Monthly Archive for April, 2013

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Nash Plans To Play In Game 1

IMG_2899Steve Nash participated in his second straight practice on Saturday in advance of the Lakers opening round series that starts in San Antonio.

“I plan on playing unless there’s a setback between now and (Sunday),” Nash said. “So far, so good.”

During Friday’s media session, Nash allowed he had not tried sprinting yet, but Saturday, he was able to get up and down the court with no problems.

“A little bit,” Nash said. “We went up and down I’d say 10 trips, and I got through it OK. It wasn’t playing a quarter or anything, but at least it was a little bit more of a step for me, and it gives me some optimism that I’ll be able to get through tomorrow.”

Coach Mike D’Antoni stated there would be “a possibility” both Nash and Blake in the backcourt together on Friday, but remained mum on Saturday as to who would start.

“We’ll see (on Sunday), he said. “We haven’t quite settled in yet.”

Blake started the final eight regular-season games, while Jodie Meeks started the last two after Kobe Bryant went down for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. Because Nash has not played in more than three weeks, though, there could be limitations on his minutes.

“We’ll see,” D’Antoni said. “Obviously, he’s not going to play a lot of minutes. Whatever he can give us will be great, and then we’ll play it by ear. As the series goes on, he should get stronger.”

Limited minutes or not, Nash maintains he’s ready to return and help the team in some capacity after preparing himself to this point.

“All the games are more and more important,” he said. “It’s been tough and that’s why I’m doing whatever I can to get back out there as fast as I can. I’m working hard to put myself in a position to give it a shot, and I think I’m ready to try.”

Nash Optimistic For Game 1

Lakers Injury Report sponsored by UCLA Health SystemSteve Nash, who missed the final eight games of the regular season with hamstring/hip issues, went through a 5-on-5 halfcourt scrimmage with the team in advance of their opening round playoff series with San Antonio.

“Mentally, I’m chomping at the bit and physically I’m getting there,” he said. “I’m very optimistic I’ll be able to play on Sunday.”

Nash received an epidural injection on April 16, but admitted he is still not pain free. He has yet to sprint full speed, though, and acknowledged as much post practice.


“Not full out,” he explained. “I was able to play halfcourt today, and there were a couple situations where it was pretty close to a sprint, so it’s coming. In some ways, I want to give myself as much time as possible, but at the same time you can’t wait forever. Just trying to play that timing game, let the medicine work, (rely) on myself to heal and recover and at the same time, be prepared to play without blowing it out again.”

It’s been nearly three weeks since the 6-foot-3 point guard last played significant minutes in a game – at Milwaukee when coach Mike D’Antoni pulled him early in the second half. The following contest at Sacramento, Nash started but played just two minutes before exiting for good.

“There’s still a lot of movements to work through,” Nash said. “That’s going to take some time. Getting used to some of the pain, some of the inhibition and trying to work through it and get myself back to where I’m capable.”

With Nash injured, Steve Blake started all eight games in April, averaging 12.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists, while shooting 41 percent on 3’s. The last two home games against San Antonio and Houston, he posted a combined 47 points, 12 boards and 11 dimes.

“Steve has been phenomenal and filled in not only for myself, but for Kobe and for our depth,” Nash said of his backcourt partner. “He’s made a lot of shots for us. He’s a fighter. That’s such a valuable thing on your team.”

Should Nash be able to go on Sunday, D’Antoni stated “it’s a possibility” both him and Blake would start together in the backcourt.

“I’m just hoping to be able to play, get out there and contribute,” Nash explained. “That’s the bottom line. I’m just really hopeful and working hard – pretty much twice a day the last few weeks – to get back, and hopefully the time has come.”

Lakers – Rockets Postgame Numbers

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles LakersWe broke down some of the more intriguing numbers from LAL’s 99-95 overtime win against Houston:

95
The Lakers held the top-scoring team in the NBA (106 points per game) to 95 on 41.7 percent field goals. In the fourth quarter plus overtime, the Rockets were 9 for 28 (32 percent), 1 of 7 in the extra five minutes. James Harden, Houston’s leading scorer, finished with 30 points, but was 8 for 25, shooting just 4 of 16 in the second half.

