The Los Angeles Lakers seemed to hit a turning point in the season coming into Tuesday’s matchup with the new-look Brooklyn Nets, taking five out of their last six games. During their first ever visit to the breathtaking Barclays Center, the Lakers looked to claw at the Western Conference standings while building on momentum that has been missing most of the season.
Walking through Barclays Center gave you the feeling of being in an exclusive New York nightclub. You never felt a swagger or confidence coming from the Nets organization in previous seasons. With key signings in the off season, new arena, and the move to Brooklyn, this franchise has clearly been revitalized.
As the Lakers were introduced something didn’t seem right in the building. Typically you hear a wave of boo birds when the well travelled Laker fans begin to cheer for their team. Not tonight though, you could tell that the Laker fans presence was deeper than usual. It literally looked like Laker fan sections had been designated in the arena.
Not knowing what to expect with a line up missing Howard and World Peace, the team was able to keep pace, only trailing 18-24 at the end of the first quarter. As the second quarter started, the Lakers bench was able to provide a spark of energy. Earl Clark, Robert Sacre and Jodi Meeks provided some early scoring tying the game up mid way through the second.
Then you heard it…. “DEFENSE, DEFENSE, DEFENSE!” Did the Laker Nation really just begin to take over the Barclays Center? Neither the music or Nets fans could silence the Laker Nation chants. In my countless road game attendances, I have never heard the Lakers so well represented. At the same time it was surprising to see the Brooklyn Net fan base not seem to care. Typically when this happens you hear the home team fans booing immediately, but not tonight.
Toward the end of the quarter Kobe went to the line and the typical “MVP, MVP, MVP!”chants were louder than some of the games I have witnessed at Staples Center. It was really unbelievable how many Laker fans were in the building showing so much energy. This energy helped the Lakers take a 49-40 halftime lead. The offense had a big quarter and the defense/bench was playing at an intensity level has not been shown in a lot of games this season.
As the second half got under way, Kobe came out with two quick baskets igniting more Laker noise in the building. By attacking the paint, the Nets managed their way back into the game, only trailing by three after the third quarter. By the fourth you could see fatigue setting in as the Lakers big men tried to keep Brook Lopez and company off the boards. Between the lack of size and experience playing down low, the Lakers got pounded in the paint all quarter.
Throughout the game, Gerald Wallace looked as if he was in no man’s land guarding Kobe. With 2:45 left in the forth, tied at 80, who else is going to put the team on his back other than the Black Mamba? Kobe drove to the lane and threw down a ferocious dunk adding two more bodies to his graveyard of posterizations. You would have thought it was a Laker home game as the crowd erupted. There were even times you could not take your eyes off the court because you did not know who the “DEFENSE!” chants were aimed for.
Although the Lakers were able to close out the game playing great defense, it was not all good news. In the closing minutes Gasol left the game after getting tied up with Brook Lopez on a rebound. Gasol was able to walk off the court under his own power, but did not return to the game.
After the game the Lakers headed to the team bus one by one, but from their emotions, you could sense something was wrong. The facial expressions weren’t the kind that just won a big game on the road. As Gasol emerged from the locker room, he was on crutches, most likely as a precaution until he could be reevaluated the next day.
As reported yesterday by Laker Nation writer Jason Riley and multiple other sources, the news from the Laker camp was anything but good. Gasol will miss anywhere from 6-10 weeks with a partial tear of his plantar fascia.
With the Lakers big man situation goings from bad to worse, let’s hope Superman is ready to throw on his cape and play through his injuries. Howard did take part in Thursday’s shoot around, however Howard is a game time decision for tonight’s game against the rival Boston Celtics.
Tip off from TD Garden is at 8PM ET on TNT.