These days, every game is a must-win, but with the Jazz beating the Hornets tonight, the Lakers needed this to maintain its half game lead for the eighth seed.
The Lakers played strong defense for multiple quarters to beat an extremely tough Memphis team. Pau Gasol rose to the occasion against younger brother Marc, and Earl Clark continued to prove to everyone that he can still grow as a player and be a solid contributor off the bench.
On a night where Dwight Howard was limited by fouls and a poor performance from the Lakers guards (not named Kobe Bryant), the Lakers dug deep and mustered enough energy to hold off 86-84.
Pau Gasol- Despite a sluggish return from a torn plantar fascia injury, Gasol is starting to look like his former self. Active and aggressive the entire game, he notched 19 points (on an efficient 8/14), nine rebounds, and three assists. With Dwight Howard burdened by foul trouble most of the second half, Gasol was key in the Lakers 21-8 run to end the third quarter.
Earl Clark- Assumed by many to have “hit his ceiling”, Clark’s resurgence as of late has been a blessing for the Lakers second unit. Clark scored 13 points and grabbed 5 rebounds, but his defense is what really made a difference, punctuated by a stunning fourth-quarter block on a seemingly open Qunicy Pondexter transition dunk.
Kobe Bryant- The Black Mamba was his efficient self, dishing out nine assists and scoring 24 points. He took what the Grizzlies gave him and was effective in isolation and pick and roll sets.
Defense- We don’t get to write about the Lakers defense very often, but tonight, they played aggressively and with energy. Howard was his usual dominant self inside the paint, but it was the communication that helped the Lakers limit the Grizzlies to only 39 first-half points and 18 fourth-quarter points.
Turnovers- This has been par for the course this season and tonight was no different. A stingy Memphis team had something to do with the 18 Lakers turnovers, but Bryant, Blake and Howard (4-5-4, respectively) simply didn’t take care of the ball very well. If this game was a loss, it would have been due to turnovers, especially since the Grizzlies capitalized for 16 points off turnovers.
Jodie Meeks- It’s difficult to stay mad at Jodie Meeks because he gives 100% effort on the court, but he simply was outclassed by the Memphis backcourt tonight. The Grizzlies exploited Meeks regularly tonight, resulting in huge games from Mike Conley (21 points) and Jerryd Bayless (14 points). Meeks also struggled on the offensive end, going 1/5 for two points.
Short Rotation/Minutes- We know D’Antoni is notorious for short rotations, and at this point, it’s hard to fault him for only going seven deep given the playoff situation. Surprisingly, Bryant was able to get five minutes of rest tonight while the Lakers clung to a 13-point lead. However, if Nash doesn’t come back soon and Jamison continues to limp through the remainder of the season, the Lakers might burn out too soon.
This was a big win for a team that really needed it to stay alive and has no margin for error. This kind of game against a playoff team can really build momentum heading into the playoffs, and the Lakers will need this type of energy on Sunday against their younger, more explosive neighbors: the Los Angeles Clippers.