24.2
One of the league’s top 3-point shooting teams converted on just 8 of 33 attempts (4 of 19 in the second half). Houston failed to make a triple in seven attempts in the fourth before Chandler Parsons threw in a line drive from about 35 feet as the buzzer expired. The Lakers, meanwhile, were 10 of 32, but drilled two in the fourth – one from Steve Blake and one from Antawn Jamison – that gave L.A. their first lead since the opening minutes.

18
Rebounds for Dwight Howard, his first board in the opening minutes giving him 9,000 for his career. Howard surpassed Wilt Chamberlain as the youngest player in NBA history to reach that mark. The big man also had 16 points, four blocks and three steals.

17
Offensive rebounds for the Lakers towards 24 second-chance points, compared to nine and 17, respectively, for Houston. Despite shooting just 33.3 percent in the first half, the Lakers grabbed 10 offensive boards that led to nine more shot attempts, and trailed by just six at halftime.

13
Plus-rating for Blake, a team-high. For the second straight game, Blake scored 20-plus points (24), while also recording seven boards and seven assists. He also drilled four 3-pointers for the third consecutive contest.

7
Career triple-doubles for Pau Gasol, who finished with 17 points, 20 rebounds and 11 assists. It was his second triple-double in the last three games. In eight April games, the 7-foot Spaniard averaged 17.5 points, 12.1 boards, 6.6 assists and 1.3 blocks.

5:48
Despite not making a field goal in this span towards the end of regulation, the Lakers got six free throws (two from Howard, two from Gasol and two from Jodie Meeks) and held the Rockets to just 4 of 11 in that stretch. With Houston’s thin frontcourt and center Omer Asik battling foul trouble, the Rockets were in the penalty from the 8:55 mark onward as Howard and Gasol drew fouls down in the post.

LAL 99, Rockets 95: April 17 Running Diary

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles LakersBelow is a running diary of L.A.’s Wednesday night home contest against Houston, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Blake, Meeks, World Peace, Gasol and Howard
Rockets: J. Lin, J. Harden, C. Parsons, G. Smith, O. Asik

FIRST QUARTER
12:00 A bit of the drama from the regular season finale was taken out in a good way from the Lakers, since Utah’s earlier loss at Memphis eliminated the Jazz from contention. At stake for the Lakers was the potential first round opponent. Win, and they’d go to No. 2 seed San Antonio. Lose, and they’d draw No. 1 seed Oklahoma City.

2:42 A great early effort on the offensive glass helped the Lakers take a 21-18 lead after a 9-0 run, capped by Antawn Jamison’s put-back of a Metta World Peace three-pointer. That MWP triple was the 12th attempt from long range, allowing plenty of long bounces for boards. Four of those attempts went down, including two for four from Steve Blake, fresh off consecutive games of four of eight shooting. Houston recovered to finish the quarter on a 6-0 run, however, taking a 24-21 lead out of the period.

SECOND QUARTER
Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers4:57 It wasn’t pretty, but the Lakers got within two when Gasol hit a jumper thanks to a nice screen from Howard. Houston, however, went on a 7-0 run – capped by a three from James Harden (18 points on 4 of 7 field goals, three threes and 7 of 8 free throws) and to push their lead back to nine points, where it had gotten early in the period.

0:00 The Lakers were simply struggling to get good looks on offense, playing a bunch of guys who’d barely played minutes together on the court at the same time all season. Obviously, the injuries to Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash (who hopes to return for the playoffs, but is not a guarantee for any specific date) played a major role. Blake did his part, scoring 13 points on 5 of 10 field goals, but former second round picks Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock really struggled in their limited time on the floor, while Jodie Meeks was also off to a slow start on both ends. At the break, Houston held a 50-44 lead, keyed by Harden on offense and Omer Asik on defense, who committed only one foul defending Howard, holding Dwight to only four points on 2 of 9 field goals. Gasol managed nine points on 4 of 10 shooting, with Blake adding two more points to lead an offense shooting only 33.3 percent.

