Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Friday evening home contest against Washington, 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, Gasol and Howard
Wizards: J. Wall, G. Temple, M. Webster, Nene, J. Collins
7:00 A terrific start for the Lakers, buoyed by the return of both Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol to the starting line up, produced a 14-6 lead in a balanced early effort. Bryant was moving OK on his ankle, hitting 1 of 2 shots with two assists, with the Spaniard looking pretty good towards a bucket, two boards and an assist.
0:00 Behind a terrific shooting performance from the bench, L.A. took a 35-19 lead out of the first quarter, getting nine points from Antawn Jamison, eight from Jodie Meeks and two with two dimes from Steve Blake. The Lakers missed only six of their 19 shots (68.4 percent) while holding Washington to 7 of 23 shooting (30.4 percent). One big key has to do with the rotation with Gasol’s return, as it allows the Lakers to keep one paint protector on the floor at all times. In essence, Jamison enters the game around the 6:00 mark to replace Gasol, who then comes back three minutes later to give Howard a rest. The Spaniard then anchors the second unit, which had been playing with Earl Clark/Jamison/Metta World Peace inside, not exactly a rim deterrent.
5:01 Further hints at the rotation for the rest of the season were revealed as Clark got seven minutes at backup 3/4, and Mike D’Antoni staggered the minutes of Nash and Kobe to get the 17-year vets some extra rest. Kobe sat until the 5-minute mark of the second, replacing Nash, who’d started the period. No matter who was in, L.A. had taken pretty firm control, with a 47-29 lead.
0:00 The strong all-around play continued through the period, enough for a 57-41 halftime lead with all nine players getting minutes scoring at least one field goal, buoyed by 17 assists (Bryant led with six). The Wiz shot only 36.2 percent in the half, and struggled to affect the Lakers much on the other end (53.7 percent).
7:21 Bryant opened the quarter with three more assists to reach nine, getting Howard two buckets and Gasol his second field goal in nine attempts – give the Spaniard some time to get into a rhythm. However, turnovers (14) and lazy D followed, the Wizards capitalizing with a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 10. Bryant was partly to blame, as he didn’t bother contesting two jumpers from his man, Garrett Temple, who made two in a row.
0:00 We’d seen plenty of runs in this one, but an 11-2 burst from the Wizards in the final three minutes of the period spelled trouble for the Lakers, finding their once 18-point lead at just two points heading into the final quarter. Turnovers were an issue, with six of their 15 coming in the quarter to result in 21 points for their young opponent.
7:01 Washington ended up taking a momentary lead, but a monster baseline jam from Bryant – 5 of 9 from the field with his 11 assists – put the Lakers back up three, coming on the back of a pull-up jumper from Nash. The crowd was becoming more of a factor, trying to will L.A. home to a victory in a game that shouldn’t have been so close.
1:23 Back-to-back buckets from Nene erased a 3-point Lakers lead, Washington suddenly in front 98-97, and the Brazilian added 1 of 2 free throws to make it a 3-point deficit in the final minute. Bryant missed consecutive jumpers without passing the ball, and World Peace was called for a charge as the LAL offense went away. However, they got a stop with 16 seconds left to get the ball, down two, out of a time out.
0:00 Bryant got a great look at a fading jumper, but couldn’t get it to go, rimming out with six seconds left to mandate a foul. John Wall, who’d been fantastic in the second half with 18 of his 24 points and 10 of his 16 assists, hit both foul shots to make it a 4-point game.
On the other end, Bryant did an impression of himself from the Raptors game, hitting a spinning three off the inbounds pass to cut the margin to one. He then drew a foul with 1.5 seconds left, hitting both foul shots, and despite getting a good look after a full court pass from Howard, Kobe couldn’t hit a game-tying three as time expired.
As such, it was a rough loss for the Lakers, who led by 18 in the first half and 16 at halftime before watching former Laker Ariza (25 points on 7 of 12 shooting from three) and Wall put another loss in their column. Utah lost at San Antonio, so L.A. held onto the 8th seed by just half a game in essence (1.5 games total, but Utah has the tiebreaker). Up next is a 4-game road trip starting at Golden State on Monday. We’ll see you there.