Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Wednesday evening contest at Atlanta, 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
Hawks: D. Harris, D. Jones, A. Tolliver, A. Horford, J. Petro
12:00 Injuries have been such a major issue for the Lakers throughout the season, but on this night, it was their opponent really struggling on that front. Josh Smith (sprained knee), Jeff Teague (sprained ankle) and Zaza Pachulia (Achilles issues) were all out, meaning subs Devin Harris, Anthony Tolliver and Johan Petro joined Al Horford and Dahntay Jones (also not a usual starter) in the starting line up. While NBA teams can sometimes play better by rallying around the flag without regulars, it’s not often that three key players can be out and success follows. We’ll see if the Lakers can take advantage…
2:22 After a long offensive lull, Jodie Meeks, Antawn Jamison and Metta World Peace combined to hit five of six shots, MWP’s consecutive hoops to close the run making it 19-17 for the visitors. Dwight Howard was forced to sit after just under four minutes of actions when he picked up his second foul helping on Al Horford, who dribbled around World and got all the way to the rim. L.A.’s small line up has struggled defensively, naturally, with Earl Clark and Antawn Jamison trying to protect the rim, just another of many reasons why the team can’t wait for Pau Gasol to return.
0:00 Per NBA.com, the small line up of Nash/Kobe/MWP/Jamison/Clark has a defensive efficiency of 131.9 in 46 minutes together. That’s not good, and with Howard out, Atlanta pushed its lead to seven after one quarter, L.A. – and especially 0 for 6 Kobe) were looking sluggish.
3:51 The Lakers couldn’t have looked much worse, trailing 49-37 after a quick 6-0 Hawks run, after the second unit had trimmed the margin a bit early in the quarter. Atlanta had gotten 25 points off its own bench from players who generally get few minutes when the Hawks are healthy, and the starters picked it up. Meanwhile, Bryant was 0 for 7, and not involved on defense. Kobe acknowledged that his legs are tired, understandable with how much he’s exerted in his 17th NBA season, and needed some help from his friends.
0:00 A very poor first half for the Lakers ended with the Hawks up 55-43, their reserve players and usual subs stepping up to control the energy and flow of the game really since Howard picked up his second foul early on.
5:47 L.A. got four straight hoops from Kobe, finally finding a rhythm on offense, to cut the lead to seven. But they fell right back to earth, allowing a 5-0 Hawks run capped by Kyle Korver’s three when Bryant didn’t get a foul call falling down on the other end, and the deficit was thus right back to 12.
2:45 And then Kobe went nuts, scoring from everywhere as the thousands (literally) of Lakers and Kobe fans in the building high-fived and stood up, bringing the Lakers to within a single point at 69-68. He scored 11 straight points amid an LAL run, reaching 22 in the game after a 1 for 8 first half (three points).
10:00 L.A. kept the good energy from the third quarter going in the fourth, as Nash orchestrated an 80-76 lead behind a right-handed hook in the paint, a dish for a transition three from Blake and a technical foul shot after Larry Drew drew one while complaining about a no-call on Howard’s block of Ivan Johnson.
5:19 The Lakers looked to have taken control, but then allowed a big Hawks run, Harris doing most of the damage in scoring nine straight ATL points to make it an 88-83 lead for the home team. Howard had picked up his fifth foul, and Nash was struggling to find his legs, making only 4 of 13 shots, 1 of 7 in the second half.
0:51.5 The offensive struggle continued for L.A., who missed six straight shots down the stretch, the only points coming from two Kobe free throws as the Hawks maintained a 90-87 lead with less than a minute to play, and the ball. Bryant rimmed out on a put-back attempt of his own miss that looked like it was down at the 1:36 mark, and MWP followed suit by missing a layup with 55 seconds left. Stops were coming on D, the Hawks hitting only 1 of 8 shots, but the Lakers couldn’t clear a big defensive board after Horford missed on the baseline, Ivan Johnson gathering the loose ball and putting it in with 33.3 left to put the Hawks up five.
0:25.5 MWP tipped in Bryant’s miss, cutting the lead to three, but L.A. had to put John Jenkins at the line. He missed the first, made the second, putting the Hawks up four. So, Bryant had hit only 1 of 7 in the fourth quarter, clearly fatigued, but he found a way to drain a fading three with 18.2 seconds left, trimming the lead to one. Then Kyle Korver, who’d made 22 straight free throws, missed the first, and L.A. was down only two with the ball and 16.9 on the clock. Kobe got to one of his favorite spots on the baseline, and took a jumper he’s hit thousands of times, but missed. To compound it, he landed on the foot of Dahntay Jones, turning his left ankle. He eventually got up under his own power and limped to the locker room with 2.6 seconds left after Korver hit two free throws to finish the game.
So the Lakers lost, 96-92, to fall to 34-32 on the season. They paid for failing to bring early energy in this back-to-back against a short-handed Hawks team, certainly a disappointing loss. Up next is a tough game Friday at Indiana; we’ll see you there.