THIRD QUARTER
Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers4:24 Post ups to Howard with Asik defending worked better in the third, as he scored twice and earned a foul on a third trip, but he was still up to just eight points and was called for three seconds in a late third-quarter turnover with Houston leading 63-55. On the next trip, Harden hit his fourth three-pointer, the third for Houston in the quarter, L.A. not doing a good job of executing the pregame plan of running them off the line and not helping on post ups. Houston has really nobody that demands a double on a post up, but Blake was caught trying to help Gasol with Greg Smith only to see Chandler Parsons hit his first triple. L.A. was in trouble here, with OKC looking like the more probable destination than San Antonio…

0:00 … but a late quarter response cut the margin in half, making for an interesting fourth quarter. L.A. got its eighth make from downtown as Darius Morris rose to hit one, and the second year guard then answered a Parsons layup to keep the deficit at 71-66 heading into the fourth quarter. Those five quick points from Morris were key, L.A. searching desperately for perimeter production in the absence of Bryant and Nash.

FOURTH QUARTER
Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers6:36 The fourth three-pointer of the game from Blake had the Lakers suddenly on top, the 11-point deficit all the way gone, their point guard with 22 points, six boards and six assists. Also critical in the comeback was Gasol, up to 13 points with 14 boards and eight assists, allowing an 81-79 lead into a Rockets time out. L.A. had six minutes to try and close it out, with James Harden – just 1 for 6 in the second half- lurking.

3:56 Hitting two clutch free throws? Howard, thanks to Asik’s foul going for an offensive board. The lead was three in the final moments, L.A. trying to hold on. Who would step up?

0:00 Holding a three-point lead as the clock ticked down to the final seconds, the Lakers allowed a buzzer-beating, desperation three-pointer to Parsons from 30+ feet out to a stunned Staples Center. L.A. were almost to San Antonio, but would instead head to overtime.

OVERTIME
1:55 Hitting the only field goal of OT to that point was Gasol, on a turnaround J, with L.A.’s D getting stop after stop to allow a 92-91 lead…

0:56.0 Jodie Meeks started the game by hitting only 1 of his 9 attempts from the field. So in the final minute of overtime, why would he not explode off the baseline for a two-handed dunk that put the Lakers up 96-93? That would prove to be enough for what ended up being a 99-95 victory, as Meeks hit 1 of 2 free throws, and Blake 2 of 2 to reach his personal career high of 24 points in a Lakers jersey. The pass for Meeks’ dunk came from Gasol, the Spaniard’s 10th assist to reach his second triple-double in three games (17 points, 20 rebounds, 11 assists). With this dramatic win, the Lakers close the season winning eight of nine games, going 8-1 without Steve Nash and 2-0 without Kobe Bryant to slide into the No. 7 seed.

Up next? The San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs. See you in Texas, starting on Sunday.

LAL Round Up: Regular Season Finale

San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles LakersWith L.A.’s entire season coming down to one final game against Houston, we get you ready with a comprehensive breakdown – it’s long, but you’ve been warned – of related topics:

NOTES ON THE ROCKETS (LAL vs. HOU, 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday)
- When Houston beat the Lakers 125-112 in the last meeting on January 8, neither Dwight Howard nor Pau Gasol played. Robert Sacre started at center and Metta World Peace at power forward against a Rockets team that’s thin up front (lots on Omer Asik’s shoulders). LAL should be better able to punish Houston inside on Wednesday, as the offense will run through Howard and Gasol, the two also intent upon protecting the rim on the other end.
- Houston ranks first in the league in points per game (106.1) and has netted at least 115 points in 23 games this year (20-3 record). L.A. held the Spurs to 86 points on Sunday.
- James Harden has been terrific all season, turning into a true superstar that ranks fifth in the NBA in scoring (25.9 points on 44 percent shooting) and 23rd in assists (5.9 per game), with LeBron James (7.3, 11th) and Kobe Bryant (6.0, 21st) the only non point guards ahead of him.
- Chandler Parsons has increased his scoring average from his rookie year (9.5) to 15.4 points per game, improving generally and also playing eight more minutes per game. He missed five April games with a calf strain, but has played the last two, scoring 24 points with seven assists in Monday’s loss at Phoenix.
- Carlos Delfino is averaging 17 points, five boards and two dimes vs. LAL in two games this season, finding himself open from three-point range far too often for LAL’s liking, averaging four made triples per game.
- Greg Smith has started at power forward for the last nine games (nine points, five boards in 21 minutes). He had a season-high 21 points against LAL in the Dec. 4 meeting, but will have Howard and Gasol to deal with on Wednesday.
- Fellow rookie Terrence Jones has seen the floor in seven of eight April games after playing sparingly (11 appearances) in beginning of the year. Jones is averaging 9.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 2.1 blocks in 24.5 minutes in those contests.
- Houston ranks second in the league in threes made (10.6 per game) and have three players in the top 20 (Harden: 175, Delfino: 158, Parsons: 150); LAL are at 4th (making about nine per game). A big part of L.A.’s defensive game plan is to run the Rockets off the three-point line, which is easier said than done with the penetration abilities of Harden and Jeremy Lin.

LAKERS.COM PLAYOFF TRACKER:
With just two nights left of basketball before the playoff seedings are set, we laid out several scenarios that are yet to be determined for those eager to tune into the action:

(1.) If Utah loses at Memphis, the Lakers would be locked into at least the No. 8 seed, even with a loss to Houston.
(2.) If the Lakers defeat Houston, they would pass the Rockets and move into the No. 7 seed.
(3.) If both the Lakers and Jazz win, the Lakers would be the No. 7 seed, the Rockets No. 8 and Utah out.
(4.) If Golden State wins at Portland, they are the No. 6 seed, which the Lakers cannot reach even if the Warriors lose (GSW are two up in the loss column with one to play).
(5.) If Golden State loses at Portland and Houston beats the Lakers, Houston is the No. 6 seed (they have the tiebreaker over GSW).

At the top of the standings, Oklahoma City clinched the No. 1 seed, and San Antonio the No. 2 on Monday night. Meanwhile, Denver has secured at least the No. 3 or No. 4 seed, and can lock up the No. 3 spot by beating Phoenix at home on Wednesday. The Clippers could get the No. 3 seed with a Denver loss and two wins (vs. Portland, at Sacramento), and would get at worst the No. 4 seed with a Denver win or at least one loss. Memphis is locked into the No. 5 seed, but can get home court over the Clippers with a win over Utah and at least one Clippers loss. Memphis cannot catch Denver, however, since the Nuggets own the tiebreaker between the two and are a game up with one to play.

NASH OUT AGAIN: For the ninth consecutive game (if you don’t count 1:48 of action to start the game at Sacramento on March 30), the Lakers will be without Steve Nash. They could certainly use his playmaking especially in Bryant’s absence, but his hamstring/hip/back just aren’t ready for game action. LAL has managed to go 7-1 without Nash, running the offense through Gasol and Howard and giving Steve Blake a bigger perimeter role in the absence of both Nash and Bryant against San Antonio.

MINUTE DISTRIBUTION WITHOUT KOBE: With Kobe recovering from Achilles surgery on Saturday, here’s how the minutes (rounded to a whole number) were distributed in Bryant’s (and Steve Nash’s) absence:
Blake: 36; Meeks: 36; MWP: 29; Gasol: 40; Howard: 36; Morris: 20; Jamison: 20; Clark: 19; Duhon: 4.

The main beneficiary of burn with Kobe out was Darius Morris, who did not play vs. Golden State in the prior game before getting 20 minutes (1 for 6 FG’s, 4 rebs, 4 asts, 1 blk) against the Spurs. Jodie Meeks saw his minutes go up from 22 minutes vs. GSW to 36 vs. SAS.

