Monthly Archive for March, 2013

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Howard Rounding Into Form

In L.A.’s 106-97 win against Orlando, Dwight Howard posted a season-high 39 points, to go along with 16 boards and three blocks.

“He looked like Dwight that dominated the league the past few seasons,” Magic center Nikola Vucevic acknowledged postgame.

That much is evident as the three-time Defensive Player of the Year is averaging 24.8 points, 16.3 rebounds, 4.0 blocks and 2.0 steals in the last four games – all Laker wins. He’s also grabbed at least 12 boards in 11 straight games, the second longest streak of his career.

Since the All-Star break, L.A. has won nine of 11 games. In those victories, the purple and gold have posted a defensive efficiency of 99.6, which would rank ninth in the NBA. A key reason for their recent turnaround has been the play of Howard, and Kobe Bryant acknowledged as much.

“A lot of it starts with Dwight – him just buying into what we need him to do and just excelling at it,” he said. “His game just has been absolutely on point.”

Howard also allowed that he’s feeling much better, knowing full well he can impact a game despite not being 100 percent. Still less than a year removed from back surgery, he’s moving increasingly better.

“I’ve been better than I’ve been all season,” he said in late February. “I knew it’d be a process. The better shape I’m in, the more stuff I’m able to do on the floor and be more active.”

In the last week, he’s made his imprint in more ways than one. He keyed the Lakers comeback victory at New Orleans last Wednesday, anchoring a defense that held the Hornets scoreless for the final 6:47. In Sunday’s victory vs. Chicago, he pulled down 21 rebounds.

“(Howard) just dominated the paint with shot blocking, rebounding and physicality,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, whose team managed just 81 points on 37.1 percent field goals. “That set the tone for the rest of the game.”

Keyed by Howard’s impact on defense, the Lakers now sit in the No. 8 spot at 34-31, a half-game ahead of Utah and just a half-game behind Houston for the No. 7 seed. More than just Howard, though, the team has long recognized that this season would be a process. Steve Nash cited “timing” as a reason why L.A. has started to click.

Bryant is pleased that his teammates, and Howard specifically, have embraced what they need to do to be successful.

“I think we found a rhythm,” Bryant said. “We found our roles. Everything is just kind of fitting together right now. We’re playing exceptional basketball.”

Lakers – Magic Postgame Numbers

We broke down some of the more intriguing numbers from LAL’s 106-97 win at Orlando:

Orlando shot just 39.8 percent from the field, the second straight game L.A. held an opponent under 40 percent. The Magic, though, managed to hang around for much of the game in large part due to 27 second-chance points off 13 offensive rebounds.

Season high in points for Dwight Howard, plus 16 rebounds and three blocked shots in his return to Orlando. He also shot 39 free throws – making 25 – tying an NBA record he set while playing for Orlando at Golden State on Jan. 12, 2012. He drilled 16 of 20 in the second half, 23 of his last 30 and also 16 of 20 when Magic coach Jacque Vaughn employed the Hack-a-Howard strategy. In the last four games, the big man is averaging 24.8 points, 16.3 rebounds, 4.0 blocks and 2.0 steals.

Steve Blake dished out eight assists, a season-high for the Lakers backup point guard. Four dimes came during a stretch at the beginning of the fourth when L.A.’s bench unit of Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks and Blake helped extend their lead from 79-68 to 88-72, essentially putting the game away. Since his return on Jan. 29, the Lakers are 15-6.

Triples from Earl Clark in the third quarter, the first one spurring a 15-2 run that turned a 57-56 Lakers deficit into a 71-59 advantage. Clark’s two 3-pointers were his only buckets of the game, but came during an important time for L.A.

The Lakers (34-31) find themselves a half-game ahead of Utah (33-31) for the No. 8 seed and just a half-game in back of Houston (34-30) for the No. 7 seed. It was L.A.’s fourth straight win and their ninth in the last 11 games post All-Star break.

