Monthly Archive for January, 2013

Lakers – Suns Postgame Numbers

We broke down some of the more intriguing numbers from LAL’s 92-86 loss at Phoenix:

Points for Michael Beasley off the bench, a season-high. He also recorded a season-high five steals, to go along with six rebounds. Eight of his 10 fourth-quarter points came in the final 5:09 when Phoenix turned a seven-point deficit into a six-point win.

The Lakers also attempted 27 3-pointers, nearly 35 percent of all their field-goal attempts on the night. L.A. converted just eight of them, finishing at a 29.6 clip from distance.

Turnovers for the Lakers – nine of them coming in the first quarter alone and six in the final frame – while Phoenix turned these miscues into 19 points.

Fourth-quarter points for Los Angeles, after shooting just 4 of 19 from the floor (1 for 9 on 3-pointers). The Suns outscored the Lakers 29-13 for a plus-16 margin, the largest differential in a fourth period this season for the home team.

Straight wins at home for Phoenix over the Lakers, their longest streak since winning six straight from Nov. 2004 to April 2007. It was also L.A.’s eighth straight road loss, as they finished winless on the road in the month of January.

Lakers 86, Suns 92: Jan. 30 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Wednesday evening contest at Phoenix, a.k.a. the return of Steve Nash, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Lakers: Nash, Bryant, World Peace, Clark and Howard
Suns: G. Dragic, P. Tucker, J. Dudley, L. Scola, M. Gortat

7:40 The first triple from the Lakers came courtesy of Metta World Peace, off the second Kobe assist, to cut an early Suns lead to two at 12-10. Phoenix was the aggressor early, despite there being more people in the Valley of the Sun cheering for Nash and the Lakers. Nash was quiet early, missing his only field goal attempt, as Bryant resumed the ball-handling duties he’d picked up while amassing 39 assists in the past three games.

0:32.8 L.A. were turning the ball over at an alarming rate, with three straight poor passes giving them a ridiculous nine mishaps in the quarter. The Suns were only able to take moderate advantage, however, taking a 26-22 lead out of the period. Nash had six points, including four free throws, while Bryant had four assists, but the two combined for five of the nine turnovers.

3:00 Phoenix couldn’t buy a bucket, making only 3 of 20 shots before back-to-back hoops from Marcin Gortat pulled them within a point. L.A. had led by as many as five by starting the quarter well, the second unit playing strong for a second straight game since Steve Blake returned.

0:00 An ugly half of hoops finished with a 41-all scoreline, Michael Beasley reaching 10 points off the Suns bench with an and-1 in the final minute. L.A. turned the ball over 12 times, and didn’t have terrific energy on either end, though it didn’t hurt them too much on the scoreboard at least in terms of a deficit.

10:02 World Peace missed three wide open triples in the first half he’d like to have back, but he atoned by draining back-to-back corner triples, both from Kobe, to put the Lakers up 51-45 to force a Suns time out two minutes into the third. On the next possession, Kobe added yet another assist, his ninth of the game.

2:15 Gasol’s sixth field goal came on a hook in the paint, putting the Lakers back up 10 after Phoenix had trimmed a once 13-point lead down to eight. The Spaniard had 12 points with his five boards off the bench, while Howard was up to 12 rebounds with nine points after back-to-back buckets moments earlier.

0:00 The lead stayed in double digits heading into the fourth, Antawn Jamison doing the late damage with back-to-back jumpers from opposite corners (one a triple) to make it 73-63. L.A. outscored Phoenix 32-22 in the period.

8:08 Two Shannon Brown free throws cut L.A.’s lead down to seven; in related news, Bryant and Nash returned to the game for the Lakers, trying to secure their first road win in January. However, a trailing Scola laid the ball in off penetration from Dragic to cap an 8-0 run, and Phoenix was back in it…

3:39: Up 13 with 10 minutes to go, the Lakers suddenly found themselves in a tie game. Phoenix roared all the way back behind the scoring of Beasley, and got the first three-point make in six attempts from Jared Dudley to tie it at 82. L.A. were in trouble, yet again, on the road.