NBA ALL-TIME COMBINED MINUTES LEADERS
Lakers athletic trainer Gary Vitti said that minutes aren’t necessarily connected to an injury like the Achilles tear suffered by Kobe. With that said, it’s remarkable to see how many career minutes Bryant has played between the regular and playoff seasons (and that’s not counting his Olympic and World Championships runs). Here are the all-time leaders in hoops playing time:

1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 66,297 (57,446 regular season, 8,851 playoffs)
2. Karl Malone: 62,759 (54,852 regular season, 7,907 playoffs)
3. Jason Kidd: 55,900 (50,059 regular season, 5,841 playoffs)
4. Wilt Chamberlain: 55,418 (47,859 regular season, 7,559 playoffs)
5. John Stockton: 54,162 (47,764 regular season, 6,398 playoffs)
6. Elvin Hayes: 54,160 (50,000 regular season, 4,160 playoffs)
7. Kobe Bryant: 54,031 (45,390 regular season, 8,641 playoffs)
8. John Havlicek: 53,331 (46,471 regular season, 6,860 playoffs)
9. Reggie Miller: 52,927 (47,619 regular season, 5,308 playoffs)
10. Kevin Garnett: 52,604 (47,783 regular season, 4,821 playoffs)

BLAKE UP to 11th IN THE NBA FROM 3: In the last three games, Steve Blake has climbed up eight spots on the NBA’s three-point shooting percentage list, reaching his current slot of No. 11. He drained 4 of 8 3’s against both Golden State and San Antonio and two of three at Portland to push his season mark to 42.8 percent. One of the 10 players shooting better on the season is his teammate Steve Nash, who’s at 43.8 percent. Blake is a good three-point shooter for his career, at 39.0 percent overall, but was way down last year, converting only 33.5 percent. In his first season in L.A. (2010-11), he hit 37.8 percent from downtown. In April, Blake is averaging 11.0 points, 5.0 boards and 3.6 assists; his season high in points (23) came last game.

Los Angeles Lakers v Houston RocketsHOWARD TAKES ON CHALLENGE SANS KOBE: We expected Howard to have a big day with Bryant out against the Spurs, and he certainly delivered, scoring 26 points on 9 of 15 FG’s and 8 of 17 FT’s, plus a game-high 17 rebounds with three blocks and two steals. Expect similar digits against the Rockets, as Howard’s intent upon showing his ability to lead to the team. He has repeatedly stated that the team simply needs to “play hard” to win, acknowledging that it starts with him. In April, he’s averaging 21.6 points on 65 percent shooting.

SHOOTING ABERATION FROM GASOL: A 26-point, 11-board, 10-assist triple-double in the win over Golden State pushed Pau Gasol’s averages in six April games to 19.3 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.7 assists on 60.5 percent field goals. He had at least 22 points & shot at least 60 percent in three straight contests, and was averaging over seven assists per game since Nash went out at Sacramento. As such, his can’t-buy-a-bucket struggle against San Antonio (3 for 17) was a surprise and an aberration. The Spaniard did hit the glass for 16 window cleans, matching his season high, and blocked three shots, drawing praise from coach Mike D’Antoni and his teammates for finding a way to help. Expect him to return to form on Wednesday, especially against a Rockets team lacking the size of San Antonio, who defended him with Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan.

HOWARD HALTS HIS REBOUNDING SLOW DOWN: In part due to recent foul trouble (at least a little bit) and Gasol’s emergence on the glass, Howard had slowed his role from a rebounding perspective until busting out with 17 boards against the Spurs. After grabbing at least 15 in five straight games, he had been averaging only 6.7 in his last four games, including seven against the Warriors in 38 minutes on Friday. One thing that’s been up is his scoring, as he’s hit 20+ in six of eight contests, thanks in part to Gasol’s lobs and better free throw shooting. But speaking of his rebounding…

HOWARD TO BECOME YOUNGEST TO 9,000 REBOUNDS: L.A.’s center enters Wednesday’s game against Houston with 8,999 rebounds, and with one board will become the youngest player in NBA history to reach 9,000 (27 years, 130 days old on 4/17/13). Wilt Chamberlain (27 years, 144 days old) is the current holder of the honor, with Bill Russell (27 years, 357 days old) not far off. The high-school-to-the-pros No. 1 pick will become the 13th fastest to 9,000 in terms of games played.

