No matter their opponent’s record, regardless of whether the opposing team is a playoff contender or league bottom-feeder – no victory has come easily for the Lakers this season. With just a handful of games left and their post-season eligibility still hanging in the balance, however, ease cannot and will not be part of the agenda.
After battling back from being 25 points down in their last win against the Hornets, the Lakers needed to put New Orleans away early in preparation for the second game of their last back-to-back up in the Rose Garden tomorrow. New Orleans would not go down without fight, but the Lakers fought back enough to get the win, 104-96.
Pau Gasol – He’s been playing like the Pau of old, and the Lakers wouldn’t have won the number of games they have in the last few weeks without him. Asked after the game what he could contribute to the team’s wins, he replied simply, “Decisiveness.” It has been Gasol’s decision to be a more aggressive scorer that has made all the difference in the last few weeks. He has been a more aggressive defender and, as usual, aggressive on playmaking. Tonight he contributed a double-double to the win, with 22 points on 9-15 from the field, 11 rebounds, four assists, a steal and three blocks.
Mr. Fourth Quarter – Through three quarters, Kobe Bryant had just seven points on a not so impressive 2-7 from the field. He did have five assists, but other than that hadn’t done much else. Enter the fourth quarter where Bryant scored 23 of the Lakers’ 34-points. A three pointer here, a fadeaway there, and in one sequence, stole the ball from Eric Gordon, ran to the hoop for a layup and was fouled in the process, getting the opportunity to complete a three-point play, which he succeeded in doing.
Antawn Jamison – Sore wrist and all, Jamison is here to win and the team is lucky for it. He finished with 13 points and eight rebounds.
Steve Blake – Seven points on 3-7 isn’t much, but the five rebounds, six assists, and scrappy defense sure helped a great deal. Blake was all over Eric Gordon and Greivas Vazquez.
Metta World Peace – His return date was projected for six weeks since the surgery, but after just 12 days, MWP came off the bench in the first quarter and almost immediately scored from downtown.
Defense – The Lakers’ defensive efforts are like a yo-yo – constantly going up and down. Tonight they managed to reach a 10-point lead in the second quarter, only to lose it before halftime. Eric Gordon singlehandedly kept the Hornets in the game with his 13-point quarter, and the Lakers’ greater attention to the point guard paid off in the second half, where Gordon scored just seven points. In the final quarter, Bryant rattled off seven straight points to give the Lakers another lead, but it wasn’t long before New Orleans was right back in it, going on a scoring run of their own. This team has issues sustaining their defensive efforts. They come in spurts, and remain in spurts.
With Utah losing to Oklahoma City tonight, the Lakers have taken over the eighth seed again, needing to win one more game than the Jazz at the end of the regular season to keep their playoff hopes alive. Next up are the Portland Trailblazers in the dreaded Rose Garden. There is no question as to how important every upcoming game is for the Lakers. Their margin for error is…well, they have no margin for error. If they want to keep their playoff plans alive, they just need to keep winning. It’s as simple as that.