0:18.4 It got worse for L.A., who fell behind by four with Beasley and Scola converting back-to-back jumpers. Kobe managed to tie the game with a layup and then two free throws with 1:07 to go, but Beasley got a fumbling layup to fall, somehow, with 43.8 seconds to go, making it 88-86. Bryant got all the way to the rim on the ensuing possession, but couldn’t finish a layup. L.A. had to foul, and Scola put the game on ice with two free throws and 17.8 seconds left. Clark missed a desperation three, and after two Dudley free throws, the final margin was 92-86 for the Suns. The Lakers offense fell apart in the final 10 minutes, as they managed only eight points, towards 13 in the fourth quarter. Up next is Friday’s contest at Minnesota; we’ll see you there.

Lakers – Hornets Postgame Numbers

We broke down some of the more intriguing numbers from LAL’s 111-106 win against New Orleans:

Assists for the Lakers on 39 made field goals, a season-high. Kobe Bryant finished with 11 dimes and his run of 39 assists is the most during any three-game stretch in his career. L.A. is averaging nearly 30 assists (29.7) in their last three – all wins – compared to just 22.0 per game prior.

Fastbreak points for New Orleans, half of them coming in the fourth quarter after shaving all but a single point off what once was an 18-point Lakers lead.

Plus-rating for Pau Gasol, the highest of any Laker player in 21 minutes off the bench. All players off the pine finished with at least a plus-10 and combined for 38 points, 18 rebounds and 11 assists. “Our second group played really well tonight,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “That’s something that is going to be really important while going forward.”

Minutes for Steve Blake in his first game since Nov. 11. He finished with two points, four assists and two boards, and postgame, D’Antoni praised his performance. “I thought he was great,” he said. “I liked his quickness and his toughness on the ball … He’s a smart player.”

Steals and four blocks for Dwight Howard, his activity and energy on defense evident throughout the game. The big man also finished with a team-high 24 points on 9 for 13 from the floor, with Steve Nash and Bryant continually finding Howard rolling to the basket.

Lakers 111, Hornets 106: Jan. 29 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Tuesday night contest against New Orleans, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Lakers: Nash, Bryant, World Peace, Clark and Howard
Hornets: G. Vasquez, E. Gordon, A. Aminu, A. Davis, R. Lopez

2:!7 Both teams were running their offenses efficiently in the first 10 minutes, with New Orleans getting three triples from Eric Gordon to take a 24-18 lead. Kobe Bryant – straight off back-to-back games of at least 14 assists – totaled four assists in the first five minutes, then watched Pau Gasol pick up the slack off the bench, with three assists of his own as Earl Clark’s second triple and Antawn Jamison’s first hoop cut the Hornets’ lead to one.

0:00 The run grew to 7-0 when Clark scored at the rim, his eight points second only to Dwight Howard’s 10, as L.A. held the Hornets scoreless in the final 3:28 of the period. Steve Blake made his first appearance since Nov. 11, having battled abdominal and abductor/groin issues, taking over backup point guard duties for Chris Duhon. Mike D’Antoni has long been a Blake fan, and thinks he’s an ideal fit in his system.

2:58 New Orleans got a banked three from Gordon to help cut L.A.’s lead to as few as five, but with Bryant returning, the Lakers reeled off eight of the next 10 points to go up 45-32. Kobe got some extra rest in the period, which can always be helpful on a back-to-back with the Lakers at Phoenix tomorrow night. They were shooting 51.4 percent, and had 16 assists on 18 field goals, this a team that averages 22 helpers a game in the season.

0:00 Well, there’s no doubt that the Lakers carried the momentum built with consecutive good wins over Utah and OKC into this game, jumping out to as much as an 18-point lead late in the second quarter before allowing an 8-0 Hornets run. Bryant got the final hoop of the quarter on a put-back, however, to make it a 54-42 margin at the break. Gasol was terrific as a playmaker off the bench, totaling six assists in his 14 minutes, with Bryant one behind. Howard had 17 points, keyed by his making five straight free throws, while Clark added eight points and six boards. Dwight’s help D was also terrific, as he blocked two shots, notched three steals and affected several attempts at the rim for a Hornets team that managed only 14 points in the paint.

8:19 The ball movement continued to be terrific to start the third, as Kobe found Howard for a dunk, before Howard gave it up for Clark’s dunk on the next possession, providing a 67-52 margin. New Orleans did manage to score the next six points, however, with back-to-back dunks from rookie Anthony Davis cutting the margin to nine.

5:10 Missed free throws began to disrupt LAL’s flow, as Howard and Gasol combined to miss five straight until Howard got one to go. As a team, they were 8 of 17, with Howard missing five and Gasol three, the Hornets taking advantage to cut the margin to as few as six after Davis and Gordon each hit two foul shots of their own (70-64).

