Monthly Archive for February, 2012

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Lakers 86, Hawks 78: Feb. 14 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Tuesday evening home contest against Atlanta, the Lakers playing their first home game of the month after the 6-game Grammy road trip, 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, World Peace, Gasol and Bynum
Hawks: J. Teague, J. Johnson, M. Williams, J. Smith, Z. Pachulia

FIRST QUARTER
5:35 It was all trees in the opening minutes, Bynum and Gasol combining their 7-foot frames to score 12 of L.A.’s 14 points, including consecutive put-backs of Lakers misses, plus five of the team’s seven boards in a 14-9 edge.

0:00 A solid overall first quarter rendered only a three-point lead, 27-24, at the quarter break mostly because the Hawks got hot from three, hitting four in the period including two in the final odd minute. The Lakers thoroughly dominated the paint (18-4 paint points) behind their big men, and even though Atlanta converted 50 percent of their shots, could be satisfied with the nature of where both teams were getting their looks.

SECOND QUARTER
7:00 That pattern continued into the second, as Bynum showed off two slick moves in the paint, and Goudelock added a floater to improve the paint points to 22-4, giving L.A. an early 33-26 cushion. Bynum was an impressive 6-for-6 after yet another pretty move moments later, though the Hawks added a fifth three to stay within five.

6:00 Troy Murphy continued a strong season of shooting from three-point range, hitting two straight to improve his team-best mark to 45 percent in 26 games, his latest putting L.A. up 38-30. Oddly, from that point until Josh Smith capped a 7-0 Hawks run with 1-of-2 free throws, the Lakers scored not a single point for the next four minutes and counting, despite Gasol (4-for-11) and Bryant (1-for-8) returning.

0:00 The bizarro shooting continued, L.A. missing 11 consecutive shots before who else but the guy struggling the most with his shot – World Peace – drained a corner three in the final seconds to keep L.A. on top, 42-41, at the break.

THIRD QUARTER
6:23 It’s always fun when World Peace heads through the paint with intent to score. This time, he finished a two-handed dunk off Gasol’s nice pass, getting L.A. to within one after they’d fallen behind by five due solely to four turnovers in the first four minutes (cut shot to Mike Brown frowning).

3:30 A brilliant reverse layup from Kobe capped a 10-0 Lakers run to put the home team up 54-49, as the Hawks suddenly stopped coming even close to scoring. Bryant, who was 1-for-10 at halftime, made his fourth shot in six attempts, and Gasol followed up with a put-back dunk to make it a 12-0 burst.

0:00 The old expression “couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn,” or whatever it is, was a big time understatement in describing Atlanta’s third quarter shooting. After a quick early burst, they literally didn’t hit a field goal in the final 8-plus minutes of the period, finishing 4-for-26 in the quarter. L.A. thus turned a 5-point deficit into an 8-point lead into the final quarter.

FOURTH QUARTER
10:27 This Goudelock kid can really score, huh? His super tricky baseline floater was the warm up to a wing three that had his veteran teammates Bryant and Fisher off the bench clapping. That opened a 13-point lead early in the period.

5:33 Steve Blake had been solid off L.A.’s bench, creating shots for his teammates to the tune of five assists with only one turnover, and hit consecutive jumpers (including a three) to put L.A. up 74-62. Mike Brown had inserted Bryant and Gasol back into the game to close things out moments earlier despite a strong bench stretch.

2:08 Remember Kevin Harlan’s “Metta … World … Peace” call for an early-season dunk? Peace was at it again, getting Kobe to rise up in laughter after the hammer slam, which followed three straight makes from Gasol (including a corner three), and then the second World Peace three of the game with 1:30 left as the final dagger in an 86-72 game.

Your final: LAL 86, ATL 78 after a meaningless 6-0 Hawks run in final minute. Gasol + Bynum = 35 points, 28 rebounds and 6 blocks on a very quiet Kobe night of 10 points (5-of-18 FG’s), four boards and four assists, though Mike Brown kept his minutes down to 34 for the second straight night.

Kobe’s Game Winners

With his swished 17-foot baseline jumper at the 4.8 second mark of the fourth quarter in Toronto, Kobe Bryant delivered a victory to the Lakers, and added another notch to his impressive game-winning-shots belt.