Lakers 106, Magic 97: March 12 Running Diary

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.

Injury Update: Pau Gasol

Lakers Injury Report sponsored by UCLA Health SystemLakers center/forward Pau Gasol did his first extensive on-court basketball work on Tuesday morning at the team’s shootaround in advance of the evening’s contest against Orlando.

The plan for Gasol is to go through a similar work out on Wednesday in Atlanta, and if all goes well, do some on-court running on Thursday in Indiana, the third and final stop on the current road trip. Assistant coach Darvin Ham put him through the work out, from which Gasol suffered no setbacks to the torn plantar fascia he originally suffered at Brooklyn on Feb. 5.

The initial prognosis for when he might return was listed as six to eight weeks from the original date, and he’ll hit the six-week mark on Tuesday. The 7-footer will continue to be evaluated on a daily basis; no date has yet been set for a possible return to the court.

Lakers – Bulls Postgame Numbers

We broke down some of the more intriguing numbers from LAL’s 90-81 win against Chicago:

Chicago’s shooting percentage from the floor towards 81 points, the third-lowest total the Lakers have allowed all season. In the third quarter, L.A. limited the Bulls to 7 of 24 field goals (29.4 percent), in expanding their four-point lead at halftime to 12 entering the final frame. “I think by far this has probably been the most consistent defensive game we have played all season,” Antawn Jamison said.

Rebounds for Dwight Howard, to go along with 16 points and four blocked shots. He finished with his eighth double-double in 10 games since the All-Star break, and during that span, he is averaging nearly 15 boards per contest. “(Howard) just dominated the paint with shot blocking, rebounding and physicality,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “That set the tone for the game and they dominated us on the boards from the start.”

Steve Nash recorded 10 of his 16 points in the third quarter (4 of 6 field goals), helping push L.A.’s lead to 12 points. In 10 games out of the All-Star break, Nash has done most of his damage in the second half shooting, 55.3 percent, particularly in the third quarter where he is at a 58.3 percent clip.

Blocked shots for Metta World Peace, who spent most of the day guarding Carlos Boozer in the post. World Peace made it difficult for Boozer all game long, limiting him to just 4 of 16 field goals and 12 points.

Games above .500 for the Lakers, the first time this season, at 33-31, thanks to winning 8 of 10 games since the All-Star break. L.A. is now in sole possession of the No. 8 seed in the West, a half-game ahead of Utah. “We are playing better,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “The record will show that. We are playing a lot better, and we’re playing the way we’re supposed to.”

Lakers 90, Bulls 81: Mar. 10 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Sunday afternoon contest against Chicago 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
Bulls: N. Robinson, M. Bellineli, L. Deng, C. Boozer, J. Noah

2:47 L.A. had good energy on both ends as they looked to vault past Utah into sole possession of eighth place in the Western Conference, but the early story was a bevy of missed three-pointers. The Lakers missed all seven of their attempts, including three straight wide open looks for Metta World Peace, whose shooting slump continued. But with good defense on the other end, the game was tied at 14, Chicago shooting only 35 percent from the field overall.

0:00 The Lakers scored the next six points before allowing a late Bulls bucket to close the quarter with a 20-16 lead, holding Chicago to only 33.3 percent shooting on 6 of 18 field goals, even as their 0 for 3 free throws (all Dwight Howard) 0 for 8 three-point shooting kept things from getting into double digits early. The Bulls generally make a habit of hanging tough, and they did so again here even if the Lakers lent a helping hand with the open misses.

6:02 Two free throws from Steve Nash halfway through the second came as a result of the third Nazr Mohammad foul, as Joakim Noah returned to replace his backup. Mohammad’s been called upon of late as usual reserve Taj Gibson has been out with a knee injury, shortening a Bulls squad already lacking Derrick Rose, Richard Hamilton and Kirk Hinrich. It was a 33-27 lead for L.A., who’d still yet to find a collective shooting rhythm.