0:00 It’s certainly fun to watch the Lakers when they move the ball like they did against the Hornets; Bryant’s ninth and 10th, and Gasol’s sixth and seventh dimes pushed the team total to 27 on 31 field goals, and helped restore a double-digit lead (83-73) after the visitors had trimmed it to as few as four last in the quarter. Gasol had a fun line of 7 points, 7 boards and 7 assists, while Bryant was triple-double hunting again with 10 points, 10 assists and seven boards.

5:51 The bench group of Blake-Meeks-Jamison-Clark-Gasol (and then Howard, who subbed in for the Spaniard) playing very well, L.A. pushed its lead up to 98-80 as Bryant and Nash got extra rest on the bench, both playing only 29 minutes, with a back-to-back coming up at Phoenix on Wednesday night. Jamison had 14 and Meeks 13 points off the pine, and Blake had four assists in his 13 minutes.

4:05 A pull-up J from Nash, back in alongside Kobe a minute earlier, halted an 8-0 Hornets run that cut the lead to 10. Mike D’Antoni likely didn’t want to play that card, but felt he needed to with the opponent mounting a late run. After Jamison missed consecutive wide open shots on O, New Orleans continued to score in transition, getting an and-1 from Vasquez at the 3:20 mark to cut the lead to seven. A minute later, the lead was just four, when Ryan Anderson pulled up in transition to hit the seventh NOH triple, cutting the margin to 100-96. The 16-2 Hornets run came mostly out of fast breaks, with L.A. not getting back as they had in the previous quarters.

1:21 Clark had been huge all game (20 points, 12 rebounds), so it was fitting that his bucket at the rim, rebound and then assist for a dagger triple from Nash put the Lakers up 107-101 after the Hornets had cut the lead down to a single point. Kobe added a few late free throws towards the final margin of 111-106, L.A.’s third straight win at home in advance of the upcoming 7-game Grammy road trip. We’ll see you in Phoenix tomorrow night.

Lakers – Hornets Preview

To get an idea of what the Lakers can expect in Tuesday evening’s contest against New Orleans, we enlisted beat writer Jim Eichenhofer, who went in depth to describe a Hornets team that’s playing much-improved basketball of late:

Q: New Orleans has won road games at Dallas, Philly, Boston and Memphis this month. What’s been the key to the road success?
Eichenhofer: A big chunk of the credit for the team’s recent turnaround – both at home and on the road – must be given to Eric Gordon, who made his season debut Dec. 29 at Charlotte after missing the first two months to injury. The Hornets entered that game with a 6-23 record and fell behind the Bobcats by 17 points at halftime, but in his first game since April, Gordon spearheaded a comeback that served as a turning point for New Orleans. The former Los Angeles Clipper is still trying to fully regain his rhythm and hasn’t shot well yet by his standards (39.9 percent from field, 31.5 percent from three-point range), but his presence has allowed other players to settle into roles more suited to their ability. Perhaps not coincidentally, during the same timeframe, role players including Al-Farouq Aminu, Jason Smith and Roger Mason have been outstanding. In the most telling example, Mason is shooting a ridiculous 69.2 percent (18-for-26) from three-point range since Dec. 29. Prior to that date, he was at 32.4 percent (23-for-71). Aminu, who like Gordon came to New Orleans from the Clippers in the Chris Paul trade, has gone from multiple DNPs due to coach’s decision in December to averaging 10.2 rebounds in his last 10 games.

Q: What’s the ideal mix of minutes for starters Robin Lopez and Anthony Davis and reserve Ryan Anderson? Should Anderson be playing more?
Eichenhofer: One of the interesting aspects of this team is that, unlike virtually every other club in the NBA (other than perhaps frontcourt-loaded Utah), the Hornets have a surplus of effective big men. In addition to the three players you mentioned, Smith also has played well and eats up about 18 minutes per game at center and/or power forward. As a result, Anderson is averaging “only” 31.7 minutes and comes off the bench. Though you might make a case that Anderson could be on the floor more, most of the fan complaints/suggestions I’ve seen regarding minutes have been about Davis (28.9 mpg). The “problem,” if you want to call it that, is that Smith has been arguably the team’s most efficient fourth-quarter player lately. There have been a few January games in which Davis has sat out crunch time, but Smith and Anderson were the two biggest reasons New Orleans won. They combined for 17 points in the fourth quarter in Sunday’s win at Memphis, part of NOLA’s 27-15 comeback.

