Monthly Archive for February, 2013

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Lakers 100, Bobcats 93: Feb. 8 Running Diary

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

Starters
Lakers: Nash, Bryant, World Peace, Clark and Howard
Bobcats: K. Walker, G. Henderson, M. Kidd-Gilchrist, B. Mullens, B. Biyombo

FIRST QUARTER
9:17 Far few times this season have we seen a simple screen/roll from Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, with the big man often preferring to post up instead of set a solid screen and crash into the paint, but he did just that on this occasion and predictably was rewarded with a two-handed dunk at the rim, with L.A. down by one in the early moments.

0:00 Unfortunately for the Lakers, the lack of energy and full effort or effectiveness from Boston carried over into this one, and Charlotte took advantage by taking a 30-20 lead out of the first quarter. The Lakers turned it over seven times, hit only 8 of 21 shots and were out-boarded 15-10. Not what Mike D’Antoni had in mind.

SECOND QUARTER
5:53 L.A. fell behind by as many as 11 once again early in the period, before fighting back to within five after consecutive and-1′s near the rim from Howard. The big man had been quiet on both ends before those hoops, but after the second came over for a nice weak side block on the other end. Nonetheless, L.A. continued to allow some good looks to Charlotte, who led 41-33 after two free throws from Nash (Lakers in the bonus).

2:13 Nash gave L.A. a rare fast break bucket by taking it all the way to the rim for a layup, cutting what had grown to a 13-point lead moments earlier to 10, but the ‘Cats had already amassed 14 fast break points and 30 points in the paint. At the half, the margin was 13.

THIRD QUARTER
10:15 Instead of finding renewed fire out of the halftime gate, L.A. allowed six quick points to the ‘Cats and got only a put-back layup from World Peace, as the deficit grew to 16 at 59-43. If they were going to make a push, it had better start soon…

5:26 … but it did not, as the lead grew to 20 on two Walker free throws, Howard picking up his fourth foul and heading over to the bench. Bryant, who didn’t score in the first half for the sixth time in his career, had a bucket and two foul shots, but the team cohesion remained poor on both ends. The Lakers absolutely couldn’t buy a triple, missing seven straight in the quarter, and 3 of 19 in the game. Jodie Meeks was 2 for 2, Clark having the only other make in four attempts, with MWP and Nash both 0 for 4. MWP has been the biggest culprit in terms of missing threes, but Bryant had converted only one of his last 25 dating back a few weeks.

2:18 But since Howard went to the bench, the Lakers suddenly found something, rolling off a 13-2 run to trim the 20-point lead to just nine at 73-64. Meeks hit his third three, Nash his first in five attempts, and Clark did much damage towards his team-high 14 points with eight assists. Meeks, Clark and Jamison were all key with simple effort off the bench. Nine would be the margin heading into the final quarter (78-69), the Lakers back into it.

FOURTH QUARTER
7:45 The lead was cut to as few as three when Jamison pulled up for a long two, which made it 81-78, the Lakers still rolling along. Meeks had 11 points and two assists, and Blake had been very good distributing the ball off the pine, with four assists to his name. Howard came in for a weak side block, his second of the game, after the team had done much of its work when he was on the bench. They’d certainly need his A game to come all the way back for a win.

4:46 Lakers lead? Yup, the massive run continued as Jamison scored in the paint, putting the team that was down 20 suddenly up one at 84-83. The D has really stepped up, with Bryant swatting Sessions and then Howard helping to force an air ball on the next trip, and after the exchange of four points, Nash put the Lakers up two with a three inside of four minutes… stay tuned.

3:02 The second straight big triple in the final moments came from Meeks, who buried his fourth of the game, putting the Lakers up a point after Charlotte had scored four straight. The lead was pushed to three when Kobe hit an 11-foot bank shot from the baseline, moments after Byron Mullens committed offensive goaltending on the other end. Kobe added two foul shots after another defensive stop keyed by a nice rotation from Howard, creating a 5-point margin with 1:29 left.

