 lead and a chance to do something they’ve accomplished with remarkable success: close out a playoff opponent on the first try.

The Lakers have closed out 10 of their last 11 opponents on their first try, including winning all four elimination games last season. Three of the four 2010 playoff close outs occurred on the road, with L.A. winning at Oklahoma City in Game 6 (95-94) when up 3-2, at Utah (111-96) when up 3-0 and at Phoenix (111-103) when up 3-2. Then in the NBA Finals, L.A. beat Boston 83-79 in Game 7 when tied at three in the series.

They were nearly as good in the 2009 title run, closing out the Jazz, Nuggets and Magic on their first opportunity, while losing only to the Rockets in a potential close out Game 6, just the third time since 2001 they’d failed to do so, and the only time since Pau Gasol came over in 2008.

Since 2001, L.A. has closed out opponents on the first try 21 times in 24 opportunities, with a 2006 loss at Phoenix and 2004 defeat at Minnesota serving as the other two L’s. And with Phil Jackson on the sideline, the Lakers have won 21-of-28 close out opportunities, and 32 of their last 33 series when having an opportunity to close at any point. The only time L.A. held a series lead and lost came against Phoenix in 2006, when 3-1 turned into 4-3. The last blown lead had come in 1993 (Phoenix).

Considering how difficult it is to win even one playoff series in the NBA, what Jackson and the Lakers have done is mind-boggling even to a coach with four championship rings of his own in San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich.

“The incredible nature of what (Jackson’s) done I don’t think has really sunken in on people,” he said before L.A.’s April 12 win over the Spurs. “To win three in a row as many times as he’s done … as I said the last time I was here, I’ve tried 90 times and can’t win a second time in a row. So for him to do that with two different teams is just beyond my comprehension, and that’s not blowing smoke.

“I don’t know Phil, we don’t go out and have beers, I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve gotten to know him or anything. So I just see him from afar and see what he’s done, and it’s absolutely incredible to me. That kind of winning, that kind of pressure, that kind of persistence year after year after year to get those wins is remarkable. Whatever plaudits he receives once he does retire, whether it’s this year or next year or five years, they’re certainly deserved.”

The top-seeded Spurs, facing a 3-1 deficit to the eighth-seeded Grizzlies, managed to survive in incredible fashion in an overtime victor on Wednesday to force Game 6, thanks in part to some great late-game execution of Popovich out-of-bounds plays.

And while San Antonio will continue their attempt at coming back, Jackson and the Lakers will try and close an opponent out at the first opportunity, something that’s become quite familiar in recent years.

Kobe Game 5 Hammer Dunk Triptych

For those that might have missed it last night on the Lakers’ Twitter and Facebook accounts here’s a triptych of Kobe’s dunk over Emeka Okafor in the second quarter of Game 5.

(Photos by Harry How/Getty Images, Design by Ty Nowell/Lakers.com)

Lakers – Hornets Game 5 Postgame Numbers

We compiled some of the more interesting numbers from L.A.’s 106-90 Game 5 victory on Tuesday night at STAPLES Center, the Lakers taking a 3-2 series lead over New Orleans heading into Thursday’s Game 6 on the road:

POSTGAME NUMBERS
6 Consecutive Game 5 playoff wins at home since the team acquired Pau Gasol prior to the 2008 playoffs (Utah ’08, Houston ’09, Denver ’09, Oklahoma City ’10, Phoenix ’10, New Orleans ’11).

6 Lakers in double figures, with all five starters and Lamar Odom going for at least 11.

7 Blocked shots for the Lakers, led by Pau Gasol’s three and Andrew Bynum’s two.

10 Three pointers for the Hornets, half of which were made by Trevor Ariza, who hit 5-of-8 despite making only 30 percent from distance in the regular season. L.A. is familiar with that pattern, as Ariza struggled in the regular season as a Laker in 2008-09 before catching fire late in the postseason.