Q: You mentioned how big a difference Gordon has made, and the 8-5 record in games he’s played shows it. What does he do well to help the team on a macro level?
Eichenhofer: The ball movement immediately improved in Gordon’s first game, a testament to Monty Williams’ notion that passing may be the most underrated aspect of Gordon’s skill set. Gordon also can create his own shot, something that was sorely lacking early in 2012-13. During the first two months of the season, New Orleans frequently had possessions that stagnated and resulted in a player having to take a difficult attempt to beat the shot clock. Anderson had virtually no room to operate against opposing defense prior to Gordon’s return to the court, but has gotten considerably better looks in the past month. Overall, Gordon has made life much easier for many of his teammates, particularly at the offensive end.

Q: Is Greivis Vasquez as good as his offensive numbers suggest? He’s averaging 9.2 assists with his 13.8 points per game this season.
Eichenhofer: I think Vasquez deserves major consideration for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. His pass-first mentality has also helped foster the improvement of some of his teammates. The chemistry the native of Venezuela has developed in particular with Aminu has led to many of the forward’s highlight-reel alley-oop slams on fast breaks this season. Vasquez has also been part of Robin Lopez’s jump from an offensive afterthought with Phoenix to a jump in scoring average from 5.4 to 11.0 points per game. Vasquez has also become a much more dangerous perimeter shooter, at a career-best 37.6 percent on threes.

Q: Do you take exception with the seemingly common knowledge that Damian Lillard is the clear Rookie of the Year? Anthony Davis is putting up nice numbers, though he did miss 13 games…
Eichenhofer: You can’t argue much with the opinion that Lillard deserves the accolades he’s gotten at the midway point of the season. He’s been brilliant individually and made Portland a playoff contender, when few expected the Trail Blazers to be close to .500. However, it seems like there have been several instances over the years where people wanted to hand out a trophy in January, but by April they had a drastically altered opinion. Consider also that Lillard was able to get a nice “head start” on Davis when the No. 1 overall pick missed 13 early-season games to injury (the Hornets were 3-10 in those games, by the way). I’d be happy to see Davis get more consideration for the award, but to be honest, I’m not sure if it’s ultimately that critical in the grand scheme of things. The 19-year-old, who possesses freakish defensive timing and athleticism, has shown immense potential, but like many young bigs, he seems to be just scratching the surface in terms of his offensive repertoire. I’m more excited to see what he looks like after an offseason of working on his mid-range and low-post game than concerned about whether he makes a run at Lillard for ROY.

Quote Round Up: Monday Practice

Here’s a transcription of interviews from *Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and coach Mike D’Antoni from Monday’s Lakers practice.

*Click on each name to watch the full video.

Q: On if the last two games and how the team has performed is something he envisioned at the beginning of the year:
Bryant: No, the roles are all upside down. It’s kind of hard to put the puzzle together a little bit, but it seems we’ve figured it out.

Q: On how the team changed in the last two games and what prompted this change:
Bryant: I think the team meeting was more of an emotional thing where we wanted to support each other, make sure the culture was an open culture and it’s a (competitive) culture. Even after the meeting, we had X’s and O’s that we didn’t solve. We didn’t have all the emotional positive energy you want. If you don’t execute the right way, you’re not going to win. It comes from us putting our thinking caps on and trying different things.

Q: On much more dangerous the team can be with Steve Nash off the ball:
Bryant: He’s one of the greatest shooters of all time. He’s a no-leave guy. If they do leave him, then God bless them.

Q: On his demeanor naturally being that of a scorer and if he can keep facilitating in order for the team to be successful:
Bryant: I was probably born a scorer, but I was made a winner. Whatever works, whatever wins championships, wins games, that’s what I do.

Q: On if the team has turned a corner:
Bryant: I think it’s a big confidence booster for us that we can come up with a strategy, stick to it and make adjustments throughout the course of the game against a very good team that’s been together for quite some time. It bodes well for our confidence, but it (could mean) nothing. We could come out tomorrow and lay an egg.

Q: On Pau Gasol coming off the bench:
Bryant: He’s not happy about it, but it’s just the attitude of this team. We’re just doing whatever it takes to win. It’s OK to say you’re not happy about a situation. That’s fine and that’s normal. The most important thing is that he continues to play well in that position and he’s being a consummate professional in that position, and that helps us.