0:40.4 For yet another possession, weak side help D from Howard helped the Lakers get a stop, and it was Bryant, again, scoring in transition off Nash’s seventh assist to put the Lakers up 98-93, countering a layup from Sessions at the 1:14 mark. Two more Kobe points (he scored the last eight to reach 20, all in the second half) created the final margin of 100-93, L.A. finishing an impressive 31-15 fourth quarter to erase what had grown to as much as a 20-point lead. It was hugely important, as it turned around what had been six straight poor quarters of basketball, getting the Lakers back to the team that had played so well in winning six of seven games. Up next is a challenge at Miami on Sunday, the defending champs looking for a season sweep, and the Lakers hoping to finish the Grammy road trip 5-2 with a victory. We’ll see you there.

Lakers – Celtics Postgame Numbers

We broke down some of the more intriguing numbers from LAL’s 116-95 loss at Boston:

76.2
Shooting percentage for Boston in the third as they converted on 16 of 21 shots towards 37 points, tying a season-high in a quarter. The Celtics nailed 14 of their last 16 shots to end the quarter and extended their 14-point halftime lead to 24 entering the final frame. Overall, the home team shot 52.9 percent and put up 116 points, as six players finished in double figures. “The roof kind of caved in on us and we gave them a lot of transition points and easy baskets,” Kobe Bryant said. “They were hot. I can’t really remember them missing a shot in the third quarter … they played really well.”

58
Paint points for the Celtics, who came into the contest averaging 38 (ranked 25th in the league). Even in Dwight Howard’s return, Boston still got to the rim (25 free throws on the night) and owned a plus-22 in this category.

28
Minutes for Howard, after sitting out the previous three contests because of soreness in his right shoulder. The big man recorded nine points and nine rebounds, but also battled foul trouble all night before fouling out in the fourth quarter.

23
Three-point attempts for the Lakers, who only made five on the evening (21.7 percent). Metta World Peace missed on all five of his tries and finished just 2 for 13 for five points. Through four games on the road trip, World Peace is shooting 5 for 25 from the 3-point line (20 percent) and just 13 for 49 overall (26.5 percent).

10
Personal fouls called on Boston in the opening quarter, as Kevin Garnett was sent to the bench just two minutes into the contest. Jason Collins (3) and Chris Wilcox (2) also picked up multiple fouls, but the Lakers failed to take advantage, nailing just 5 of 12 free throws (41.7 percent).

Lakers 95, Celtics 116: Feb. 7 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Thursday evening contest at Boston, the Lakers looking for a fourth consecutive win, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Nash, Bryant, World Peace, Clark and Howard
Celtics: A. Bradley, C. Lee, P. Pierce, B. Bass, K. Garnett

FIRST QUARTER
5:20 L.A. got some good news on the injury front about 30 minutes before tip off, when they learned that Dwight Howard would return after missing three games with his ailing right shoulder. In the first six minutes, Howard converted a lefty hook and a 15-foot jumper, but he missed his other three shots, and was hesitant toward contact on the defensive end.

0:00 Boston took a 4-point lead out of the first quarter largely because the Lakers couldn’t make a free throw, converting only 5 of 12, including 1 of 4 from Howard. Bryant had eight points with six boards, but the Lakers had only four assists on eight field goals, poor for a team whose ball movement has been so good of late.

SECOND QUARTER
9:49 It was all Boston to start the second quarter, the home team opening on an 8-2 run to allow a 35-25 lead after Jeff Green grabbed the seventh offensive board of the game and turned it into free throws, this a Celtics team that averages only 8.5 offensive boards per game (28th in the NBA) and ranks 29th overall on the glass.

3:45 Boston’s lead swelled to 13 points, with Jeff Green scoring twice at the rim to reach 11 bench points in 14 minutes, and Jason Terry hitting the second Celtics triple. Earl Clark answered with a long two, but two KG free throws on the other end kept the lead at 53-40 as Howard returned after a five-minute rest. The Lakers did not have good energy on either end, Howard seemingly struggling to get too involved and perhaps being concerned with his shoulder. The lead grew to as many as 16 before Kobe’s tough jumper with three seconds left created a 58-44 margin. L.A.’s energy was not good in the second, by any definition.

THIRD QUARTER
3:22 Little turned around for the Lakers out of halftime, despite plenty more Kobe points (26 on 9 of 14 field goals) as they couldn’t get a stop. Paul Pierce scored nine straight points to help Boston open its biggest lead at 81-64, the D just not there. Howard committed two early fouls in the quarter and took a seat on the bench, with the small line up of Clark at the five doing little to curtail Boston’s effort on O.