0:00 L.A.’s halftime lead matched the margin after one, after Nate Robinson’s late bucket in the paint gave him 13 points with five assists to lead the Bulls, who were down 44-40. L.A. finally hit a pair of threes, but still entered the half at 2 for 17, a paltry 11.8 percent from distance. The Bulls had made only 1 of 8 from three, and were 17 of 42 overall, but capitalized on L.A.’s nine turnovers for 11 points to help ‘em hang around.

4:05 The Lakers starting clicking on offense, at last, with Bryant and Jodie Meeks nailing back-to-back threes to cap a 21-7 run to start the second half. It had been Nash doing most of the early damage, as he scored 10 of 12 Lakers points during a stretch by taking advantage of Lil’ Nate Robinson, and was up to 16 points in the game. Third quarters have been good to Nash since the All-Star break: per stats he’s shooting 44.8% in first halves, 57.8% second halves & 60% in 3rd Q’s.

1:12 An 8-0 Bulls run cut what had been an 18-point lead down to 10, but World Peace hit a jumper (Bryant’s fourth assist) and stripped Carlos Boozer to ultimately get Kobe two free throws on the other end (Boozer foul), putting the margin at 69-55. Kobe hadn’t needed to exert himself to the same degree as in the previous two ball games, when he combined for 83 points and 24 assists, which is a good thing for L.A. Moments later, Earl Clark scored on consecutive possessions to help turn around what had been a tough game, reaching 11 points with five boards on 5 of 13 field goals. L.A.’s paint D struggled in the absence of Howard, as it has consistently, but the lead was 73-61 after three thanks to a +8 third quarter.

7:30 The Lakers went through another drought on offense with Nash and Bryant on the bench, allowing a 6-0 Bulls run to cut a 14-point lead to eight at 77-69. Howard was cleaning everything on the glass, reaching 20 boards, but couldn’t tip in that 20th at the rim. As such, Nash returned at the 7-minute mark, Bryant having re-entered moments earlier.

3:13 Bryant was doing his damage with the pass, as four straight assists had the Lakers in the clear at 86-71. He had nine dimes total, and Howard was the recipient of two of the four to reach 16 points on 8 of 14 field goals with his 21 boards.

0:00 Chicago added a few late buckets, but they were moot, as the Lakers took a 90-81 victory out of the day to jump past Utah in the standings for sole possession of eighth place, just one game back of Houston for the seventh spot and two of Golden State for the sixth. Bryant had 19 points, nine assists and seven boards, Howard the big double-double and Nash 16 points with four assists. Up next is a three-game road trip starting in Orlando on Tuesday. We’ll see you there.

Saturday Practice Roundup

Winners of seven of their last nine games out of the All-Star break, the Lakers are within a half-game of Utah for the final playoff spot in the West. Houston and Golden State are just two and three games, respectively, ahead of L.A. with a little more than a month remaining in the regular season.

Kobe’s Offensive Outburst
After halftime of Friday’s win against Toronto, Kobe Bryant recorded 30 points, none bigger than the nine he had in the span of 96 seconds at the end of regulation to force overtime.

Bryant drilled three 3-pointers – a flat-footed, off-balance triple from the right wing, a fade away in the left corner going out of bounds and another one from the right wing over Rudy Gay to force overtime.

The Lakers would eventually take the game in the extra five minutes, winning 118-116 – their second straight double-digit comeback victory. The 16-year veteran posted 41 points and 12 assists overall, the first Laker to record 40 points and 10 assists in two straight since Jerry West in 1970.

“He welcomes that type of pressure,” Antawn Jamison said post Saturday’s practice. “He’s Kobe. He’s been doing that his whole career.”

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni echoed similar sentiments.

“The three 3’s that he hit,” D’Antoni said, “most people probably won’t hit one in a career, and he hits three in one night. It’s just unbelievable what he did. You’ve seen it before. Out in Phoenix I saw it. I was on the other end of it, so it happens. I can’t explain it. Nobody can explain it. He’s just great.”

