Lakers: Blake, Meeks, Bryant, Gasol and Howard
Hornets: G. Vasquez, E. Gordon, A. Aminu, A. Davis, R. Lopez
12:00 The Lakers came into this contest having won 10 straight games against the Hornets, but none was close to as big as this one, the purple and gold trying to make up a game in the loss column to Utah, who was in the second half of a home game against Oklahoma City when things tipped at Staples Center. Both teams had 37 losses coming into the evening, but since the Jazz possess the tiebreaker (winning the season series 2-1), they’d advance to the postseason in case of a tie. As such, the Lakers had to not only make up a game in the win column (Utah had played one more), but also avoid another potentially damaging loss.
0:00 With the Lakers playing generally well enough to take a 27-22 lead out of the first quarter, thanks to a balanced effort in which six players scored at least one bucket, Utah lost to OKC at home, putting L.A. in position to reclaim the eight spot for the night if they could beat New Orleans. Dwight Howard led the way with nine points, three boards and two assists in nine minutes before resting for the final three.
6:00 L.A. was seemingly in control of the game, pushing their lead up to 10 points with some solid play on both ends, getting nine bench points from Jodie Meeks to couple solid play inside from both Howard and Pau Gasol. However…
0:00 … Six minutes later, they had scored only two more points, allowing 17 to the Hornets to see their 10-point edge turn into a 50-45 deficit. Eric Gordon did most of the damage, taking advantage of Meeks with the help of plenty of help from his big men setting screens. Needless to say, it was an unacceptable effort from L.A. in that period of time; they’d have 24 minutes to redeem a victory.
7:33 L.A.’s best player in this one had been Gasol, who got the Lakers right back into the game from the post, scoring three consecutive buckets at the rim to tie the game at 53. He was up to 18 points with his eight boards and three blocks, erasing the halftime deficit nearly on his own.
0:00 A 25-20 third quarter was decent for the Lakers, but inspired ball had yet to be shown in a desperate situation. Instead, we were tied at 70, New Orleans hanging tough trying to play spoiler, their bench standing up in unison for almost anything. Everybody loves trying to beat the Lakers, no doubt.
8:03 Kobe, who’d been biding his time on offense for three quarter (2 of 7 field goals, 2 of 2 free throws), came out on a mission, draining three consecutive jumpers – including a triple – to put the Lakers quickly up seven points. However, the Hornets just kept coming, scoring on five straight trips down the floor as Howard rested to tie the game up at 80 with eight minutes to play. Nothing easy for the Lakers this season.
2:52 More Kobe points (16 of his 23 in the period) and additional good work from Gasol (20 points, 11 boards, four assists, three blocks) allowed a 91-86 margin into the stretch run … and then Bryant stripped Gordon and finished a tough and-1 layup in transition.
0:00 N.O. didn’t lie down, but L.A. managed to finish the game at the same margin Bryant created, winning 104-96 to jump back ahead of Utah for the eighth and final playoff spot. Bryant ended up scoring 23 of his 30 points in the final quarter, adding some free throws down the stretch (8 of 9 in the fourth) plus six boards and six assists. Gasol was key throughout, and Howard made some plays on defense upon returning from foul trouble, adding two dunks in the final seconds when L.A. broke NOH pressure. No time to rest for the Lakers, however, as they head to the airport to fly to Portland for the final back-to-back contest of the season. We’ll see you there.