0:00 And then, well, the Celtics got insanely hot and started to make everything. They literally hit 14 of their final 16 shots of the quarter, scoring 14 points in the final three minutes alone, to open a 95-69 lead heading into the final quarter, ending the game for all intents and purposes. Bryant was up to 27 points with seven boards, but nobody else but Jamison (12 points) was in double figures. Bryant was without an assist, though it wasn’t his fault, as teammates combined to miss all kinds of open shots off his passes. MWP was 2 for 13, Jodie Meeks 1 for 6, Howard 4 for 8 and Clark 1 for 4, even Nash going 4 for 9. This was the first very poor game for the Lakers in a few weeks, as they’d played consistently in winning six of seven games.

FOURTH QUARTER

7:00 The game well out of hand, Howard did stay in it, perhaps D’Antoni looking for him to find some sort of rhythm and energy as he dealt with his sore right shoulder. Howard had amassed nine points and nine boards in 26 minutes, but wasn’t moving great on either end. Scoreboard wise, Boston’s lead was at 103-75 after two free throws from Steve Blake (LAL 16 of 27 for the game).

0:00 The only question after a poor all-around effort from the Lakers was whether this was a 1-game relapse, or a return to what we’d seen far too often earlier in the season. If L.A. responds with a better effort at Charlotte and at Miami, it’s the former, the team having turned a corner by winning six of seven games behind energy on D and sharing of the ball on O. But if it’s the latter, even a late playoff push will be in serious jeopardy. We’ll see in less than 24 hours, from Charlotte. The final tonight: Boston 116, L.A. 95.

Injuries in the Front Court

With the news that Pau Gasol suffered a tear of the plantar fascia, the continuation of what’s been somewhat of a Murphy’s Law season for the front court in terms of injuries continued, leaving L.A. unsure of who to expect on the floor.

The team learned that it would be without top reserve big man Jordan Hill for the remainder of the season on Jan. 11, and he’s subsequently undergone surgery on his ailing left hip. Gasol has already missed 13 games with plantar fascia problems in addition to a concussion and knee tendinitis (LAL going 5-8), while Dwight Howard has missed six games (3-3) due to a labrum tear in his right shoulder.

Howard most recently aggravated the shoulder injury he originally suffered on Jan. 4 on Jan. 30 at Phoenix, and has missed the past three games. He did participate in Thursday morning’s shootaround in advance of this evening’s game against Boston, for which he’s considered a game-time decision.

We took a look at how the Lakers have done with and without Howard and Gasol in the line up:

WITH GASOL AND HOWARD BOTH IN (3-8 in 2013)
Since the beginning of January, when the Lakers were really struggling at both ends, the team went 3-8 with both in the lineup (3-3 at home; 0-5 away). In those 11 games, Gasol came off the bench in seven contests and started four. LAL averaged 98.1 points per game on 45.4 percent field goals and 32.6 percent from three, with 55.2 rebounds, 22.4 assists and 15.4 turnovers. Opponents averaged 100.7 points on 46.3 percent field goals and 34.2 percent threes, with 48.8 rebounds, 24.1 assists and 10.8 turnovers.
*NOTE: Jordan Hill appeared in three of these games (PHI, @LAC, DEN).

The 3-8 record is a bit misleading, as the Lakers won three of the final four when both started, losing only a Phoenix game they’d led by 13 early in the fourth quarter before Howard went down and missed the final seven minutes. It appeared that they’d finally figured it out, with Gasol dominating opposing second units and Howard anchoring the defense.

WITH HOWARD IN AND GASOL OUT (2-0)
L.A. defeated Cleveland & Milwaukee, both at home, rather easily. They averaged 108.5 points per game on 53.6 field goals and 42.6 percent from three, with 43.5 rebounds, 31 assists & 16 turnovers. The two opponents averaged 90.5 ppg on 38.4 percent field goals and 22.4 percent from three, with 46.5 rebounds, 19.5 assists & 14 TO’s. Howard averaged 26.5 points, 15.0 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game in those two.

Of course, Cleveland and Milwaukee are not among the East’s, let alone NBA’s, elite, and the Lakers were desperate for some home wins after a tough road trip and winless month.