Since the All-Star break, Bryant is averaging 33.7 points, 6.9 assists and 6.2 rebounds, while shooting 53.9 percent field goals and 44.0 percent from the 3-point line.

Dwight’s Defense
Just as important in the Lakers turnaround is Dwight Howard’s impact on the defensive end of the floor

“I think he’s feeling better,” D’Antoni said. “The biggest factor you saw last night (vs. Toronto) was I think you saw him jump three or four times after one ball. Before, his conditioning just didn’t allow him to do that.”

Howard blocked at least four shots and recorded three steals for the second straight game, and has four swats in four of the last six.

In nine games since the All-Star break, he’s averaging 14.1 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 1.4 steals, a positive sign for the coaching staff on that end of the floor.

In the Lakers 108-102 win at New Orleans, D’Antoni credited Howard with changing the game and shutting down the pick-and-roll, as the Hornets did not score for the last 6:47.

During Friday’s win, he blocked two key shots – one on Rudy Gay near the end of regulation and one on Alan Anderson in overtime – to keep L.A. in the game.

“The biggest factor is the further he gets away from the operation, the better he’ll be,” D’Antoni said.

Howard, meanwhile, credited an improved diet thanks to the team’s nutritionist and strength and conditioning coach Tim DiFrancesco, to more energy on the court during his recent play. He maintains he hasn’t eaten any candy since the All-Star break, since sugar leads to fatigue a lot faster.

“We’ve been doing different things with our diet and it’s really helped us out,” the three-time Defensive Player of the Year explained. “We’ve had a lot of energy. The new diet has really helped us. It’s a sacrifice, but we all want to win a championship and we have to do whatever we can to win.”

Finest Five-Man Unit
A lineup of Nash, Bryant, Jodie Meeks, Metta World Peace and Howard has posted a team-best of plus-50 on the year. In 75 minutes together on the floor, that unit has posted an offensive efficiency rating of 127.1 and defensive efficiency rating of 84.4, with much of that impact coming in the last two comeback wins.

That five-man unit held the Hornets scoreless during the last 6:47 of the game and just 4 of 17 field goals overall in the final 12 minutes to lead L.A.’s comeback.

The coaching staff went with this same lineup during a key stretch in the fourth quarter of the Lakers win over Toronto on Friday, too.

Much of the offensive success has come from L.A.’s ability to space the floor, while allowing Bryant to operate with Nash and Meeks spotting up behind the 3-point line. The coaching staff said the key, though, is for the players to show self-control on that end of the floor in terms of spreading the defense out.

“Just getting to our spots and having the discipline to stay in them,” D’Antoni explained. “A lot of time we break it up and we have guys clog up stuff. If we can keep the floor open, Kobe can get to the rim. When he does that and the defense collapses, he can pass it out to the shooter. It makes for a pretty easy game.”

Lakers – Raptors Postgame Numbers

We broke down some of the more intriguing numbers from LAL’s 118-116 come-from-behind overtime win against Toronto:

Points for Steve Nash, a season-high. The 16-year veteran scored 19 after halftime, with 12 of them coming in the third quarter. His game-tying 3-pointer in overtime gave way to a 6-1 Lakers run to end the game – a play called by coach Mike D’Antoni in the timeout prior. Nash explained: “He said,’Let’s run the same play. But instead of going to Kobe (Bryant) in the corner, try to come off Dwight (Howard) and look for your shot.’ I tried to hesitate a little bit when I came off to confuse them so I could get free, and I was able to get some space.”

Fastbreak points for Toronto in the final three quarters of regulation and overtime, after recording 11 in the first 12 minutes. Many of those transition points came off six of L.A.’s 13 total turnovers to a team that ranked 28th in the league in fastbreak points per game (9.1). The Raptors led 37-25 after the first and by as much as 15 at one point.

