LAL 88, NOH 85: March 31 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Saturday afternoon home contest against New Orleans, the Lakers looking to answer a poor home stretch featuring three losses in four games (after two all season up to that point), with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Sessions, Bryant, World Peace, Gasol and Bynum
Hornets: J. Jack, M. Bellinelli, A. Aminu, L. Thomas, J. Smith

FIRST QUARTER
8:15 If Metta World Peace is hitting his perimeter shots, the Lakers are extremely difficult to beat, and his corner three opened a 10-6 early edge for the Lakers a game after he started 1 for 11 against Oklahoma City. The Hornets, meanwhile, were a mess injury wise, with Chris Kaman (illness), Trevor Ariza (ankle), Emeka Okafor (knee), Eric Gordon (knee) and Gustavo Ayon (personal) were all out.

5:00 The second MWP three capped a 13-0 Lakers run, pushed by Kobe’s passing, as No. 24 notched four assists. If MWP is draining threes and Kobe willingly/aggressively moving the ball, the Lakers are – obviously – extremely tough.

0:00 Kobe started getting his shots up in the latter half of the first, but as he missed all five of his attempts, the Hornets went on an 8-0 run at the other end to cut the lead to 20-14. New Orleans, still, was shooting only 30 percent, L.A.’s D pretty strong and the Hornets missing a lot of offensive punch.

SECOND QUARTER
6:35 With the Hornets in a zone defense to try and minimize L.A.’s big size advantage, Steve Blake found the open shooting spots on the wings, nailing all three triples he attempted to keep the lead in double digits. His nine bench points were more than any Hornet had scored to that point.

4:56 A Barnes dunk in transition was Kobe’s fifth assist, first of the second, though he’d yet to make any of his six field goal attempts. Nonetheless, the Lakers led 41-30 in a game that had slowed considerably in terms of pace.

0:00 Does it not seem like a short-handed team plays loose/free/well against the Lakers every other game? Guys like Xavier Henry, Al-Farouq Aminu and Chris Johnson were hitting some of the 12 field goals made by the road team in the second quarter, helping trim L.A.’s lead to just four at the half. Gasol was effective, reaching 14 points with his six boards, but Bryant fell to 0 for 7 from the field after his fourth missed three.

THIRD QUARTER
10:17 As Kobe missed a wide-open put-back layup and then a 6-footer in the paint to fall to 0 for 9 on the game, we wonder about all the minutes he’s been playing this season. At 38.6 per night, only Kevin Love (39.8) and Luol Deng (39.2) play more, and he hasn’t missed a game. Despite Bryant being a physical freak of nature, all of those minutes in a compressed season may be taking a toll. In fact, Bryant has shot better than 50 percent only one time (March 18 at Dallas) since March 6. Meanwhile, the Hornets went on a 5-0 run to take a 48-47 lead.

6:17 As if to underscore the point, Kobe missed twice more to fall to 0 for 11. Fortunately for the Lakers, Gasol had no such struggles, making 8 of 13 shots and 5 of 7 free throws to reach 21 points with his seven boards, keeping the Lakers up, if barely, at 52-51. Yet three minutes later, a 5-0 Hornets run had the Lakers suddenly down four points, their body language the opposite of the bounce seen in New Orleans’ step.

0:00 It got worse, Kobe missing four more attempts to fall to 0 for 15, and the Hornets responding with a 6-0 run to take a 67-61 lead out of the third.

FOURTH QUARTER
6:24 New Orleans led by as many as 10 as the Lakers continued to look listless, but Bryant finally got a jumper to fall, and followed a moment later with an and-1 off Barnes’ nice pass to cut the lead to 77-70. Despite a truly terrible couple of quarters, L.A. had a good chance to take the game back, one they really needed to keep the Clippers (one game back in the Pacific) at bay.

3:13 The Lakers had finally turned the intensity back up on defense, feeling the sense of urgency with another home loss looming, and a driving layup from Sessions in transition (he got to the rim within five seconds of a missed Jack jumper cut the lead to three. However, the second and third quarter lapses had put the Hornets in place to steal a game if they could sink a few jumpers they were being forced into with L.A. protecting the paint. Could they?

0:58.3 Bryant hit 1 of 2 free throws to cut the Hornets lead to two in the final minute, the Lakers needing a stop to have the chance to tie or take the lead. Bynum had thrown down a harsh one-handed dunk on the previous trip, and blocked Lance Thomas at the rim to preserve the possession.

0:20.2 And of course, folks, on a night he was 2 for 20, Kobe pulls up and nails a go-ahead three with 20 seconds left. Obviously. To say L.A. dodged a bullet (as Jack missed a go ahead layup with four seconds left, Barnes hit two free throws and Gasol blocked a tying 3-point attempt from Jason Smith) is an understatement. After the game, a relieved Bryant called his game “awful,” then said he knew his three was going in since it didn’t feel good out of his hands, and most of the shots he missed did. #reversepsychology

Up next, Golden State tomorrow back at STAPLES. See you there.