Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Tuesday evening road contest against Orlando, Dwight Howard’s return to the place he played his first eight NBA seasons, 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
Magic: J. Nelson, A. Afflao, T. Harris, M. Harkless, N. Vucevic
6:45 With all eyes, and boos, on him each time he touched the ball, Howard delivered early, throwing down a huge dunk as part of his 3 of 4 field goals plus a huge block on the other end, the Lakers taking an early 11-8 lead in the process. In the larger context, the Lakers were trying to go a half game up on Utah for the No. 8 seed, so this game was important as any other.
0:00 It was not a good close to the first period for the visitors, L.A. allowing a 6-2 run (and 11-4) in the final two minutes that put the Magic up 23-22. After hitting a three to start the game, Bryant missed six straight shots in the next 11 minutes, the Lakers hitting 10 of 22 shots (45.5 percent). The Magic couldn’t hit anything either, but with surely their most energetic crowd of the season, made some extra effort plays to get six free throws, making five. L.A. took only two, both Howard misses.
9:00 With Howard back on the floor, it was all Lakers to start the second, an 11-1 run allowing a 33-24 lead as Nash and Bryant got some rest. Howard was up to 10 points, eight boards and two blocks, looking strong on both ends as he had in the previous two games in particular. The defense had been strong, anchored by Howard, holding the Magic to just three points in the first six minutes.
2:22 Howard continued to be the story, drawing foul after foul on Orlando towards 15 free throw attempts, and while he made only six, he was also converting field goals (5 of the 7 he got off clean), capped by a two-handed dunk from Nash that pushed his point total to 16, and gave L.A. a 47-38 lead. They’d outscored Orlando 25-15 to that point of the second.
0:00 However, just like in the first quarter, L.A. fell apart in the final moments, allowing an 8-1 Magic run that trimmed the lead to just four at 50-46 going into the locker room. Jameer Nelson found his shot, totaling all eight of his points in the final several minutes of the period, even as Howard was up to 19 points with 10 boards.
7:15 The Magic carried that late second quarter energy into the third, scoring consecutive buckets in transition to suddenly take a 57-56 lead. Mike D’Antoni was furious with a call on the play leading to that run, as World Peace tipped home a miss but had the bucket waived off for a foul on the ground, which made little sense since it happened simultaneously. Nonetheless, the crowd was very much back into it, trying to will the Magic into a victory of revenge against Howard and his new team.
5:00 As such, it was good timing for the Lakers to get consecutive made threes from Earl Clark, another Howard free throw (his 12th in 23 attempts) and 1 of 2 Bryant free throws to cap a 9-2 run, putting the Lakers up 66-59. Bryant had been able to conserve his energy for much of the evening, taking only nine shots with six assists while allowing Howard to control the flow.
0:00 Back-to-back threes from Kobe pushed the lead to as many as 12, before a 5-0 Magic run out of a time out kept things interesting. Howard proceeded to hit 3 of 4 free throws when intentionally fouled by Jacque Vaughn, making him 8 of 10 in such intentional situations and 7 of 15 when fouled in the run of play. Clearly, he likes being intentionally fouled? With 29 points and 13 boards, the numbers were impressive for 32 minutes through three periods.
10:00 Despite Howard, Bryant and Nash all resting to start the fourth (normal for the latter two), L.A. reeled off an 8-0 run to take firm control back, with Steve Blake orchestrating and Antawn Jamison twice finishing pretty slip screens to the hoop. Jamison’s among the league’s best at slipping those screens and cutting to the hoop, and showed why. He kept it up, too, scoring on consecutive possessions out of a Magic time out to reach 10 points with his eight boards. Blake had eight assists.
3:38 Hack-a-Howard continued, to the extent that he’d taken 35 foul shots on the evening, a Lakers franchise record (he passed Shaq, who set it in 1999). He hit both, and was thus 16 of 20 when Vaughn intentionally fouled him, helping the Lakers to a 99-86 lead. And they weren’t the last he’d take, going right back to the line to match his all-time NBA record for most attempts at 39. He made 25 of them, including 23 of his final 30, which had D’Antoni smiling on the sideline (well … not that he was happy with how it junked up the game for the fans, which he’d state afterwards).
0:00 The final score: 106-97 (Orlando scored seven straight in garbage time). With the road win, L.A. improved to 9-2 out of the All-Star break, enough to go up a half game on Utah (33-31) with win No. 34. Up next is the back end of a B2B at Atlanta tomorrow night. We’ll see you there.