Q: On what Steve Blake brings to this team:
Bryant: A temper, his shooting and his playmaking. The most important thing that we’ve been missing from him is his competitiveness. He’s a feisty dude and we need that here.

Q: On how he’s embraced his role off the bench:
Gasol: With professionalism and putting the team first. That’s the way I’ve taken it. It’s hard for any player that considers themselves one of the top players in the world to say: ‘I’m OK with coming off the bench.’ At the same time, it’s a difficult situation we’ve been dealing with here. The last two games have been great, and it’s been positive. We’re looking for that to continue, but at the same time, we don’t need any more distractions or any more negativity. We need positive embracing, focus and we need support from each other.

Q: On whose idea it was for different players to change roles:
Gasol: It was all of us understanding with the team we have and the personnel we have, it takes a lot of self-sacrificing and understanding there has to be a certain level of balance. With all the great talent we have and players that have been the main guys on their teams in their careers, you’re going to have to compromise and change your role for the betterment of the team. That’s something that each and every one of us has to do in order for this team to function.

Q: On if the last two games are any indication of what he thought the team could be like when it was first formed:
Gasol: The last couple games have shown a lot how I’d like to see our team can play. That level of unselfishness from the first player to the last, making good basketball plays for each other, finding the open guy, creating that energy for each other. That’s how I envisioned this team from Day 1. It’s taken awhile, but now we have to be consistent with it.

Q: On if he feels the team has turned a corner in the last two games:
Gasol: I think we’re in the right direction to turn the corner. Two games is too little, but they have been two meaningful games. Now we’re playing the Hornets and Phoenix (back-to-back), and it’s just as important as the Oklahoma City game, regardless of record, because of the situation we have and we’re dealing with, our record and how far back we are of the playoff spots.

Q: On if he senses a different feeling around the team:
Gasol: Winning always helps everybody’s mood. We have to understand that if we want that to continue, we have to continue to do the same things the last couple games. Bring the same effort, same energy, same mindset and understand it’s not always going to work perfectly, but if we have that kind of game and unselfishness, it’ll go a long way.

Q: On what changed for the team in the last two games:
D’Antoni: I don’t think anybody knows. It’s like throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks. Everybody is trying to do the right thing, players talking it out, coaches pounding the message in. Maybe we hit rock bottom, maybe there was something from above. I think everybody’s trying to do their job and do the best they can do. Without going too far out on a limb, we can see some glimmer of hope, and we just got to keep it going.

Q: On Kobe Bryant’s play the last two games:
D’Antoni: The great thing about Kobe (Bryant) is he wants to win. I think he’s figured out with this team that he looks and sees that I have to do this. You have to give him credit for embracing whatever it takes to win.

Q: On Steve Nash moving off the ball in a position to shoot more:
D’Antoni: I like to see him in a position to shoot more, because he’s one of the best shooters in NBA history. But he will not shoot more unless that ball doesn’t move. If it moves, he will shoot more. He won’t go 1-on-1 trying to find a shot.

Q: On what sacrifices he’s seen from the team the last two games:
D’Antoni: I don’t see sacrifice as winning. Everybody’s found out a way to win and enjoy winning. The bottom line should be winning.

Q: On what he expects from Steve Blake when he returns:
D’Antoni: Toughness on defense and smarts. He’s a better shooter than what he’s shown in L.A. so far. I think his overall play is going to be good. I expect Steve to eventually work his way into it. But he’s a tough kid and we need toughness.

Lakers – Thunder Postgame Numbers

We broke down some of the more intriguing numbers from LAL’s 105-96 win against OKC:

Percent shooting for L.A. against an OKC defense that had limited opponents to 43 percent from the floor (third in the league). On the other end, the Lakers held the Thunder – a team that leads the league in scoring (105.9) and is third in field-goal percentage (47.8) – to 96 points and a 44.4 clip.

Dimes for Kobe Bryant, his second straight game with at least that number. It was the first time Bryant had recorded 14 assists in back-to-back games since December of 2002. ” He is playing like Magic Johnson,” Steve Nash said. “He’s taking the ball down, controlling the offense and creating opportunities for his teammates.”