Since being drafted in 1996, Bryant has made 16 regular season game-winning field goals in the final five seconds of either the fourth quarter or overtime, the most of any player during that time. Furthermore, Bryant leads the NBA in shots made to win a game in the final 10 seconds, having now notched 21.

New York’s Carmelo Anthony has the next most game-winning field goals as the clock expires with 14, followed by Boston’s Ray Allen (12) and Vince Carter (11) of the Mavericks.

Lakers Go .500 On Grammy Trip

While singer Adele was winning just about every major award at the Grammy’s at Staples Center on Sunday night, the Lakers were just arriving back in Los Angeles after an 11-day, 6-game road trip that concluded with a 94-92 victory in Toronto.

The resulting 3-3 record — with wins coming at Denver, Boston (OT) and in Canada, and losses occurring at Utah, Philadelphia and New York — brought L.A.’s record on what’s become known as the Grammy Trip to 25-11 since the team acquired Pau Gasol from Memphis in the 2007-08 campaign:

2007-08: 7-2
2008-09: 6-0
2009-10: 5-3
2010-11: 4-3
2011-12: 3-3

While head coach Mike Brown would have liked to have seen his team execute better down the stretch particularly in Philly, he said after the victory in Toronto* that considering the circumstances, he could live with a 3-3 mark. His team tallied more road wins than it had in its nine previous road contests (2-7), was in every game and continued to rank among league leaders in opponent field goal percentage behind generally solid defense.
*Where Kobe Bryant single-handedly executed down the stretch.

With the 3-3 trek, the Lakers return to Staples Center with a 16-12 overall record, good for fifth in the West, though just 2.5 games back of the second-place Clippers. They have just two games, both at home, in the next six days (vs. Atlanta on Tuesday and Phoenix on Friday), a good chance for legs to be rested.

The first game back from a long trip is often known as a “trap game,” due to a natural tendency to relax just by being in one’s own building, but Mike Brown held practice on Monday perhaps in part to keep the team’s focus before the Hawks game.

The schedule gets a bit more difficult subsequently, with road dates at Phoenix (2/19), Dallas (2/22) and Oklahoma City (2/23), and Portland at home (2/20).

Lakers 94, Raptors 92: Feb. 11 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Sunday afternoon road contest at Toronto, the Lakers aiming to conclude their 6-game road trip with a victory to improve to 3-3, 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, World Peace, Gasol and Bynum
Raptors: J. Calderon, D. Derozan, J. Johnson, A. Johnson, A. Gray

FIRST QUARTER
7:15 Taking a page out of Boston’s book from Thursday night, the Raptors were aggressively trapping Kobe early, and that didn’t wind up being a good idea early, as the Lakers made 5-of-7 shots to start, including two straight jumpers by an open Pau Gasol, to claim a 13-4 lead.

5:00 Despite the chilly Toronto air, the Lakers were barely missing anything, as Matt Barnes (just in for World Peace) nailed a three, Bynum dunked and Kobe hit a turnaround to put L.A. up 24-8. Ten of those points came in the paint as Bynum got two dunks and a leaner to already double his scoring production (six points) in New York.

0:30.0 Rookie Andrew Goudelock buried the fourth LAL three in five attempts, and Bynum tipped in a Kobe miss at the buzzer to cap a 34-19 first quarter in which they shot 70 percent. The Raptors did eventually find some scoring in Leandro Barbosa off the bench, his six quick points keeping the Raptors within 15 points heading into the second quarter.

SECOND QUARTER
8:40 The second unit built on what the starters had provided, watching the lead climb to 41-24 when Goudelock pulled off a pretty crossover into a pull-up jumper. Toronto answered with a 5-0 run to climb back within 12, but Murphy rose to hit his second three of the game thanks to a kick out from double-teamed Bynum.

0:56.3 Even as the Raptors mounted a stronger charge, making some nice plays on O, L.A. continued to have the answer. Gasol pulled up for a long two to reach 12 points with his six boards and four assists, keeping his team up 12 at 54-42. And he wasn’t the only Spaniard playing very well, as Toronto’s Jose Calderon led all scorers with 13 points on 6-of-9 field goals, almost all coming on long jumpers. At the half, it was 54-46, the Raptors capping an 11-4 run on strength of two missed Bynum free throws and a coast-to-coast James Johnson dunk.