13 Second quarter points for Kobe Bryant on 6-of-10 FG’s after he failed to attempt a single shot in the first quarter. Among his six field goals was a nasty one-handed facial on Emeka Okafor that tied the game and seemed to fuel L.A. moving forward after a nervous first quarter watching Bryant struggle to move laterally on his ankle/foot defensively. Going straight up, however, was apparently not a problem, Bryant breaking out the ol’ No. 8 jersey again in the third for a monster left-handed hammer dunk.

17 More rebounds collected by the Lakers, including a 15-3 edge on the offensive glass, which had a lot to do with the second-chance points margin of…

19 Turnovers by the Hornets, a reflection of L.A.’s energy.

20 Lakers advantage in second chance points (22-2), a complete reversal of a category dominated 20-4 by New Orleans in Game 4. Phil Jackson said that effort was the key to the game.

28 Total points (18) and rebounds (10) for Andrew Bynum, who posted his third double-double in five games.

49.3 Identical field goal percentage for both teams, though L.A. attempted eight more shots and nine more free throws to come up with the 16-point margin of victory.

L.A. 106, N.O. 90: Game 5 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Tuesday evening home playoff game at STAPLES Center, the Lakers looking to go ahead 3-2 in the First Round series, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Gasol and Bynum
Hornets: Paul, Belinelli, Ariza, Landry, Okafor

FIRST QUARTER
5:45 While the Lakers all said they weren’t worried at all about how healthy Bryant was, just assuming he’d figure it out as he always does, it was clear in the early goings that his ankle/foot was really bothering him. L.A. ran very little for him on offense, instead feeding Bynum and Gasol (four FGA’s apiece), but he was struggling to follow Trevor Ariza around on defense.

3:39 Despite N.O. making 9-of-10 shots to open the game, L.A. trailed by only one at 20-19 thanks to a pair of three-pointers and four forced TO’s on the Hornets. However, Bryant did not look any better before Jackson took him out earlier than usual with 3:39, and N.O. made three more field goals to reach 12-of-14 in the period, allowing a 27-19 lead. L.A. would need a lot from Lamar Odom in Bryant’s absence, but he missed his first two shots.

0:00 So much of L.A.’s confidence and swagger comes from Kobe, and with him clearly not himself, the Lakers looked a bit lost. N.O. capitalized by being the aggressor, closing the quarter with a 32-23 lead behind 68.4 percent from the field.

SECOND QUARTER
9:24 As such, it was critical that L.A. had at least a few players step into the Kobe void, which Shannon Brown and Odom promptly did. Odom opened with a driving layup, Brown nailed back-to-back threes, and a great deal of defensive activity prompted a 0-for-4 N.O. start (plus two turnovers) and a 10-0 LAL run gave the home team its first lead.

4:42 Not normally a good offensive player by NBA standards, Trevor Ariza didn’t seem to get the memo, having his second straight terrific offensive half in the series by making his fifth shot in six attempts, including three 3-pointers, to put N.O. up 41-38.

3:01 And … YIKES! Where did that come from? Please consult Lakers.com later for a highlight, but here’s my tweet of an absurd dunk from Kobe in Emeka Okafor’s face: “Wow … where did that come from? Kobe whipped out his ol’ No. 8 jersey, ankle and all, for a thunder dunk.” He followed with another tough hoop driving to the rim, essentially telling his foot and ankle to shut up, tying the game in the process. Amazing.

0:00 No, really, check out that replay. OK … L.A. managed to go into the half up 54-51, outscoring N.O. 31-19 in the second quarter behind Bryant’s 13 points, key energy from the bench and strong all-around play from Fisher. Bryant was struggling to move on defense, however, N.O. capitalizing enough to find Ariza w/16 and Willie Green eight points primarily with Bryant trying to defend.

