They make it interesting, don’t they?
With Utah losing to Chicago and Golden State losing to Houston, the teams above the Lakers in the Western Conference standings are giving them every chance to rise above that 9th seed. Tonight’s game should have been played with a lot of determination, a lot of fire, a lot of energy, especially after the huge comeback win against the Hornets two nights ago. Unfortunately, the Lakers’ short-term memory was in full effect at the onset, allowing the Raptors to score 37 points in the first quarter, and almost 60 points in the first half.
The Lakers fell behind by as much as 15 points and still had a double-digit deficit to overcome entering the fourth quarter. That’s when Kobe Bryant went to work, leading the team to a tie-game at the end of regulation to force overtime and the victory.
Kobe Bryant – How does he do it? Is his Gatorade bottle full of water from the fountain of youth? Is he immortal? Bryant’s life stats all point to what he SHOULD be at his age and point of his career – slow and on the decline, but he defies it. All of it. After a 42-point, 12 assist, seven rebound game in New Orleans, Bryant aka Mamba aka Vino poured in 41 points on 11-22 from the field, 12 assists, six rebounds and two steals. He hit three 3-pointers in a row in the last two minutes of regulation to put the game into overtime. He followed that by hitting both of his free throws and a spectacular dunk in the five minutes that followed. Unreal. Asked after the game about his big night, Bryant replied, “I was completely irresponsible with the basketball all night long (referring to his nine turnovers). I just wanted to be in a position to redeem myself.” It says a lot when, in the process of producing the stat line that he did two games in a row, Bryant was fixated on wanting to make up for his carelessness. He was keeled over, hands resting on his knees after the game. It was a tough one, he told Lakers sideline reporter, Mike Trudell. His team pulled it off, though, thanks in large part to him.
Dwight Howard – Howard needed help on defense. He had no issues defending the paint, but he needed his teammates to cover for him, and through most of the game, he was an island of defense all by himself. The Lakers may have allowed Toronto to shoot more than 50% from the field for the game, but Howard was there to do his part, and his part produced 24 points on 9-15 from the field, 13 rebounds, three steals and five blocks, including one against Rudy Gay late in the fourth quarter. Howard’s movements look more spry; he appears healthier. He’s also doing a lot of talking on the floor, guiding teammates like Jodie Meeks, on defense. Howard has embraced his role as a defender on this team, and if he can get the rest of his teammates to help on that side of the floor, these Lakers will be better for it.
Steve Nash – That Kobe Bryant, stealing all of Nash’s playmaking accolades. How dare he? Nash handed out just a pair of assists tonight, but he also scored 22 points on 7-13 from he field, including a three-pointer late in the final quarter that brought the Lakers to within four points of the lead. Nash also grabbed four rebounds and two steals. For months, analysts and fans alike have been wishing that Nash would punish the defense more with his ability to score. Tonight he took heed and made Toronto pay with 4-6 from downtown.
Never Say Die – Yes, it’s upsetting that the Lakers must constantly put themselves in situations where they have to work twice as hard to come from behind and win the game, but at least they’ve got some fight in them. In the last two games, they had every right to give up, but they chose to give themselves the chance to win. If this season has done anything for the Lakers, it’s humbled them. They’re aware that it takes more than a smile to get into the playoffs, and that every victory brings them closer to their goal.
Over .500 – 32-31, for the first time since November 20, 2012, the Lakers find themselves with a winning record. Hopefully it’s upwards from here.
Slow Starters – They just can’t help themselves, can they? The Lakers keep allowing their opponents to strike first, and in turn, they must figure out ways to strike second, and strike stronger. 73.9% – that was the Raptors’ shooting percentage in the first quarter. By halftime, Toronto was shooting 58%.
Too Many Minutes – Three players hit the 40+ minute mark (Bryant, Howard and Metta World Peace) and two players who hit the 30+ mark.
That’s the first question that comes to mind after this thrilling win that shouldn’t have been so thrilling. Why, after a miraculous 25-point turnaround victory against the New Orleans Hornets would the Lakers put themselves in a position that would force them to rally from behind AGAIN? They rallied from 20 points down against the lowly Bobcats, 25 down against the Hornets and 15 down against the Raptors. We may never get the answer to the why’s and how’s of this Laker team this season, but you have to admit – despite the madness they incite, it’s exciting to watch them. No matter what team name is stitched into their jerseys, they are underdogs this season, and this seems to be uniting the team.