Photo by Jed Jacobsohn - Getty Images

With 9.6 seconds left in the game, and his team behind by three points, Kobe Bryant received the ball, weaved his way behind the three-point line, and sent a shot over 7-foot Samuel Dalembert – swish! In the ensuing possession, 4.8 seconds left and the Kings with an opportunity to win the game, Bryant glued himself to Marcus Thornton and just as Thornton rose up for a shot and play the hero, Bryant knocked the ball from behind and his teammates did the rest, wrestling for the ball until the clock finally ran out.

Overtime went the game, and winning went the Lakers for the 57th time this season. For the road team, this win means a first-round meeting with the New Orleans Hornets. For the home squad, it means a long uncertain summer. For what it’s worth, the Sacramento Kings did fight to get back on their feet after falling behind by 20 points. They tried to send their home crowd out with at least one final win, but in overtime, they just couldn’t hang with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, desperate to maintain their #2 seeding.

With Dallas’ win over New Orleans, this was a must-win and, contrary to their offensive performances in the last few games, the ball movement and inside game were clicking tonight…or they actually made the effort to MAKE it click tonight. They shot 57% after the first quarter, and finished with 51% from the field after the first half.

Pau Gasol, standing in at center for Andrew Bynum, had 11 points on 5-10 after two quarters, on his way to 18 points on 8-16 for the game. He grabbed 13 rebounds, handed out six assists (led a pair of fast breaks too!) and played a team high 46:52 minutes.

Stepping into the starting line-up to take Gasol’s usual spot was the usual Lamar Odom, who put in 45:13 minutes, and contributed 22 points on 9-16, collected eight rebounds and passed out a team-high seven assists. 50+% from the field, seven assists and zero turnovers – that is a focused game by Odom; one that must be duplicated time and again in the post-season.

The Lakers had five players in double figures tonight, with reserves, Shannon Brown and Trey Johnson (signed in from the D-League for the post-season for the chicken pox afflicted Steve Blake), contributing a 21-point combined effort, which included a dunk from Brown on a Luke Walton lob, and a couple of leaners from the recently acquired, Johnson. It is times like these, when an unfortunate case of injuries occur, do teams really find out what their bench is made out of. Brown may not have had his best games in the last few months, but at least he hasn’t been completely dejected. As the only Killer B available tonight, he did his injured bench brothers proud.

In the third quarter, the Lakers’ humming offense really took flight. They shot 70% with Bryant scoring 10 of the team’s 32 points with 5-5 from the field. After three quarters, the chances of one last Kings’ win in Sacramento seemed unlikely, with the Lakers hanging on to an 18-point lead before the fourth. Lucky for the fans, however, the defending champions are notorious for losing big leads and tonight was no exception.

It’s a good thing a certain Kobe Bryant was available. In the final minutes of regulation, Bryant scored the Lakers’ final eight points; which, after the team had only scored 11 in the quarter, doesn’t seem impressive. But in addition to those eight points, Bryant played some solid defense that led to the extra five-minute opportunity to win the game.

In the overtime, Bryant put in five points, grabbed four rebounds, and handed out three assists en route to his 36-point, 9 rebound, 6 assist, 1 steal and 1 block night. And helping in the winning effort was Derek Fisher, who put in 11 points on 5-9, 5 rebounds, and three assists.

And that, friends, is the end of the regular season for our Lakers. Their record sits at 57-25, matching their record exactly as last season’s. Now the real season begins.

Erase all the losing streaks the team (and we) suffered through. Forget that 8-0 start to the season, and even that 17-1 record after the All-Star game. Nevermind all the turnovers and missed shots. Sunday is a new beginning for the Lakers, and the playoffs are a different species of beast they must conquer. First to 16 wins gets a shiny new gold trophy in June. The new countdown begins now…

Box Score
Pre-game Thoughts: With tonight’s game a possible last for the city of Sacramento and their beloved Kings, the Lakers can’t expect an easy win. Despite being excluded from the playoffs, the Kings will play their best for their fans and the Lakers need to put in the effort to prevent that from happening. With Dallas beating New Orleans, a win tonight guarantees them the #2 seed.
Half-time Thoughts: 56-48 – It’s been an offensive show in the first half, with the Lakers and Kings getting it done on their own sides but doing very little on the opposite end. The Lakers’ defense did wake up in the second quarter, however, creating a 16-point lead until Tyreke Evans finally found his first field goal in his 6th try, then rattled off a few hoops to cut the lead in half before the break. The Lakers shot 51% with Sacramento not too shabby at 48%. The visitors are also getting outrebounded and the energy sits with the young Kings team. The Lakers need to perk up the energy and finish their last regular season game the right way heading into the playoffs.
Most Thoughtless Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Whoever was on the floor when that 20 point lead disappeared. Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Joe Smith, Shannon Brown and Trey Johnson – what in the world?!
Most Thought-filled Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Kobe Bryant – Perhaps needing a little redemption from game against Utah, where he never got the opportunity to be his clutch self, Bryant saved the Lakers in crunch time tonight through more than just his scoring. Against this team, in this arena, it was all too fitting.