THIRD QUARTER
8:20 It was not a good start to the third for L.A., as Bynum, Kobe and Gasol all missed bunnies near the rim, while the Raptors got two more jumpers from Calderon and two DeRozan free throws to cut the formerly 18-point lead to just three at 56-53.

6:00 Halfway through the quarter, L.A. had gotten only one field goal, from World Peace, a three. The rest of the starters were a combined 0-for-8, and in the meantime, Fisher got called for four personal fouls … in six minutes. He just started shaking his head as Steve Blake came in out of a time out, not necessarily agreeing with the calls. Toronto remained within three.

3:25 L.A. finally got something going on offense, with Bryant capping a 9-1 run with a pull-up three pointer to restore L.A.’s lead to double figures at 68-57. Bryant was up to a team-high 16 points, two more than Gasol, who also had 12 rebounds already.

FOURTH QUARTER
10:00 Wide open misses continued to plague the Lakers, as Barnes missed a put-back layup at the rim, and Bynum missed from three feet. The Raptors took full advantage, cutting L.A.’s 6-point lead at the quarter break to just one, until Goudelock dropped a floater to make it 75-72.

4:51 But just when L.A. created some space again with a Bryant three, Toronto scored five straight to cut the lead to just one. Calderon continued to do big damage, reaching a season-high 23 points on a deep triple, then going even further by nailing his fourth three pointer to tie the game.

1:23 A costly turnover with L.A. already trailing by four got the Raptors an extra possession (the 15th T.O.), but Kleiza went in-and-out on a three. The Raptors had taken a 4-point lead behind hoops from Davis and Kleiza, and Calderon answered Bynum’s dunk with another jumper (28 points on 12-of-17 FG’s). L.A. had some serious work to do to avoid a 2-4 road trip.

0:00 Kobe came up absolutely huge down the stretch with three straight plays for L.A., first nailing a pull-up three to cut Toronto’s lead to one, then stripping Kleiza and feeding World Peace for a transition layup to make it 91-90, then nailing an even bigger shot from the baseline to counter Calderon’s go-ahead shot (30 points). The shot came from 17 feet, on the baseline in front of Toronto’s bench, and swished home with 4.8 seconds to play. The Raptors were then hit with a 5-second call, allowing Kobe two free throws (he improbably missed one) after the catch, and it was World Peace playing great defense as DeRozan attempted a game-winning three as time expired (air ball). As such, the Lakers escaped Toronto with a much-needed victory.

We’ll see you back in Los Angeles, finally, on Tuesday.

Lakers at Raptors: 10 a.m. Tip

We really don’t want you to be upset.

So make sure you’re paying attention, that you write this down or commit it to memory: the Lakers play at Toronto at 10 a.m. Pacific on Sunday morning.

As in, the game starts when you get out of bed.

Turn into KCAL 9 for the broadcast as Kobe and Co. try to salvage a 3-3 record on their Grammy road trip, which began on Feb. 3 at Denver, and took the team through Utah, Philly, Boston and New York. The long road trip has already balanced out L.A.’s schedule to the point where the Purple and Gold have played more road games (14) than home games (13), with many of the league’s toughest arenas checked off the list (Boston, Denver, Portland, Utah, Miami, Orlando, etc.).

When LA. gets home on Sunday evening, it will have three more home games (Atlanta, Phoenix and Portland) and three on the road (Phoenix, Dallas and Oklahoma City) before the All-Star break.

But first, we’ll see you from the Air Canada Centre, folks. At 10 a.m.

Podcast: Lakers in Canada

The final stop of L.A.’s six-game Grammy trip comes in Canada, a Sunday date with the Toronto Raptors, so we called one of our favorite Canadians — Tas Melas of The Basketball Jones — to see what we needed to learn.

Despite Melas’ envy of our ability to acquire tickets to the Maple Leafs – Canadiens hockey game subsequent to Lakers practice on Saturday evening (is there anything more Canadian?), he kindly told us why there is such an impressive amount of Lakers fans in Toronto, what to expect from the Raptors*, what makes Toronto such a cool city and more.
*The Raptors (9-19) beat Boston handily just as the Lakers were losing to the Knicks on Friday evening, meaning the Lakers need a win to salvage a .500 mark on the trip.