THIRD QUARTER
10:32 The Lakers opened the half on a 5-0 run to gain their first semblance of control of the game, getting a triple from Fisher and a Bynum 15-foot jumper to make it 59-51. Fisher, impressive in the first half, stayed hot with his fifth make in six attempts plus three assists.

8:22 There’s no great way to describe yet another monster dunk from Kobe in words, so we’ll again urge you to watch the video. But this time, Bryant went way back for a jackhammer … left-handed. Ridiculous. Clearly Bryant’s straight up elevation was just fine, but he continued to have trouble moving laterally on that sore foot/ankle.

2:44 Bryant looked better physically than in the first half to help L.A. build its lead to 10 before back-to-back Belinelli 3′s cut it in half. Bryant’s fourth assist got Odom a layup, however, and Gasol converted a tough and-1 from the baseline over Okafor to make it a 76-65 lead for the Lakers. Gasol was up to 14 points, five boards, four assists and two blocks in an improved effort.

0:23.2 Ariza became the second Hornet to hit back-to-back three-pointers to cut a Laker lead in half, though free throws from Odom (2) and Fisher (1) made it a 79-72 margin after three.

FOURTH QUARTER
10:23 L.A. kept its attack going to open the fourth, getting to the rim to either draw fouls or finish (Bynum an and-1) before Odom’s pull-up jumper pushed L.A.’s lead to 13. The paint points dramatically favored the home team at 42-20, underscoring L.A.’s effort.

6:37 A corner three-pointer from Blake continued L.A.’s strong play from the PG position, while a player making his case as the world’s best PG in Paul nailed a tough fading jumper despite nearly perfect defense from Barnes. That, however, was just the third Hornets FG of a quarter featuring L.A.’s 15-6 scoring margin (after 1-of-2 Barnes free throws), producing a 93-78 score line as Bryant, Gasol and Fisher returned to try and close it out.

3:28 Two free throws from Kobe kept LAL very safely in control, up 99-83 as the minutes ran out. All five starters plus Odom were in double figures, the team stats showing LAL’s terrific all-around effort: 42-26 paint points, 22-2 second chance points, 18 Hornets turnovers.

0:00 For the sixth consecutive time since acquiring Gasol, L.A. won Game 5 at home. Their average margin of victory had been roughly 18 points, and this one followed a similar pattern in a final score reading 106-90. Stay tuned for postgame numbers.

Bryant Sprains Left Ankle

Kobe Bryant suffered a sprained left ankle late in L.A.’s Game 4 loss at New Orleans when his toe got caught on the floor trying to chase after Hornets guard Willie Green with 1:32 to play.

Bryant, who said after the game that he intends to play in Game 5 and has pushed through countless injuries in the past, will likely undergo an MRI on Monday morning, depending on how the ankle responds overnight.

Bryant began treatment of the foot on the team’s flight back from New Orleans late Sunday night.

We’ll have more on this after Monday’s practice.

***UPDATE: Bryant did not undergo tests on Monday, instead simply telling Phil Jackson that he was going to play in Tuesday evening’s Game 5.

L.A. 88, N.O. 93: Game 4 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Sunday evening road playoff contest at New Orleans Arena, the Lakers looking to win a second straight and take a 3-1 Round 1 lead, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Gasol and Bynum
Hornets: Paul, Belinelli, Ariza, Landry, Okafor

FIRST QUARTER
8:39 Another fun atmosphere in the Crescent City, and to start, this was the Pau Gasol we watched all season and in the second half of Game 3, not the one that struggled through Games 1 and 2. He opened with a pretty spin move from the left block to get a lefty hook, then hit an open 16-foot jumper to put the Lakers up 9-4.

6:45 The tone of Game 4 was similar to that of Game 3, the Hornets coming out fired up and aggressive, but simply unable to execute anything against a locked-in group of Lakers. N.O. was 3-for-6 with two turnovers, and while L.A. had made only 5-of-12 shots, they’d gathered three offensive boards and hit 4-of-6 free throws to open a 15-6 early edge. Bynum was again controlling the paint, and Artest’s physicality giving N.O. problems all over the court.