WITH GASOL IN AND HOWARD OUT (3-0)
L.A. won three consecutive games at Minnesota, Detroit & Brooklyn, all relatively close finishes. The Lakers averaged 100.3 points on 44.7 percent field goals & 32.3 percent from three, with 56.0 rebounds, 23.7 assists and 13.3 turnovers. Opponents averaged just 93.3 points on 41.9 percent field goals and 35.6 percent from three, with 55.0 rebounds, 21.7 assists and 15 turnovers per game.

Gasol averaged 20.0 points, 8.7 boards, 2.3 assists and 1.7 blocks as the feature center, and it’s perhaps the 41.9 percent shooting towards 93.3 points that’s most impressive from L.A.’s defense without Howard, in addition to Metta World Peace missing the Brooklyn game.

WITHOUT GASOL OR HOWARD (0-3)
The Lakers got crushed in three consecutive games at Houston and San Antonio and vs. Oklahoma City when neither of its two big men played. They averaged 106.0 points on 44.4 percent field goals and 32.6 percent from three, with 49.7 rebounds, 23.3 assists and 12.7 turnovers. The three opponents, who happen to be the NBA’s top three offensive teams, averaged 116.3 points on 51.6 percent field goals and 40.5 percent from three, with 54.0 rebounds, 26.3 assists and 18 turnovers per game.

ALL IN ALL
Clearly, both bigs being out is the scenario the Lakers can ill afford for too long, even as the emergence of Earl Clark will let the purple and gold get away with an ultra small line up at times with Clark at center and Metta World Peace at power forward. Yes, L.A. was only 3-8 when both played in January, but the team was simply playing poorly in general, not sharing the ball on offense or playing hard enough on defense, something that changed after the meeting in Memphis in which most got onto the same page.

Even in a small sample size that makes drawing any grand conclusions difficult, we’ve seen the Lakers figure out how to win with one of their two best bigs out. They’ll be at their best when both return, but in the meantime, it’s up to Clark, MWP, Antawn Jamison and Robert Sacre to pick up the slack, with Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Steve Blake – OK, everybody – helping out from the back court.

The Lakers have three more road games to conclude the Grammy trip (@BOS, @CHA, @MIA) before returning home for two games (vs. PHO, vs. LAC) ahead of the All-Star break. Stay tuned.

Lakers – Nets Postgame Numbers

We broke down some of the more intriguing numbers from LAL’s 92-83 win at Brooklyn, their sixth win in the last seven games:

41
Minutes for Earl Clark, who notched his third straight double-double (14 points, 12 rebounds). Clark also recorded a team-high plus-18 rating, while taking turns defending Joe Johnson and even Brook Lopez late in the game.

34.8
Percent shooting from the floor for Brooklyn, the sixth time they’ve been held under 40 percent this season. The Nets backcourt of Deron Williams and Johnson finished a combined 9 for 28 (32.1 percent). In the final 12 minutes of play, Brooklyn converted on just 7 of 24 attempts (29.2 percent), including 1 of 8 on 3-pointers. “It took everyone to win this game,” Steve Blake said. “Guys were helping out on defensive and we just competed well. Offensively we have guys like Kobe (Bryant) and Steve (Nash) that take the pressure away. They did good with passing to an open man for a good shot, and that is what we needed to win this game.”

20
Offensive rebounds for the Nets, but those extra chances only afforded 15 second-chance points. Brooklyn owned a plus-12 in that category, although L.A. was missing Metta World Peace and Dwight Howard.

12
Second-half points for Kobe Bryant, no two bigger than this dunk in traffic over Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries that broke an 80-all tie with 2:47 left. The Lakers shooting guard finished with a team-high 21 points, to go along with eight boards, four assists and four steals.

10
Straight points for L.A. to close the game after a Lopez and-1 that gave the Nets an 83-82 lead with 2:33 left. Antawn Jamison and Bryant had driving layups, Clark hit an 18-foot jumper and Nash closed the game with four free throws, while the Nets failed to make any of their six field-goal attempts down the stretch.

4:21
The amount of time Gasol missed late in the fourth quarter after what the Lakers later diagnosed as a plantar fascia strain. The 7-foot Spaniard has battled tendinitis and plantar fasciitis all year, but claims he heard a “pop.” Postgame, Bryant stated he was “very, very concerned, to say the least,” and maintained L.A. “cannot afford to lose Pau for a long stretch.”

