With just under two minutes left in the game, Kobe Bryant headed towards the bench as Wells Fargo Center broke out in applause. Bryant raised up his arm and waved at those still left in the arena.
“Next year could be the last time I play in front of this crowd,” he told Mike Trudell after the game.
There was a nostalgic tone in his voice as he said this, looking around the floor as if he were trying to remember every visit to his hometown since he started in the league 17 seasons ago. Not every visit had been a welcome reception, but like Bryant has alluded to in the last few seasons, he’s cherished every moment that has made him a better player and person, good and bad. Tonight, it was good, for him and for his team.
The Lakers took a 25-24 lead at the end of the first quarter and never looked back. The lead rose to as much as 18 points, and while early leads seem to turn into this team’s weakness in the waning minutes of a game, they managed to hold on with a collective effort on both ends of the ball and head back to L.A. with a 2-2 record from this trip.
Metta World Peace – Everything. That’s what MWP did tonight and has been doing consistently this season. It’s not just about the scoring load that he carries. It’s his energy on defense (four steals tonight), his efforts offensively (19 points on 6-10, 3-4 form three and 4-6 from the free throw line) and just the wits with which he plays in general. He’s a more complete player than he was even in the season the Lakers beat the Celtics in the finals. MWP’s scoring back then was a bonus because it was his defense on which the team relied. This season, he’s been a relatively consistent offensive contributor, and with the injuries that the Lakers have sustained, it’s been necessary and he has been able to deliver. From distant threes to barraging his way through the lane for a quick layup, MWP has still got it. And those 16 rebounds? (Yes, 16!) is a new career high.
Kobe Bryant – You never know what you’re going to get if you’re Kobe Bryant coming back to Philly. There have been times when he’s been booed (like the year he received All-Star MVP honors), but there are times like today when the city still shows some love for one of their own and he deserved it with a performance like tonight’s. He started with a fadeaway jumper and finished wit 34 points on 12-21 from the field, including a spectacular baseline drive that ended with Bryant hanging in the air for a second or two before hitting one off the backboard. He also handed out six assists.
Darius Morris – Gave the kid a chance, and he turns into something solid. Subbing into the game for Chris Duhon, as he’s done for the last few games, Morris didn’t waste any time before playing one of the best halves of his young career. He went 5-5 to start, hitting 3-3 from downtown, including one to close the first quarter after a drive-n-kick from Bryant. He finished with 15 points, a pair of assists and zero turnovers in just 18 minutes of play. He appeared to have hurt his ankle towards the end of the first half, however and tried to play in the second half but went just 0-3. Here’s hoping that it’s nothing serious
Threeballin’ – When you’re hot, you’re hot, and the Lakers were on fire from downtown in the first half, going 10-15 form behind the arc. Unfortunately, they cooled down in the second half, going just 4-19, but those 30 points from the first two quarters sure helped to create the advantage.
Sharing the Load – Six Lakers scored in double figures tonight, including 27 from Jodie Meeks and Darius Morris off the bench. The 22 assists on 39 made field goals shows there was a lot of ball movement, which provided an opportunity for everyone on the floor to contribute. This is, of course, ideal and when the Lakers have this much help, the game is a lot easier to win.
Devin Ebanks – Again receiving the starting nod, but doing very little with it. Ebanks played almost 20 minutes but came up with just four rebounds and one assist.
Antawn Jamison – A bit worse off than Ebanks, however, is Jamison. Despite appearing to get into a groove, on this 4-game road trip, he went just 4-16 from the field for a total of 12 points.
That’s two wins in a row for these Lakers, and though it’s nothing relatively impressive, if we’ve learned anything this season, it’s that we must appreciate small glories, and a two-win streak is just that.
Next up, the lowly Charlotte Bobcats are coming into Staples, currently riding an 11-game losing streak. A team desperate for a win is never a good thing, but perhaps the Lakers can take advantage and make it three in a row.