Rebounds for Metta World Peace, to go along with 15 points and three assists. World Peace recorded his second double-double since the start of the 2010-11 season, and split time with Earl Clark on Kevin Durant, who was just 10 of 26.

Straight field-goals missed for Russell Westbrook, who finished 6 for 22 towards 17 points, “(Westbrook) didn’t shoot the ball well, nor did (Durant), and they’re going to make those shots,” OKC coach Scott Brooks said. ”

Three-pointers made for OKC, a team that converts nearly eight per game. The Thunder, who came into the game shooting 38.8 percent from deep (second in the NBA), missed their first seven triples, and made 4 of 16 overall (25 percent).

Lakers 105, Thunder 96: Jan. 27 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Sunday afternoon contest against Oklahoma City, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Lakers: Nash, Bryant, World Peace, Clark and Howard
Thunder: R. Westbrook, T. Sefolosha, K. Durant, S. Ibaka, K. Perkins

2:30 The first nine minutes and change were marked by active defense from both teams, as the Lakers hit only 7 of 18 shots (38.9 percent) and the Thunder 7 of 21 (33.3 percent) towards a 17-all tie into a time out late in the period. Kobe Bryant hit 3 of 5 shots and added a pair of assists, while Kevin Durant had already taken eight shots, hitting three, for the visitors. L.A. led by as many as four at 17-13 before missing a pair of layups and seeing OKC tie it up off their sixth offensive board.

0:00 The Lakers closed the quarter in style, with Nash hitting consecutive jumpers – including a triple – and Antwan Jamison drawing a 3-point shooting foul to make it a 27-23 lead for the home team. All seven Lakers who checked in scored at least two points, and the active D held OKC below 40 percent shooting despite many second chances off seven offensive boards.

8:59 Speaking of Jamison … he got hot after those free throws, hitting two jumpers, including a triple, and adding an and-1 near the rim to reach 10 bench points in his seven minutes, keeping the Lakers up 36-29. The lead had grown to as many as nine before Durant checked in and promptly scored (though he had just nine points on 11 shots, well below his usual high efficiency).

0:00 After missing his first eight shots pretty badly on the whole, Russell Westbrook hit the final attempt of the half to give OKC a 53-52 lead. L.A. missed nine free throws (Howard was 1 for 8) in the statistic that was most evidently a problem,

8:55 OKC’s biggest lead of the game came courtesy of a Durant three-pointer, his first, though Bryant answered with a jumper on the other end that made it 60-57. Westbrook continued to miss, falling to 1 for 12 from the field, though he did have 10 assists and eight boards. Bryant was also on triple-double watch with his 11 points, eight boards and six dimes.

5:03 In for Howard – saddled with four fouls – was Gasol, who hit for the 4th time in five attempts to reach 10 points, a game after he made 8 of 9 shots against Utah (85.7% in last two). His jumper tied what was becoming an increasingly fiery game at 63; Bryant had drawn a technical foul for pushing Westbrook after Westy swung away at Bryant from behind (shooting foul) in transition, and the crowd wasn’t pleased that Russell didn’t get a matching T for a (very slight) push back.

0:00 Bryant was brilliant through three quarters, closing the quarter with 15 points (5 of 8 FG’s, 5 of 6 FT’s), 10 assists and nine rebounds a game after he was one board shy of a triple-double. That propelled L.A. to a brief lead, before a quarter-closing bucket from Westbrook tied it at 75 heading into the fourth. Gasol

8:24 With Bryant and Nash getting some rest, the group of Duhon-Meeks-MWP-Gasol-Howard started the quarter very well, taking an 86-82 lead behind five straight points from Meeks, a tough Gasol hook, an MWP three (his third) and 1 of 2 Howard free throws. OKC got within two when Bryant and Nash returned at the 7-minute mark, however, when Westbrook stripped Duhon and scored on the other end.

5:14 Bryant’s 11th assists got Earl Clark a dunk, Nash hit a technical free throw and Bryant followed with a long two-point jumper to put the Lakers up 93-87, in good position to try and seal perhaps their biggest victory of the season. Could they hold on?…

1:31 L.A. got a stop, then a beautiful left-handed hoop from Kobe, to make it a 99-93 lead, but Durant drew a foul and hit both free throws to again cut it to four with 1:31 to play. The drama continued, as Kobe’s 14th dime of the game was the biggest one, as he drew the defense by beating Sefolosha off the dribble before finding a cutting Gasol for a lay-in w/1:09 left. Great play by both of ‘em, and the Lakers led by six.