HOWARD’s FREE THROWS IMPROVE – A BIT: He’s shooting 55.3% in April, still rough, but at least noticeably up from under 49 percent on the season (now 49.4 percent).

JORDAN HILL UPDATE: Lakers reserve big man Jordan Hill, who had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip on Jan. 23, began running on an Alter G treadmill at 70 percent of his body weight on Friday. By Tuesday, Hill was up to 90 percent of his body weight. Once Hill gets to 100 percent of his body weight, he’ll be cleared for full weight-bearing running and jumping. Subsequently, he’ll be allowed to begin on-court basketball drills. The team has put a timeline of 3-4 weeks after that process before Hill would be ready to resume playing in games. Hill averaged 6.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game for the Lakers in 29 games of action.

PAU GASOL PRACTICE QUOTES
Q: On playing tomorrow to get into the playoffs:
Gasol: It’s been that way pretty much the last 10 games, but this is the last game. That’s the difference. There’s not another game to make up for it. It’s a must win for us. We want to continue to play the way we’ve been playing. We’ve been doing well – same energy, same attitude, same intensity.
Q: On what advice – if any – he gives the guys for this last game:
Gasol: Just keep doing what they’ve been doing. Everybody needs to stay focused and locked in. It’s another big game. That’s what we’ve been playing for the last month – big game after big game. We’ve got two days of rest, so we should be mentally and physically ready for the last one.
Q: On if he learned anything about the team in the win against SAS:
Gasol: We just showed a lot of character and a lot of determination. Since Kobe went down and the Golden State game was on the line, we all wanted to pull through and come up with that win. Kobe has worked hard all year. We wanted to give ourselves a chance and make it to the playoffs. Fighting for our life has been the constant for a while, so it should be a big satisfaction to win tomorrow, get in (to the playoffs) with some momentum and understand we’re going to face a tough opponent.
Q: On the team’s play without Kobe Bryant thus far:
Gasol: We played one really good game against San Antonio. We hope to play another one tomorrow, and build on it little by little. We don’t have a lot of time obviously but we still have great players here and a great team even without Kobe. It’s unfortunate what happened; we all know that. But we have to face reality and give it our best shot, and that’s what we’ve been doing and we’ll continue to do.

Lakers – Spurs Postgame Numbers

San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles LakersWe broke down some of the more intriguing numbers from LAL’s 91-86 win against San Antonio:

58
Rebounds for the Lakers, 16 of them coming on the offensive end. L.A. owned a plus-12 in this department, with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol combining for 33 boards (11 offensive). Despite Gasol struggling from the floor (3 of 17 field goals, he was active defensively with 16 boards and three blocks. Howard, meanwhile, had 26 points and was aggressive on offense all night long. He also recorded two steals and three swats in anchoring the defense.

37
Field-goal percentage for San Antonio towards 86 points, a team that ranked second (48.4) and fourth (103.3) in the league, respectively in those categories. In the second and third quarters combined, the Spurs shot just 13 of 47 (27.7 percent). Tony Parker shot 1 for 10 from the floor (a 50-plus percent shooter on the year), including 1 of 8 from inside the paint.

23
Points from Steve Blake (a season-high), to go along with five rebounds, four assists and two steals. Blake scored 18 in the first half despite everybody else on the team outside Howard struggling on offense. The 6-foot-3 guard drilled four of the Lakers nine triples on the evening. In his last eight games, Blake is 23 of 50 from deep (46 percent).

3
Three-pointers in the span of two minutes in the fourth quarter that spurred a 15-4 run (one from Antawn Jamison and two from Jodie Meeks) to give the Lakers their biggest lead at 84-73. L.A. hit its first five triples of the fourth after a 4 of 18 performance in the first 36 minutes.