Lakers 92, Nets 83: Feb. 5 Running Diary

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

Starters
Lakers: Nash, Bryant, Jamison, Clark and Gasol
Nets: D. Williams, J. Johnson, G. Wallace, R. Evans, B. Lopez

FIRST QUARTER
4:00 L.A. battled well for the first eight minutes, the score tied at 14 heading into a time out behind six points from Pau Gasol and some active help defense. The Nets, however, responded with a 7-0 run out of the break, doing some damage off post ups as Steve Blake replaced Earl Clark and the Lakers went small, with Deron Williams and Joe Johnson having advantages over Steve Nash and Blake. L.A. didn’t have much choice, however, with Dwight Howard in street clothes (right shoulder) and Metta World Peace at the team hotel, having been suspended for an on-court incident with

0:00 Brooklyn had the better of the late first period play, allowing a 24-18 lead as the Lakers failed to hit a field goal in the final two minutes. The visitors hit only 8 of 21 shots, missing several around the rim, and got to the foul line only once. The Nets controlled the glass, 15-10, but only made 9 of 22 shots themselves.

SECOND QUARTER
5:55 It was Gasol’s bucket in the paint that gave the Lakers a 34-32 lead, but the bench group of Blake, Chris Duhon, Meeks, Earl Clark and Robert Sacre that allowed them the chance, playing very solid minutes in starting the period on a 10-2 run. Sacre scored four straight points at one point, certainly not something taken for granted by the Lakers, not to mention doing this.

1:19 Kobe Bryant really is something else, battling through a sprained right elbow suffered while dunking on Brandon Knight in Detroit on Sunday, and amassing seven points despite 2 of 8 shooting (4 of 4 free throws) plus five rebounds, four assists, a block and two steals, his most recent resulting in foul shots on the other end amidst a Lakers run. Nash added a bucket moments later, his second real pretty creation (one lefty hook, one fadeaway). It was Kobe closing the half for L.A. by tipping in his own miss, reaching nine points with his seven boards and four assists, pushing the margin to 12, but a deep three at the buzzer from Nets sub Mirza Teletovic cut it to 49-40 at the break.

THIRD QUARTER
11:00 Kobe picked up right where he left off, scoring consecutive hoops to start the third, including a fierce dunk in transition off his third steal of the game to allow a game-high 13-point lead. The Nets, however, used good ball movement to cut the lead back down to six halfway through the quarter, getting a corner three from Gerald Wallace, and layups from Lopez and Wallace at the rim.

3:11 The Nets kept at it, continuing that run until they led 60-59, just punishing the Lakers at the rim to the tune of a 38-28 edge on the glass, with Lopez, Wallace and Evans going repeatedly at the team missing Howard and MWP. Moments later, L.A. regained the lead momentarily off a sick Bryant crossover that had the hundreds of Lakers fans in the building going nuts, his 15th point making it 62-60. The lead would be three heading into the final quarter, with Jodie Meeks hitting just the second Lakers triple of the game to protect the narrow margin.

FOURTH QUARTER
5:27 The lead was back in Brooklyn’s possession halfway through the fourth, after a baseline J from Kris Humphries made it 77-76. The Nets held a massive 17-5 edge on the offensive glass, making up for their very poor shooting night (36.9 percent through three quarters), and an overall 47-36 margin that was making it increasingly difficult on the visitors. Yet they had an opportunity to win a third straight road game nonetheless, with 5:27 to find a way to pull it out.

0:00 What a final few minutes for the Lakers. At the 2:33 mark, Brook Lopez finished an and-1 bucket – just seconds after Kobe let loose a fierce slam through traffic – to put Brooklyn up 83-82. But from that point on, L.A. didn’t allow another point, getting key hoops from Jamison, Bryant and Clark, then four free throws from Steve Nash in the final 23 seconds to seal an impressive 92-83 road victory. The Lakers did lose Pau Gasol just before the final run to a right foot injury that doctors were checking on in the locker room, the only downer in a very impressive finish to a third straight road win. L.A. improve to three games under .500 by winning six of seven, with Boston coming up on Thursday. We’ll see you there.