0:00 Westbrook drew a foul on MWP and hit 1 of 2 free throws, when Bryant fittingly hit the dagger, a 20-foot jumper from the right wing that made it 103-96 with 37 seconds left. Two free throws from Nash followed Howard’s strip of Westbrook, to allow a final margin of 105-96. L.A. closed the game on an 8-3 run to seal their biggest victory of the season against a team that’s been the West’s best at this point of the season. Bryant was fantastic, finishing with 21 points on an efficient 8 of 12 shooting, plus 14 assists – his second straight game hitting that number, one short of his career-high set in 2002 – and nine rebounds, as he missed a triple-double by one board for the second straight game. Gasol was big off the bench, scoring 16 points on 7 of 10 field goals (7 of 8 the game before) with four assists and four boards, while World Peace totaled 15 points and 10 boards in nearly 43 minutes.

A second straight win put the Lakers at 19-25, with New Orleans coming in on Tuesday, in advance of a 7-game road trip. We’ll see you Tuesday.

Injury Update: Blake Progressing

Lakers backup point guard Steve Blake, who underwent surgery on Dec. 5 to repair a torn abdominal muscle, continued to ramp things up in his rehab on Saturday, going through a scrimmage with teammates after practice and also doing some running on his own, according to coach Mike D’Antoni.

“He’s going to play pretty soon,” D’Antoni said. “I don’t know when that is, but he’s working his way back. Every day will be a test for him. If he keeps passing those barriers, you’ll see him soon.”

Earlier this week on Thursday, the Maryland product was cleared for 2-on-2 workouts.

Prior to surgery, Blake developed complications along his abductor, and even after the procedure and during rehab, he developed more complications. The training staff and team doctor Steve Lombardo had been monitoring Blake’s progress after he received a PRP (platelet rich plasma) injection on Jan. 11.

The Lakers first-year coach hinted at the possibility of him playing as early as Tuesday against New Orleans.

“I think he’s got a shot,” he said. “Now that’s me talking, but he’s got a shot.”

Saturday Practice Report

After the Lakers 102-84 victory over the Jazz, coach Mike D’Antoni acknowledged he was pleased with the team’s sharing of the basketball.

The ball movement was no more evident than on one particular play in the opening minutes when Steve Nash threaded a bounce pass to a cutting Kobe Bryant along the baseline, who then lofted the ball to Dwight Howard for an alley-oop.

It was Bryant’s third assist – out of four Lakers made baskets – less than three minutes into the contest, as L.A. raced out to a 9-2 lead.

“(Bryant) set the tone,” D’Antoni said. “There’s no doubt about it. He played like Oscar Robertson back in the day.”

The 15-time All-Star guard finished with five assists in the first quarter alone, en route to a season-high 14 dimes – one shy of his career-high of 15 set in Feb. of 2002.

“You get everybody else involved early and throughout the game, it makes teams tough to guard us,” Howard explained. “(Kobe) did a great job of that (on Friday). It makes it tough for teams when he’s passing, throwing lobs and picking the defense apart.”

Bryant also capped his night one rebound away from his 19th career triple-double, with 14 points on 7 for 10 shooting, along with nine boards.

The Lakers shot 53.8 percent from the floor, and five players finished in double figures.

“When we use our strengths and play together, it’s going to be tough for teams to guard us,” Howard explained. “When our offense is stagnant, and there’s not a lot of movement, no pick and rolls and we’re watching, teams have a chance to set their defense.”

One of those strengths is allowing Pau Gasol to play closer to the basket at the center position, D’Antoni choosing to bring the 7-foot Spaniard off the bench in the last three games. In those games, Gasol is averaging 14.3 points and 9.0 rebounds on 53.1 percent from the floor in 27.3 minutes.

“He is a better five,” he said. “Pau is one of the best skilled guys in the league.”

But carrying this type of same energy over to Sunday’s matchup with the Thunder will be paramount, according to D’Antoni. The sustained effort, he said, has to stick. If the Lakers remain focused and bring the same type of play on both sides of the ball, the coaching staff believes they will be successful.

“I think that’s the way you have to play against Oklahoma City,” D’Antoni explained. “Can (we) win? They’re really good at what they do, but I think we can. Obviously some guys are going to have to step up, play well and hit shots. If they do that, we’ll have a good shot at winning.”