To listen, click below:

Lakers 85, Knicks 92: Feb. 10 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Friday evening road contest at New York, the Lakers looking to build on a tough Thursday OT win in Boston, 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, World Peace, Gasol and Bynum
Knicks: J. Lin, L. Fields, B. Walker, J. Jeffries, T. Chandler

FIRST QUARTER
12:00 Mike Brown has a new motto for Andrew Bynum, and it’s pretty simple: “every play.” He wants Bynum to approach the game like that, and thinks if he’s able to do so, he can be “off the charts good.” We’ll keep that in mind, as the scoring in this game opened with two Kobe free throws, N.Y. already turning the ball over twice.

7:03 A really poor start had L.A. almost immediately behind 13-4, the Lakers making only 1-of-7 field goals, and Jeremy Lin scoring nine points for the Knicks mostly on pull-up jumpers. Mike Brown called time out, and put Steve Blake in with Metta World Peace going to the bench.

0:00 Despite a really … really poor shooting start, L.A. trailed by only seven (22-15) heading into the second quarter. The Lakers seemed surprised that New York was able to execute so well early on despite Amare Stoudemire (death in the family) and Carmelo Anthony (groin strain) being out of the line up, which didn’t bode well on the scoreboard.

SECOND QUARTER
5:37 The Lakers have struggled to shoot the three all season, but Troy Murphy and Andrew Goudelock each drained one from deep to help L.A. stay within nine points as the team continued to struggle overall. Lin was already up to 14 points, the Lakers trying to deal with all the pick and rolls the Knicks ran for him on the top of the key.

4:15 Did you know that Kobe Bryant is one of only three players in NBA history to average at least 30 points in Madison Square Garden? The other two: Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Kobe started just 1-for-5 from the field but hit seven free throws to total nine points. After his seventh, Gasol hit a jumper to cut New York’s lead to five.

0:00 L.A. got an illegal defense technical free throw (Kobe) and a Gasol hoop to cut the lead to 49-41 at the half, a score perhaps closer than it seemed as the Knicks controlled most of the 24 minutes. Lin finished with 18 points and five assists, while the Lakers got very little from Bynum. The center scored only one basket in five attempts for two points with his six boards, and combined with Bryant to make only 2-of-11 field goals.

THIRD QUARTER
7:30 A minute after getting hit with a very unfortunate call when Jeffries fell on his head, Gasol fouled Chandler to pick up his fourth, bringing Troy Murphy in earlier than usual. Meanwhile, Kobe continued to struggle, missing all five of his shots to start the quarter to fall to 1-for-11.

4:16 An oddity: New York had two points taken of the scoreboard, as they were awarded bonus FT’s when they weren’t warranted, and Kobe finally got two shots to fall, which combined with Blake’s corner three had L.A. quickly within four.

1:26 Searching for some energy, Brown turned to Jason Kapono and Josh McRoberts for the first time in several games, but Lin continued to punish L.A. in the paint, helping the Knicks re-build their lead to nine. Kobe, however, started to find his shot, making 4-of-5 after his 1-for-11 start, to cut the lead to 65-58.

FOURTH QUARTER
10:00 For a guy that started 1-for-11 from the field, Kobe was up to 24 points pretty quickly, thanks to a personal 10-0 scoring run for his team. After two free throws, Jason Kapono dropped a corner three to cut New York’s lead to just three at 70-67. Almost a new game.

7:30 Just kidding. The Knicks responded with a 6-0 run out of a time out, sparked by who else but Lin, who reached 29 points. Also helping was Iman Shumpert, whose and-1 moments later made it a 79-69 game.

1:44 A possession after Bynum missed a wide-open tip in, to fall to just 1-for-8 from the field, Gasol followed Bryant’s miss with a tip home dunk to cut New York’s lead to six at 88-82. Bryant was up to 31 points and 10 boards, however, almost single-handedly keeping L.A. in the mix.

0:41.5 But, clearly, it wasn’t L.A.’s night. Barnes committed a foul on both ends of the floor, reaching on Lin (2 FT’s) and then got called for a charge that kept N.Y. up eight. Even as Kobe added a three to get to 34 points, it was too little, too late, the Knicks taking a 92-85 win out of MSG. Jeremy Lin was the star L.A. hadn’t seen before, going off for 38 points.

