The Lakers have never swept a back-to-back. Even tonight, given every advantage to take the game, they still couldn’t pull it off in the end. Not even when Atlanta was three injured players short of a full roster. Not even when Kobe Bryant scored 20 points in the third quarter to lift the team from the double-digit hole they’d dug at halftime. Not even when they gained a small lead in the fourth quarter. And not even when Kyle Korver, who’d made 23 free throws in a row, had missed one to keep Atlanta’s lead to just two points with about 17 seconds left in the game and the Lakers had possession.
It just wasn’t meant to be, which is a shame because Utah lost tonight and the Lakers could’ve pulled 1 ½ games ahead of them in the standings. But they started out slow and flat, Bryant couldn’t score, Dwight Howard was limited by early foul trouble and in the end they gave up another winnable game, 92-96.
Kobe Bryant (3rd Quarter) – If there’s one thing we can all count on, it’s that a bad shooting stretch for Kobe Bryant doesn’t intimidate him. Yes, sometimes this can actually be a negative, but in tonight’s game, it was pure positivity in the third. Bryant just couldn’t get it going in the first half. He went 0-6 in the first quarter and 1-8 going into halftime. At that point, he had just three points from one field goal and a 1-2 trip from the free throw line. Come the third quarter, however, Bryant wasted no time. With the Lakers down by 12 points, he just went for it. A driving layup, followed by a fadeaway. After Nash got Howard going with back-to-back field goals, Bryant hit back-to-back jumpers. He scored 20 points in that quarter on 8-16 from the field and 4-4 from the free throw line to help take the lead down to just two points going into the final quarter.
Metta World Peace – MWP led the game with his 12 points after the first half, and despite going just 5-12 to get his dozen, he was one of the few Laker bright spots early in the game. He finished with 20 points on 9-19 from the field, eight rebounds, and a pair of assists and steals.
Dwight Howard – Howard only played about 15 minutes in the first half because he’d collected two fouls early in the game. Despite only finishing with 10 points, he still managed to grab 16 rebounds, two steals and a block; and in addition altering shots when he could. The Lakers didn’t go to Howard enough. He attempted just nine shots and converted five. Instead they jacked 29 threes and only hit eight. MWP attempted 19, Bryant 33 and Nash shot 14. Howard should have been a greater focus of the offense. The Lakers might’ve seen a different outcome had they opted for higher percentage attempts.
Turnovers – Only eight turnovers in the game for the Lakers. If only they’d made use of their possessions.
Threeball – 8-29 from behind the arc, 28%. In the fourth quarter, with the Lakers up by four points, MWP, Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake missed consecutive three pointers, and just like that, with the Lakers unable to extend their advantage, Atlanta was able to take back the lead with a couple of made hoops on their end.
Bad Start – The Lakers shot just 35% in the first quarter and allowed the Hawks to shoot 55%. Their defense was, well, they barely played any defense. They also got outrebounded in every quarter but the third. Yes, they were able to over huge deficits against New Orleans and Toronto to win in the end, but it can’t be something they think they can survive every time.
Bad Finish – They had a chance, with a four-point lead in the fourth quarter, to make up for a badly-played first half. Instead they went 6-25 from the field, 3-12 from three. They scored just 18 points in that final quarter.
Kobe Bryant Injury – With 16.9 seconds left, and a chance to tie the game, Bryant rose up from the baseline for a fadeaway jumper, but missed. When he landed, he ran into Dahtay Jones’ foot and hit the ground. He lay there for awhile and then limped to the Laker bench. As Kyle Korver shot free throws, he sat on the sideline arguing with official, Monty McCutcheon. After the game, Bryant’s injury was diagnosed as a sprained ankle and his return is said to be indefinite. This isn’t the first time Bryant has had an incident with Dahtay Jones, who played for the Denver Nuggets in 2009 and tripped Bryant during a game. Intent is not always clear, but there’s a history there that can’t be ignored.
So a loss to Atlanta and an injured Kobe Bryant. Being who he is, he may not be out for long, but the way this season has gone for the Lakers, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise for the team to be hit with another whammy after finally finding some stride. Up next is a challenging one in Indiana. With Bryant out, who will step up and lead this team? That is to be determined.