Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Friday evening contest against Portland, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:
Lakers: Nash, Morris, Bryant, Gasol and Howard
Blazers: D. Lillard, W. Matthews, N. Batum, L. Aldridge, J.J. Hickson
7:00 L.A.’s offense flowed smoothly at the hand of Steve Nash, as the veteran point guard amassed three assists plus two field goals to allow a 14-8 early lead, though the defense wasn’t particularly energetic or active. As the season progresses, the Lakers will need more, starting with Dwight Howard in the middle, to really reach the level they’d like to. With that said, L.A. continued to score with ease in the next few minutes, with Kobe hitting a triple and Howard converting his second field goal that put the Lakers up 22-12. Nash had four dimes.
0:00 Kobe kept scoring, reaching 13 points in his quest for an 11th straight game with at least 30 points, and Nash was up to six assists as L.A. took a 34-25 lead into the second quarter. The Lakers were getting out in transition to a degree that had to please Mike D’Antoni, notching nine fast break points to zero for Portland, and hit 62.5 percent of their shots. Howard got going on offense, as well, towards nine points on 4 of 5 field goals.
5:20 Blazers coach Terry Stotts brought the Hack-a-Howard out from the ashes (teams haven’t been doing it of late, especially as Howard’s shooting has improved to around 67 percent in his last six games. And Howard punished him, making all four of his free throws after consecutive fouls off the ball, helping L.A. continue to build its lead.
0:00 Howard continued to be the story of the first half, totaling 17 points with eight boards, helping L.A. build a 20-point lead that was trimmed to 14 (62-48) with a poor final three minutes. Nonetheless, the Lakers were in full control, totaling 16 dimes, shooting 57 percent from the floor, scoring 11 fast break points and turning it over only six times.
5:41 Climbing some air steps was Darius Morris, who rose high to slam home Kobe’s alley-oop pass, putting the Lakers up 76-58. Yet it was the D from Morris that was more notable, as likely Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard was only 4 for 17 through three quarters.
0:00The margin was a healthy 20 points after three, with Nash reaching 10 dimes, Howard a 21-point, 14-board double-double and Bryant 27 points. L.A. continued to run, reaching 20 fast break points, and were up to 24 assists on 34 field goals. The biggest thing of the night, by far, was the much-improved all-around effort from Howard, which is what LAL will need more than anything moving forward.
6:02 D’Antoni’s been very complimentary of Meeks this season, mostly because he loves his effort and toughness, whether his shot is falling or not. There was a play with about six minutes left that typified his effort: he came up with a steal on D, sprinted to the rim, got his own rebound after being blocked, then dove on the floor to collect a loose ball after his follow up attempt. He got up, went to the three-point line, collected a pass and drained a triple. “I told him, on that one play he almost had a triple-double,” said D’Antoni after the game. “Jodie’s Jodie, and he’s going to play as hard as he can play.”
0:00 L.A. cruised to a 104-87 victory, as Howard, Bryant and Nash enjoyed spots on the bench in the final quarter, Gasol staying in for the first few minutes to add his second three-pointer, and reach five assists for the fifth consecutive game. It was as solid an all-around effort for the Lakers, but to reiterate, getting so much out of Howard is the biggest key. He told me just after the buzzer on Time Warner Cable SportsNet that he’s had trouble with back-to-backs this season, getting his legs and his energy, but expects to continue to improve as the season rolls on. That will certainly be the biggest key to L.A.’s season, since Kobe, Nash and Gasol have started to play consistently well. Up next is a New Year’s Day game against Philly. We’ll see you there.