Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Friday night contest against Utah at Staples Center, 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
Jazz: J. Tinsley, R. Foye, M. Williams, P. Millsap, A. Jefferson
7:58 It was a fantastic start for the Lakers on both ends, with Dwight Howard anchoring the defense and dunking two Bryant alley-oops, while Metta World Peace drained two three-pointers (also both Kobe assists) to make it a 15-4 early lead. L.A.’s problem has been sustaining effort, however, and Utah responded with a 9-0 run to cut the lead to two. Pau Gasol checked in at the 5:55 mark for Earl Clark, but missed two foul shots after drawing an immediate foul.
1:02 The Lakers, however, had an answer for that run, pushing the margin right back to 10 when Earl Clark finished a tricky layup driving from left to right. Gasol had been solid off the LAL bench, with a quick bucket over Millsap and some nice work on D, though he did miss all but 1 of 4 free throws. Utah did get a lucky jumper (Gordon Hayward definitely didn’t call bank, he’ll admit it) & a nice block in transition to stop Chris Duhon’s layup attempt near the buzzer, enough to cut the lead to 26-19 after one. Still, a solid quarter from L.A., looking little like the team that just lost three straight road games (at least for 12 minutes).
5:35 With two World Peace free throws, L.A. took a 35-29 lead, as Bryant and Nash returned after getting more rest than usual in the second quarter. Bryant had amassed five assists in the first quarter alone, and added two more pretty quickly, for a game-high seven. Bryant hadn’t had six assists since the team’s last win, over Milwaukee, so that was a good sign for the Lakers.
0:00 A very strong first half for the home team allowed a 47-37 lead at the break, with neither team scoring in the final 1:44 after Bryant’s jumper made it a 10-point game. Kobe had eight points with his seven dimes to lead the way, while Howard amassed 10 rebounds and two blocks alongside eight points, controlling the paint on both ends. The big pre-game key from L.A.’s coaches was limiting Utah’s second-chance points, and the players certainly delivered, holding the Jazz to only two by dominating the glass 25-14.
5:16 It’s very difficult for opposing defenses to match up with a rested Gasol off L.A.’s bench, and his jumper over Millsap put the Lakers up 11 late in the third. However, Utah responded with an 8-2 run to cut L.A.’s lead to five with 3:15 to go, capping the burst with a layup off Nash’s third turnover.
0:00 With 2:37 left, Utah was within just three points at 61-58 thanks to a 6-0 run. But then, the Black Mamba came out as if he were Nash, dishing everywhere, tossing four straight assists resulting in 11 points. Duhon hit a three, MWP back-to-back threes and finally Meeks a reverse dunk, putting the Lakers back up nine at 72-63 after three quarters. Kobe had 12 assists to go with 10 points, three boards away from a triple-double.
9:10 All Lakers to open the fourth with Duhon, Meeks, MWP, Gasol and Howard on the floord. The Spaniard continued his terrific play off L.A.’s bench by hitting consecutive shots, scoring six points in the first three minutes of the quarter, then setting a screen to get MWP his fifth triple of the game. Adding to the onslaught was Meeks, who stole the ball in the backcourt and sprinted to a tough and-1 layup through traffic. That put the Lakers up 86-69, as Bryant and Nash stood and clapped while resting on the bench.
5:18 The Black Mamba had a nice rest, but immediately made his presence felt when checking back in, first with a dirty finger-roll layup after putting Hayward in the popcorn machine and stepping in with perfect footwork, then a breakaway dunk off his own steal. That gave him 14 points to go with the 12 assists and eight boards, the Lakers taking a 92-74 lead, on the verge of their first January win against a Western Conference opponent.
1:26 For good measure, Nash (err, I mean, Kobe) tossed his 14th assist, getting Howard cutting to the hoop for a layup that put the Lakers up 99-80. Bryant had also grabbed his ninth rebound before checking out. Terrific game for Benjamin Button.
0:00 The final: 102-84, Lakers. It was a total team effort, spearheaded by Bryant and Howard (17 points, 13 rebounds) with plenty of help from Gasol (15 points, seven boards, three assists in 26 minutes) and Nash (15 points), not to mention World Peace and his five three-pointers. The key for the Lakers, of course, will be bottling this feeling and style up and carrying it forward to try and make a run in the second half of the season. Up next is a tough test on Sunday against OKC; we’ll see you there.