0:00 Before the game, Hornets Coach Monty Williams alluded to a famous YouTube clip in which a pack of buffalo rescue one of their young from the fangs of lions (or is it crocodiles … you can watch), trying to motivate his team to play against the Lakers (lions). N.O. definitely came out with fire, but the Lakers were able to hold them at bay through 12 minutes, taking a 25-22 lead behind nine points from Artest and eight from Gasol. Trevor Ariza was extremely aggressive/confident on offense, uncharacteristically efficient while making 6-of-8 shots for 12 points to help N.O. hang around.

SECOND QUARTER
8:00 After getting the best of N.O.’s bench in Games 2 and 3, key to L.A.’s victories, the second unit was +3 on that of the Hornets in the first few minutes of the second after a Steve Blake three. Meanwhile, N.O. played a video on their Jumbotron of all the regular Lakers celebs with photoshopped Hornets logos, which was OK until they put Jack in the middle and ended with someone else. That can’t happen even while being facetious.

3:44 I happened to run into Ron Artest at the team’s hotel on Saturday, and we had a chat about how he feels opposing coaches don’t respect how good his offensive game still is, since he’s focused so much on defense as a Laker. And he’s right, too, which he showed in the first half by canning 7-of-9 shots, including a transition layup and his second three-pointer to reach a team-high 16 points while putting L.A. up 45-37. This while Bryant was somehow scoreless on 0-for-6 FG’s. The Hornets had the exact production from their SF and PG, Ariza (16 points) and Paul (0 points).

0:00 That Artest three, however, was the last time L.A. would score in the half, N.O. rattling off 12 straight points to head into halftime with a 49-45 lead. Bryant (who looked to have gotten hit on one if not a few of his arthritic right fingers) finished 0-for-7, though one of his misses was clearly a goaltend on Okafor. He also nearly had his eighth assist on a pretty pass to Gasol, but the Spaniard’s layup attempt was also blocked by Okafor.

THIRD QUARTER
11:16 An unfortunate start to the third for L.A., as Bynum easily swallowed up Landry’s baseline FGA, but Landry gathered the loose ball and fed Paul for an open three, giving N.O. its biggest lead at 52-45.

8:13 Back-to-back fouls on the same trip got the Hornets to four as a team, meaning the Lakers would be in the bonus for the rest of the period. We’d see if they could use it to their advantage … OK, that happened quick. Okafor bumped Bryant on the next possession, resulting immediately in two FT’s. Kobe, who’d made his first FG moments earlier after his scoreless first half, then scored again for eight of L.A.’s 11 points in the period.

2:58 The battle continued at both ends, L.A. this time drawing a foul on Okafor (his fourth, bringing D.J. Mbenga in) and hitting 1-of-2 FT’s to tie the game at 61. Meanwhile, CP3 was hunting down a triple double with 11 points, 11 assists and nine boards. Bryant would add two late free throws to bring L.A. within two at quarter’s close (69-67), all 14 of his points coming in the period.

FOURTH QUARTER
9:25 L.A. had followed the road formula in super high energy arenas of staying close through three, and out-executing the home squad in the fourth. They’d have their chance here in New Orleans, down two after a Bynum jumper.

8:23 After tweeting that N.O.’s all-out effort had produced 17 second-chance points to just two for the Lakers through three quarters, N.O. got its 12th offensive rebound, which ultimately resulted in a Willie Green 3-pointer. After a missed three from Shannon Brown on the other end, Paul somehow got an and-1 call with Steve Blake backing up, the and-1 putting N.O. up 79-72.

4:24 After a step-back jumper from Paul put the Hornets up nine, matching their biggest lead, Blake hit his second three and Bryant a leaning two to get L.A. back within four. Out of the ensuing time out, Jackson would come back with his trusted starting group of Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Odom and Gasol. Bryant would immediately earn two free throws, making just one, to cut it to 81-78.