Blocked shots for Howard, including two key swats – one on Rudy Gay and one on Alan Anderson – near the end of the fourth and overtime. The big man finished a plus-14 on the evening – a team-high – and also notched his second straight 20-point, 10-rebound game with 24 and 13. “Defensively, he was spectacular all night,” Bryant said.

Triples drained by Kobe in the final 1:41 of regulation, the last one coming with 5.5 seconds to force overtime before Toronto’s Rudy Gay missed the potential game-winning jumper. Bryant finished with 41 points, 12 assists and six rebounds – the first Laker to put up 40 and 10 in consecutive games since Jerry West. Bryant scored 30 after halftime, converting on 7 of 12 field goals (11 of 22 overall) and 5 of 8 on 3-pointers to cap L.A.’s second straight double-digit comeback. “He has been unbelievable and milking him has honestly been a beautiful thing,” Nash said.

The Lakers find themselves just a half-game behind Utah, who has lost six of their last seven, for the No. 8 playoff spot. L.A. has won 15 of their last 21 contests since Jan. 25 and are 7-2 post All-Star break. “We¹re just focusing and we¹re determined,” Bryant said. “We obviously we got off to bad starts (at New Orleans and vs. Toronto), but since the break we’ve been playing well enough to win, we’ve been very determined, we’ve stuck together through adversity and we’re pulling through.”

LAL 118, Raptors 116: Mar. 8 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Friday night contest against Toronto, the Lakers trying to move to over .500 for just the second time this season, 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
Raptors: K. Lowry, D. DeRozan, R. Gay, E. Clark, D. Howard

3:15 The Lakers started the game well from an energy standpoint, but the Raptors were weirdly hitting everything they threw up, enough to take a 28-21 lead when Kyle Lowry got an and-1 to fall in traffic (missed the free throw). It was literally the 10th straight field goal made by the visitors, with the Lakers missing a series of shots around the rim (8 of 18 overall, 44.4 percent).

0:00 Unfortunately for the home team, Toronto didn’t cool down at all in the final moments, instead reaching 37 points for a 12-point advantage as DeMar DeRozan capped a 6 for 7 individual quarter with a buzzer-beating layup. The Raptors hit 10 straight shots at one point, and 17 of 23 overall (74 percent), mostly on jump shots as the Lakers looked confused as to how it was happening. And we can concede that the Raptors were inordinately hot.

8:34 The LAL bench was producing, but the lead stayed at 12 as John Lucas hit all three of his shots off the pine, continuing the blistering start for the Canadians. Antawn Jamison had six points with five boards, Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks a triple each, but it was on the defensive end where they’d need to find an answer.

2:10 The seventh Bryant assist turned into the seventh Howard field goal, and cut the lead to seven when it had ballooned to as many as 15. Howard was doing damage on both ends, reaching 16 points with four boards, three blocks and three steals, while Bryant’s two free throws in the final minute got him into double digits in points as well at 10. Bryant added another foul shot in the final seconds, and Metta World Peace tipped home his missed second one to cut the lead to six at the half. That wasn’t too bad considering how poorly L.A. started the game; the key was on D, as Toronto shot only 40.9 percent in the second quarter after that white hot first period.

6:18 L.A. cut the deficit to four with a few early buckets, but then watched the Raptors push their lead right back into double-digits, a 6-0 Toronto push making it 76-65 into a Lakers time out halfway through the period. Frustration was palpable in the arena, the Lakers unable to carry over any momentum whatsoever from the 20-0 run to close the game at New Orleans. In came Jodie Meeks, joining the rest of the starters, in what has been the best Lakers line up this season at +48.

0:00 The lead dropped to five when Meeks hit his second triple, but the seventh and eighth turnovers from Bryant (the team had 10) allowed a 4-0 Raptors run to push it right back to nine. And so, L.A. would again have quite a bit of work to do in the final quarter.

4:18 Bryant was going to the foul line on repeat, hitting 12 of 14 in the game and 6 of 6 in the fourth, and Nash drained a triple from the top of the key off Kobe’s 12th assist, but Toronto was still scoring on the other end, getting consecutive hoops at the rim from Johnson to take a 105-99 lead with 2:38 to play.