1
The Lakers magic number to clinch a playoff berth (a Laker win or Utah loss). With the victory, L.A. moved to a season-high seven games above .500 and are 1.5 games ahead of the Jazz for the No. 8 seed.

LAL 91, Spurs 86: April 14 Running Diary

San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles LakersBelow is a running diary of L.A.’s Sunday evening contest against San Antonio, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Blake, Meeks, World Peace, Gasol and Howard
Spurs: T. Parker, D. Green, K. Leonard, T. Duncan, T. Splitter

FIRST QUARTER
San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Lakers12:00 One almost has to pinch him or herself when looking at the Lakers warming up and not seeing No. 24 on the floor, Kobe Bryant having torn his Achilles with 3:08 left in the team’s Friday night victory over Golden State. This game was to be about the rest of the players trying to collectively pick up his slack, no one more than Dwight Howard, surely determined to show that he can lead the Lakers.

7:07 It was a good start for Dwight. L.A. doubled up the Spurs early when Steve Blake’s jumper went down, the 12-6 scoreline a product of Howard’s work inside (six points, two dunks) and terrific collective defense.

0:00 The Spurs, however, answered that spurt with an 8-0 run to take a momentary lead, using two Lakers turnovers and three missed three-pointers to score in transition. L.A.’s D was solid in the half court, but they were hurting themselves with the long misses and unnecessary giveaways, as have been issues throughout the season. At quarter’s end, the Spurs held a narrow 23-22 lead, decent for the Lakers since they turned it over six times and shot only 38 percent.

SECOND QUARTER
8:22 L.A. opened the game missing its first seven threes, so a Steve Blake make from the corner was a welcome sight for the home team. He followed with a free throw line jumper, his fourth make in five attempts, for nine points. The triple cut what had been a six-point to a point, forcing San Antonio’s time out.

San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Lakers3:28 Who needs Kobe when Steve Blake’s draining triples from everywhere (100 percent facetious, of course). The Maryland product drained his fourth of the quarter, reaching 18 points while putting the Lakers up 40-35 despite 38 percent shooting as a team. He was 6 of 7, the counter example.

0:00 A tip in from Howard seemed to close the half on a good note for L.A., allowing a 43-40 lead, but Gary Neal beat the buzzer with a three from the wing to tie things up heading into halftime. The Lakers showed great effort on D throughout, holding the Spurs to just 35 percent shooting, but L.A. wasn’t much better (35.6 percent) … thus the tie.

THIRD QUARTER
11:11 Consecutive power moves from Howard had L.A. off to a good start in the second half, his two makes giving him 16 points with his 10 boards, and his team a quick four-point lead.

0:00 The Lakers led by as many as six in the quarter, but found themselves tied at 61 heading into the fourth quarter, as the Spurs yucked up the game by intentionally fouling Howard off the ball five times in the final three minutes. Howard made four of the 10, and the Spurs made up only two points from when they started the process, forcing us to watch.

FOURTH QUARTER
San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Lakers6:01 Well, the Lakers picked a good time to get hot from three. Antawn Jamison drained three straight triples to start the quarter, and Jodie Meeks followed with two more, helping the Lakers open up a nine-point lead halfway through the period. Before the fourth, Steve Blake had all four of the teams triples in 18 attempts.

1:18 Clutch free throws first from Howard (who was only 6 for 15 before hitting two) and Blake kept the Lakers up in the final minutes, and the defensive stops continued to come, San Antonio ending up shooting just 37.1 percent for the game. L.A. didn’t need a field goal in the final few minutes, adding one more Blake free throw that gave him 23 points with five boards, in a 91-86 win. Howard had 26 points and 17 boards plus three blocks and two steals, while Gasol made up for a uncharacteristically poor effort on offense (3 of 17 shooting) with 16 boards and three blocks of his own.

With the victory, the Lakers can get into the playoffs with either a win on Wednesday against Houston, or a Utah loss at Minnesota on Monday or Memphis on Wednesday. We will you on Wednesday, folks.

