When the season began, no one would’ve guessed that a team with Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol would take 45 games to finally get their 20th victory, but they finally did tonight against the New Orleans (soon-to-be Pelicans but for the time being) Hornets, 111-106. After two well-earned wins against the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder, tonight’s contest was considered nothing less than a trap game; an opportunity for the Lakers to back-track after having seemingly turned a corner this weekend.
At 15-30, the Hornets are far from being a playoff team, but this season’s short history has shown that Laker losses come at the feet of both championship-caliber teams and bottom-dwellers alike. They could have folded after losing either of two 18-point leads (one towards the end of the game). Kobe Bryant could have decided to abandon the entire plan and try to shoot them out of a scoring drought when the lead fell to a single point. The Lakers had chances to revert back to their old ways in this game, and they didn’t. They moved the ball with purpose, crashed the boards, played some decent defense in stretches and worked together.
Move it or Shoot It – 34 assists on 39 made field goals. Led by Kobe Bryant’s 11(!) dimes, every player who got some floor time, save for Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks, handed out an assist. It was sharing the ball at its very best for this team this season. Is it strange to see Bryant with six points and Pau Gasol with just a single point after the first half? Yes. But Bryant with five assists and Gasol with six by half-time? That’s leadership you just can’t question. Bryant finished with a double-double, 14 points, eight rebounds and 11 dimes.
Earl Clark – 20 points on 8-11 from the field, including 4-5 from downtown, 12 rebounds and four assists! As terrible as the injury to Jordan Hill is, it opened a door for Clark and he has taken full advantage of it, much to the pleasure of his teammates who rose from the bench almost every time he scored. His six turnovers aside, Clark contributed immensely in this win.
Dwight Howard – 24 points on 9-13 from the field, four rebounds, a pair of assists, five steals, four blocks and some great defense. Howard was all over tonight, including the free throw line where he hit 6-11.
Bench – The Laker reserves outscored the Hornets’ bench 38-32. Steve Blake was back on the active list after missing the majority of the season so far. He played just over 13 minutes but scored a pair, handed out four assists and played some scrappy defense. Gasol’s line reads like a slot machine jackpot – 7 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and a game-high +21. The bulk of the bench scoring came from the reserve dynamic duo of Jamison and Meeks. Antawn Jamison scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds, while Jodie Meeks chipped in 13 points. Bench Mob 2.0?
Balance – For the second game in a row, six players scored in double figures.
First-Half Defense – The Lakers kept the Hornets to just 42 points on 35%, kept them out of the paint, where they only scored 14 points and kept them from getting too many second chances (just two second chance points).
Second-Half Defense – Unfortunately, the second half was not a carbon copy, defensively, of the first two quarters. The Lakers allowed New Orleans a 64-point, 50% shooting half. For the game, they broke even in the paint 46-points apiece, but were killed in fast-break points 30-9. With just under six minutes left in the game, and the Lakers up 98-80, they were outscored by the Hornets 26-13. The visitors closed in to a 102-101 distance with still two minutes left, but a Steve Nash three, Jamison finger roll and two Bryant free throws sealed the win. The Lakers could have and should have ended this game on that 18-point advantage, but their defense faltered in the end and they had to scramble to keep the lead.
Free throws – 21-33 from the free throw line. Even Nash, Meeks and Gasol, who are historically good free throw shooters, missed from the charity stripe tonight.
Metta World Peace – It wasn’t a great night for MWP, just three points on 1-8, and he didn’t check in at all in the final quarter. Mike D’Antoni decided to go with Jamison in the end, who had been shooting well and was playing just enough defense to stay in the game.
It’s good to get a win before the 7-game long Grammy Trip. The Lakers haven’t played well on the road, but they can use this momentum to make up some lost ground. It all depends, however, on how well they can stick to this current plan of attack. It’s not a complicated strategy: play defense, move the ball, stay engaged for 48 minutes. If they can do that, they’ll come home at .500, perhaps even better. Here’s hoping.