Lakers 88, Celtics 87: Feb. 9 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Friday evening road contest at Boston, the Lakers looking to bounce back from consecutive losses at Utah and Philadelphia, 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, World Peace, Gasol and Bynum
Celtics: R. Rondo, R. Allen, P. Pierce, K. Garnett, J. O’Neal

FIRST QUARTER
12:00 L.A. got two pieces of news before the game: 1) Steve Blake would be playing for the first time since Jan.11 at Utah; 2) Kobe Bryant’s wrist is fully healed, as he told the Orange County Register’s Kevin Ding after Wednesday’s practice. A hint towards his wrist feeling better has been all the three-point shots he’s been taking of late, which mandate a full follow through that was difficult early on with the wrist.

8:00 Boston was aggressively trapping L.A. on the perimeter, especially Kobe, and the Lakers moved the ball well to get lay up or dunk opportunities for the bigs. Bynum had two of the field goals and Gasol one, but Boston countered with 4-of-6 FG’s to take an early 9-6 lead.

0:00 Kobe didn’t take a shot in the first nine minutes, but once Boston backed off its pressure on him as the bench players rotated in, he scored seven straight. Steve Blake made his presence felt with a corner three, but C’s sub Mickael Pietrus hit two triples of his own to help put Boston up 26-22 after 12 minutes.

SECOND QUARTER
8:09 The second unit looked pretty good for L.A., who outscored Boston 6-4 in the first four minutes of the quarter, all six points coming from Matt Barnes, who got four free throws off basket cuts, and tipped in a Goudelock miss.

0:34.7 Gasol capped a good (personal) offensive half with a tough bucket at the rim, reaching a team-high 12 points, but failed to get back on defense on the ensuing possession, along Boston to open a 47-42 lead. Bryant had converted all four of his first shots (despite all four being tough perimeter J’s),

0:00.4 Usually, spectacularly tough shots on this team belong to Bryant, but it was Bynum converting an incredible over-the-head, no-look shot just ahead of the buzzer … plus the foul … when he threw it in despite facing away from the hoop and Jermaine O’Neal all over him. He then converted the free throw, cutting Boston’s lead to two at the break.

THIRD QUARTER
7:17 The Lakers had moments of really nice execution on offense, but when they didn’t score, the transition defense was really poor. Boston took advantage to score four of its 14 fast break points early in the third, allowing a 57-53 lead.

2:40 For the second time in the quarter, Gasol pulled off a super skillful tip in, tapping home a miss with his left hand in a single swipe, and Bryant surpassed the Spaniard’s 18 points with a lefty leaner moments later. Not to be outdone, Gasol waited until the next trip down to drain a baseline jumper, plus the foul, over Chris Wilcox to reach 21 points on 10-of-15 FG’s, cutting Boston’s lead to 64-62.

0:00 L.A. finished the quarter in very strong fashion, with Bynum’s 1-of-2 FT’s capping an 8-0 run that turned a 5-point deficit into a 67-64 lead. Bryant and Gasol were both terrific, combining for 19 of the team’s 22 points.

FOURTH QUARTER
8:45 Back-to-back turnovers from Goudelock and Murphy came at a poor time for L.A., but Boston wasn’t able to get a momentum-building bucket as KG missed a long two (he’d hit his previous two attempt), and Bynum responded with a tough move to draw a C’s PF in the paint. Yet he continued his year-long struggle at the foul line, managing 1-of-2 to put L.A. up 72-70.

6:27 Keeping up his really strong bench effort was Barnes, who slid in for another offensive board (his third) and hit 1-of-2 resulting FT’s to reach 11 points. L.A. then got a stop, and continued to control the glass as Gasol got his ninth, giving L.A> a 44-32 edge on the backboard.

1:16 L.A. got a huge and-1 from Bynum, putting back Gasol’s miss, to get an 80-79 lead heading into the final seconds. Gasol had been great, making 11-of-16 shots for 23 points before back-to-back misses, but Boston couldn’t capitalize due to the 13th LAL offensive board, and back-to-back misses from Rondo (swatted by World Peace, who’d been great on Pierce all night) and KG.

0:09.8 A huge tip in from Gasol off Kobe’s near miss after a broken play tied the game at 82 with 9.8 to play, meaning Boston would hold for the final shot. The previous time out had rendered an open Allen three around a double screen, which he drained, forcing L.A. to convert that Gasol tip to tie. And thanks to World Peace and Barnes, aggressively switching a pick for Pierce, Boston barely got off a 30+ footer from Pietrus … so, overtime.