Howard, MWP Out at Brooklyn; Kobe In

It was a busy Tuesday morning in New York City, as the Lakers learned they’d be without not only Dwight Howard (right shoulder), but also Metta World Peace (suspension), though Kobe Bryant would play through a sprained elbow.

Howard told reporters that while the shoulder he initially injured on Jan. 4 against the Clippers and aggravated at Phoenix last Wednesday had improved slightly, it still hurts and is not something he wants to make worse, so he decided against playing at Brooklyn.

World Peace was suspended for one game without pay for an incident with Brandon Knight during Sunday’s victory at Detroit, leaving the Lakers even more short-handed up front.

Howard and MWP are two of the team’s three most physical players, though the Lakers will have the third in Bryant, who sprained his right elbow while dunking on Knight but will start against Brooklyn, one of the NBA’s more physical squads.

World Peace will be available for Thursday’s game at Boston, while Howard remains a question mark.

Lakers – Pistons Postgame Numbers

We broke down some of the more intriguing numbers from LAL’s 98-97 win at Detroit:

10,757
Career field-goals for Kobe Bryant, who passed Hakeem Olajuwon for seventh all-time on that list. Though Bryant shot 8 for 20 from the floor, he broke a 95-all tie with a 3-point play that ended up being the final points for L.A.

64
Paint points for Detroit, nearly two-thirds of their total output on the night. Many of them came by way of guard Will Bynum – he finished with 18 points and 10 assists – whether he was attacking the rim or setting up teammates inside.

40
Minutes for Pau Gasol in his second straight start at center. He finished with a team-high plus-10 rating, while recording his second consecutive 20-point, 10-rebound game (23 points, 10 boards).

5
Wins in six games for the Lakers, to pull within four games of .500 at 22-26, with four games left on their 7-game Grammy road trip.

4
Straight missed free throws – two by Earl Clark and two by Steve Nash – in the final 16 seconds of the contest, allowing Detroit multiple chances to win. Bynum missed a lay-up with 3.8 seconds left that just rimmed out after Clark missed. After Nash failed to convert at the line, Andre Drummond got his hand on a lob pass from Kyle Singler that he couldn’t quite control on the game’s final play.

Lakers 98, Pistons 97: Feb. 3 Running Diary

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

Starters
Lakers: Nash, Bryant, World Peace, Clark and Gasol
Pistons: B. Knight, R. Stuckey, K. Singler, J. Maxiell, G. Monroe

FIRST QUARTER
12:00 The Lakers were without the services of Dwight Howard for the second straight game, the big man explaining that his right shoulder was not ready for game action, meaning Pau Gasol would start in the middle for the second straight game (he had 22 and 12 at Minnesota). The Pistons were without Jose Calderon, whom they’d just acquired in a three-way trade with Memphis and Toronto, as he was having trouble with a work visa (as a Spanish citizen who’d been working in Canada).

7:40 A layup from Nash through traffic halted a 7-0 run from the Pistons to get the Lakers within two, as Antawn Jamison entered the game when Metta World Peace committed his second early foul. Jamison has been strong of late off the bench, scoring in double figures in four straight games. L.A. kept it going, scoring seven more straight behind Kobe’s first field goal (which allowed him to pass Hakeem Olajuwon for seventh on the all-time FG made list), an Earl Clark three and Gasol’s third bucket to make it 18-13.

0:00 Gasol had a strong all-around first period (6 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists), though he missed consecutive open J’s in the final minute off set ups from Kobe. Nonetheless, L.A. led 32-27 after 12 minutes, with Clark reaching nine points to lead all scorers, Bryant adding four with two assists and Nash leading the way passing with four dimes. L.A. made 65 percent of its shots, getting seven bench points between Jamison and Steve Blake.

SECOND QUARTER
9:01 The concern for the Lakers without Howard was trying to get away with playing World Peace and Clark at the 4/5 on the second unit, which would usually have either Howard or Gasol. And Detroit punished ‘em early with their two 6-11 bigs Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, scoring six straight points at the rim in the first minute of the second. However, L.A. responded with a jumper from Clark, and a three and layup from Jodie Meeks to hold a 39-35 lead; Gasol returned after only two minutes and chance of rest.

6:13 The bench bounced back, aided by the return of Gasol (12 points), to take a 47-39 lead after two free throws from Jamison, up to six points off the pine. The Lakers had good energy in this one, in stark contrast to the last 10 a.m. game they had this season (at Toronto).