Injury Update: Nash Remains Out

Los Angeles Lakers v Los Angeles ClippersLakers Injury Report sponsored by UCLA Health SystemSteve Nash pulled himself out of L.A.’s March 30 game at Sacramento after just under two minutes of action, his back/hip/hamstring not allowing him to play, and on Sunday against San Antonio will miss his eighth consecutive game.

The Lakers managed to go 6-1 in the seven games without him, shifting ball-handling and play-making responsibilities over to Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol (over seven assists per game in Nash’s absence). But since Bryant tore his Achilles with 3:08 left in the fourth quarter of L.A.’s Friday night win over Golden State, the Lakers will miss what Nash brings to the table even more.

It’s coach Mike D’Antoni’s hope that Nash will be ready to play on Wednesday, but we’ll have to wait and see how he responds.

Super competitive and constantly hard working, Nash has been increasingly frustrated with the injury, and has been doing everything he can to get back on the floor.

Jordan Hill Injury Update

Lakers Injury Report sponsored by UCLA Health SystemLakers reserve big man Jordan Hill, who had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip on Jan. 23, has been cleared to start running on an Alter G treadmill at 70 percent of his body weight on Friday.

Hill was examined by Dr. Byrd – who performed the surgery – in Nashville over the past two days, where it was determined that he’s made enough progress to ramp up activities. If there are no setbacks, Hill will be allowed to get to 100 percent of his body weight on the treadmill, at which point he’ll be cleared for full weight-bearing running and jumping.

Subsequently, he’ll be allowed to begin on-court basketball drills.

The team has put a timeline of 3-4 weeks after that process before Hill would be ready to resume playing in games.

Hill averaged 6.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game for the Lakers in 29 games of action.

Lakers – Blazers Postgame Numbers

Los Angeles Lakers v Portland Trail BlazersWe broke down some of the more intriguing numbers from LAL’s 113-106 win at Portland:

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Kobe Bryant went the distance for the first time since April 12, 2007 vs. LAC. The 16-year veteran matched Portland’s Damian Lillard nearly bucket for bucket in the first quarter, the two both finishing with 17 points after 12 minutes of play. Bryant ended the game with 47 points (a season-high on 14 of 27 field goals and 18 of 18 free throws), eight boards, five assists, four blocks and three steals. Via Elias Sports, it was the first time an NBA player had recorded those types of numbers in one game.

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Second-half points for Portland on just 28.6 percent field goals. This came on the heels of a 69-point first half at a 60.5 percent clip. The Blazers scoring dropped each quarter, from 41, 28, 21 and 16. After Lillard notched 25 points (9 of 14 field goals and 4 of 7 on 3′s) and seven assists in the first half, he shot just 3 for 11 in the second, with the Lakers making a conscious effort to get the ball out of hands of screen and roll actions.

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Assists for Pau Gasol, a number of them finding Dwight Howard for easy buckets at the rim. The 7-foot Spaniard also finished with 23 points (11 of 15 field goals), seven rebounds and two blocks. In the pivotal fourth quarter, Gasol was 5 for 6 towards 11 points, grabbed three boards and dished out three assists. In five April games, he is averaging 18 points on 59 percent field goals, 10 rebounds, six assists and one block.

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Offensive rebounds from Steve Blake in the last two minutes of the game, both leading to points – Dwight Howard split one of two free throws and Gasol found Howard off a lob for a dunk. Blake also stripped Lillard at the top of the key leading to a clear path foul (two free throws for Bryant), plus a jumper on the ensuing possession to push L.A.’s lead to 106-100, capping a 16-5 run with 4:10 left. The 6-foot-3 guard had eight points and tied a season-high with seven boards, but none two bigger than the offensive rebounds late in the contest.

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The Lakers are a full game ahead of Utah for the No. 8 playoff seed with three games remaining for both teams. L.A. closes the regular season out at home against Golden State, San Antonio and Houston. The Jazz face Minnesota twice (one home, one away) and then Memphis on the road. The win also gave L.A. its first sweep of a back-to-back set all year; the Lakers had been 0-15 in previous situations.