0:33.6 An intense, crazy final few minutes included a ton of free throws, an ankle sprain for Kobe (his bad left ankle, no less), offense-defense subs of Bryant and Brown that Bryant didn’t like, Gasol fumbling of a pass and atonement on the next possession, and finally two pressure-packed free throws from quiet-all-game Odom to get L.A. within two with 33.6 left.

0:09.3 So much Chris Paul in this one. Demanding to be considered again as the league’s top PG, Paul — with 27 points, 14 assists and 13 rebounds — drew three Lakers playing the pick and roll well into the paint as the shot clock expired, but somehow found Jack on a cut, his ensuing dagger jumper putting N.O. up four. Gasol then got an open dunk off a nice slip screen play off Phil Jackson’s clipboard, but Jack made both free throws on the ensuing foul to push the lead back to four. That’d be the final:

Hornets 93, Lakers 88.

POSTGAME NUMBERS
0 First half points for Kobe Bryant, who missed all seven of his shots, though he did have seven assists. Bryant appeared to have gotten hit on one of his sore fingers early in the contest, but he bounced back with 14 points in the third quarter alone. He’d finish with 17, though the turning of his troubled left ankle in the final minutes was a troubling way for him to end the game.

1 Triple double in the game for Chris Paul, who finished with 27 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds in a ridiculous effort.

6 Minimum number of games in this series due to the Hornets’ win, tied at 2 just like Dallas and Portland.

7 More rebounds grabbed by the attacking-all-game Hornets, who hit the offensive glass 12 times. No Laker had more than nine boards (Andrew Bynum).

16 Points through three quarters for Ron Artest, who’d been terrific all series. He played little in the fourth quarter, however, Phil Jackson going with the second unit, then leaving Shannon Brown in since the Hornets were playing two point guards in Chris Paul and Jarrett Jack.

18 Bench points for the Lakers, which was only one fewer than New Orleans’s 19, but only six of them came from Lamar Odom on 1-of-7 FG’s. L.A. needed more out of its Sixth Man of the Year.

Barnes, Bench Making Strides

When L.A.’s bench was playing so well early in the season, it was getting significant contributions from three players who took up the “Killah B’s” moniker.

Steve Blake was setting up the offense and knocking down threes, Shannon Brown hitting open shots and Matt Barnes filling lanes in transition and hitting the offensive glass. All three played a very aggressive style on defense, and leads attained by the starters were being maintained or built upon.

Then, in January, Barnes hurt his knee. From that point on, the bench wasn’t able to establish the same level of consistency, despite getting terrific all-around play from Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom.

Barnes, at last, is finally starting to feel like himself, and the result has been very palpable in L.A.’s Round 1 series with New Orleans.

When he struggled in Game 1 and Blake sat out with the chickenpox, L.A. got entirely outplayed by the Hornets’ bench. But in Games 2 and 3, Barnes has simply looked more healthy, Blake has returned, and the Lakers returned the favor:

LAL – N.O. BENCH PRODUCTION:
Game 1:
Lakers: 21 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal on 8-of-16 FG’s (50%)
Hornets: 39 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals on 16-of-22 FG’s (72.7%)

Game 2:
Lakers: 27 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 steals on 13-of-20 FG’s (65%)
Hornets: 13 points, 12 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 steals on 5-of-17 FG’s (29.4%)

Game 3:
Lakers: 20 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, on 7-for-18 FG’s (38.9% FG’s)
Hornets: 9 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, on 4-for-17 FG’s (23.5% FG’s)

Barnes made all four of his shots in Game 2 to score eight points with four boards and two steals, then picked up two more steals and boards with a single bucket in Game 3. After Saturday’s practice at the Hornets’ facility, Barnes spent some time with us to explain what exactly has been working better.

To watch the 1-on-1 interview, CLICK HERE, or head over to Lakers.com.