0:00.4 The Lakers know a little something about having 0.4 seconds left on the clock, and while the following play didn’t win a playoff game like Derek Fisher in San Antonio, it was kind of awesome: Kobe lobbed a perfect alley-oop from the sideline in front of L.A.’s bench over 30 feet that Clark rose to grab and hammer home, giving the visitors a 62-51 lead at the break. L.A. had 16 assists on 24 field goals (57 percent shooting) and continued a recent trend of terrific ball movement.

THIRD QUARTER
9:06 Bang. Kobe got a bit nasty in transition, throwing down a hammer dunk on Brandon Knight that gave L.A. its biggest lead at 68-54. Keeping the good vibe going for L.A. was Gasol, then Nash, with consecutive buckets in the paint to push the margin up to 72-54.

2:30 Detroit started to score behind Monroe (18 points), using a 10-2 run to cut L.A.’s 18-point lead to 10, even as Gasol reached 21 points on 9 of 13 field goals. They needed Gasol’s tip in with 56 seconds left to halt a 16-4 Pistons run that had quickly cut the lead down to just six. That was the margin after three, at 78-72, L.A. trying to hold on as they did against Minnesota in the previous road win.

FOURTH QUARTER
5:00 Bryant’s bucket at the rim was much needed, as it kept the Lakers up three after the Pistons had again roared back from a double digit deficit (87-77) to get within one when Will Bynum (a little thorn in LAL’s side all night with 16 points and eight assists off the bench). Detroit had the ball out of a time out, down 91-88, trying to complete a big comeback.

1:09 A terrific driving layup from Kobe, through lots of traffic, went down plus the foul to break a 95-all tie, his free throw giving the Lakers 98. He’d missed a contested jumper on the previous possession, and kept the snarl on his face after hitting the foul shot. Bryant had 18 points and five assists, Nash 11 points with 10 assists, and Gasol 23 points with 10 boards, three dimes and two steals.

0:00 Would you believe that Steve Nash missed not one, but two free throws* in the final seconds, giving the Pistons a chance to win, down one, with one second left, but Drummond missed an attempted dunk with Gasol contesting. Earl Clark had also missed two free throws with 16.8 seconds left, but the Lakers got the two final stops they needed to escape with a victory. It’s the fifth win in six games for L.A., who have four more games left on the Grammy road trip. Next up is Brooklyn, on Tuesday, in the brand new Barclay’s Center. We’ll see you there.
*He was literally the NBA’s greatest foul shooter ever, by percentage, at that point, until falling percentage points below Mark Price with the two misses.

The New-Look Lakers

Have the Lakers (21-26) finally turned the proverbial corner?

In their last five games, the purple and gold are 4-1 behind a new style in which Kobe Bryant has taken on the role of primary ball-handler and play-maker, the team missing going 5-0 only after blowing a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter at Phoenix.

Bryant began the stretch with back-to-back games of 14 assists in home wins over Utah and Oklahoma City, and has totaled 56 helpers in the five games (11.2 per game) alongside 16.6 points on 48.4 percent shooting as well as 8.6 rebounds.

With the ball moving around to the tune of 27.0 assists per game – from a team that averaged 21.7 assists per game in the first 42 contests – the scoring has been extremely well balanced, as six of Bryant’s teammates have joined him in averaging double figure points:

- Pau Gasol: 14.8 (58 percent field goals)
- Dwight Howard: 14.5 (58.5%)
- Steve Nash: 14.4 (56.8%, 10 of 17 from three)
- Antawn Jamison: 12.6 (54.5%)
- Earl Clark: 11.2 (48.9%, 8 of 16 from three)
- Metta World Peace: 11.2 (30.3%)

The defense has improved as well. Opponents are averaging 95.6 points per game on 44.1 percent shooting, compared to 101.2 points per game in the first 42 games on 45.2 percent field goals.

The Lakers hope to get Howard back to anchor the team in Detroit, as he dominated the Pistons on Nov. 4 with 28 points on 12 of 14 field goals.

Detroit is the first of five games in seven days that will conclude the Grammy trip; afterwards, we’ll have a pretty good idea of whether the Lakers have indeed turned their season around.