OVERTIME
2:52 Coming up big for L.A. in his first game in about a month was Blake, in for Fisher, and contesting Allen closely on D (two misses), then draining a long two to put the Lakers up four. Bryant had converted a tough J over Allen on the previous trip down.

1:02 After a 5-0 Paul Pierce run around a wide-open miss from Gasol that could have kept L.A. up four (he had been 12-of-19 to that point, and 9-of-12 since the first quarter), his three putting Boston up 87-86, Bynum tipped in Bryant’s near miss to put L.A. back on top. KG then missed another jumper (he was just 6-of-22). KG and Kobe then exchanged misses, giving Boston the ball with 6.1 seconds left.

0:00.1 A massive, game-saving block from Pau Gasol got the Lakers by far their biggest win of the season. First, World Peace forced a tough shot from Pierce, who rimmed out, but Allen snuck in for a potential game-winning tip in at the buzzer. Instead, Gasol came over from the weak side to swat the shot away, and L.A. got its win. We’ll see you tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden.

Steve Blake Back in Action?

Lakers reserve point guard Steve Blake, who hasn’t played in a game since suffering a costochaondral fracture (fracture of the cartilage that connects the rib to the sternum) on Jan. 11, practiced with the team on Wednesday in Boston for the first time.

Blake said he would like to play in the team’s Thursday evening game against Boston, but is officially a game time decision.

The second-year Laker was in a nice rhythm just before getting injured, and while he acknowledged that it will take him some time to get that back, the team is well aware of how valuable it will be to have Blake back on the floor.

In 12 games prior to the injury, Blake was averaging 7.3 points per game (fourth behind Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol) with 2.8 assists to 1.08 turnovers in 24.3 minutes.

Lakers Practice at Garden

For the first time in two days — which this season seems more like a week — the Lakers heard Mike Brown’s voice on an actual NBA court.

Brown had been suspended for Monday’s loss at Philadelphia, and Tuesday was a travel day as the team made its way from Philly to Boston, leaving the court-time loving head coach without a chance to blow his whistle. But with Thursday’s contest at the TD Garden on the horizon, Brown has his guys on the parquet floor for much of Wednesday morning and early afternoon.

“He was a little chippy today,” said Kobe Bryant. “He’s such a defensive-oriented coach, there were a lot of things that he saw that we needed to go over, because this was only really our third practice of the season.”

In addition to shoring up the defense, Brown said the team worked on spacing and ball movement, which have improved markedly since early in the season but are still not where the coaching staff ultimately want. The team will focus more closely on Boston at Thursday’s shootaround.

The Celtics come into the matchup playing their best basketball of the season, winning five consecutive games to improve to 14-10 on the season. Since starting 5-9, Boston has gone 10-2, even while missing point guard Rajon Rondo for eight games (6-2).

Perhaps the biggest reason for the improvement, aside from the team’s cohesiveness from the past few seasons with Doc Rivers and their schemes on both ends of the floor, has been the outstanding play of Paul Pierce, who actually surpassed Larry Bird on Tuesday for 2nd* on the team’s all-time leading scorer’s list.
*This a day after Kobe Bryant surpassed Shaquille O’Neal for fifth on the NBA’s all-time list.

In the last 10 games, Pierce is averaging 22.6 points, 7.4 assists, 6.6 rebounds and over a steal a game, this after scoring under 14 points in seven of his first 11 games, and reaching seven assists just once. Meanwhile, Ray Allen – drafted in 1996 like Bryant and Derek Fisher – has defied his age to average 14.8 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.8 assists on an impressive 50 percent shooting, including 52.6 percent from three-point range.

Rondo and Kevin Garnett remain productive, and the Celtics are starting to get some consistent bench production from Brandon Bass, Chris Wilcox and Mickael Pietrus in particular. The Lakers, meanwhile, may not be as far away from being an elite contender as their 14-11 record (5th in the West) might suggest.

“We’re close to really turning the corner,” said Bryant, adding that as he and his teammates get more comfortable with the new system, incorporate new players and get used to everything, they will be right on the cusp.

Tip time is 5 p.m. Pacific for a game shown exclusively on TNT; you can listen on 710 ESPN radio, as well.