0:00 The Black Mamba. Vino. Boy, was Kobe doing Kobe things in the final minutes, draining not one but two huge threes, both contested, in the final 30 seconds. The first came with 29.3 seconds left to cut the lead to one out of a time out play, and the second with 5.5 seconds left after two Kyle Lowry free throws put the Raptorts up three. Staples went nuts, of course, with Kobe chants, and L.A. got the stop it needed in the final seconds as Gay missed a pull-up jumper. Overtime, we go, thanks to No. 24.

2:20 L.A. scored the first point of OT, but then failed to score on their next several trips, at least until Bryant forced his way to the hoop and got to the foul line as Amir Johnson picked up his sixth foul. Two makes cut the lead to one, after the Raptors had scored on consecutive trips. Howard’s fifth block quelled the next Raptors possession, but L.A. turned it over on the next play as Nash couldn’t get a shot off and Howard got called for three seconds.

0:00 Have we mentioned a guy by the name of Kobe Bryant? Well, with the game tied at 115 thanks to a massive three-pointer off the dribble from Nash, the Lakers got a big stop on the other end and sealed a rebound. On the ensuing play, Bryant split the defense at the top of the floor, and exploded all the way to the hoop for a two-handed dunk, willing his 34-year-old legs for a finish that gave him 41 points, and the Lakers in place for a victory. They were helped as Alan Anderson missed the second of two free throws on the other end, and surprised as Nash missed 1 of 2 with five seconds left, but saw Gay’s (Rudy was 2 for 15 in the second half and OT) 17 footer go off the rim as time expired. The Lakers won, in dramatic as ever fashion, and pull within just 0.5 games of Utah for the 8th and final playoff spot. Up next are the Bulls on Sunday. We’ll see you there.

Lakers – Hornets Postgame Numbers

We broke down some of the more intriguing numbers from LAL’s 108-102 come-from-behind win at New Orleans:

Points for Kobe Bryant in 42 minutes of play, to go along with 12 assists and seven rebounds. Bryant did most of his damage in the second half, scoring 25 on 9 of 11 field goals – 7 of 8 towards 18 points in the fourth – while dishing out 11 dimes. In the fourth quarter, he scored 13 of the last 16 Laker points, including the final eight to cap L.A.’s comeback.

Plus-rating for Jodie Meeks, a team-high, as he scored 19 points off the bench. The sharpshooter played the entire fourth, converting on all four of his 3-pointers, while shutting down Eric Gordon in the second half (3 for 12 overall, including 0 of 5 in the fourth).

Turnovers the Lakers forced, which led to 31 points. New Orleans committed five miscues in the final 6:47 (six overall in the fourth that led to 12 points), allowing L.A. to crawl back into the game.

The Lakers held the Hornets scoreless for the last 6:47, finishing the game on a 20-0 run. L.A. erased a Hornets lead that was once at 25 points – a 19-point halftime deficit and 18 to start the fourth – after New Orleans put up 39 points in the second frame. It was the Lakers 10th straight win over New Orleans dating back to March 2010. “It’s about who is going to stick together and who is not going to break,” Bryant explained. “Even though we played a team that doesn’t have the best record in the world, I think this type of win really (helps) our bond.”

Blocked shots from Dwight Howard, none bigger than his left-handed rejection of Robin Lopez’s layup with L.A. nursing a 104-102 lead with 27 seconds left. Despite battling foul trouble throughout the game, he played all but a couple seconds in the second half and changed the game on the defensive end. The Hornets scored just nine in the fourth – a season-low for fourth-quarter points – on 4 of 17 field goals and the three-time Defensive Player of the Year was a key factor in that. “I think Dwight really started to smother the pick and roll,” coach Mike D’Antoni said postgame. “He smothered some balls and started to turn the tide.”