The Lakers ended the year with a big win over the Portland Trail Blazers and are back at .500 on the season. This game was all Lakers from the opening tip and it never looked back as it said goodbye to 2012.
Breathe out ladies and gentlemen. The Los Angeles bounced back with the kind of game that rinsed out the terrible aftertaste left behind after the loss to the Denver Nuggets. The Lakers dominated the Portland Trail Blazers from wire-to-wire. With a dash of Pau Gasol, a sprinkling of Steve Nash, a splash of Kobe Bryant, and a heavy dose of Dwight Howard the purple and gold put on a show that felt like the five game winning streak never ended. This was the kind of game to sit back, kick your feet up, and just relax as it plays out. Final score tonight, 104-87, Lakers victory.
Back to .500.
Steve Nash set the tone early for the Lakers with his incredible passing ability, setting up easy looks for his teammates and pacing the Lakers offense. While there's been plenty of gushing over his off-ball screens and other intricacies in his game, sometimes it's nice just to watch him string passes into the tiniest of windows for his teammates. He makes the right pass, the impossible pass, and the perfect pass. Nash had only 6 points, but his 10 assists were far more valuable than field goal attempts, and perhaps best of all? This was in a dialed back 26 minutes of playing.
After his miserable game in Denver, Dwight Howard threw the cape back on for the Lakers and had a dominant performance. 21 points on 7-13 shooting (7-13 from the line, including nailing four straight free throws after Portland instilled the Hack-a-Dwight strategy. Yeah, that didn't work out), 14 rebounds (6 offensive including one huge putback dunk), 3 blocked shots and great defensive work in the paint throughout the night. Howard was phenomenal; the back-to-back weight looked lifted off of his shoulders and out of his shoes. What a difference a day of rest made.
Kobe Bryant's 30 point scoring streak came to an end, but in exchange for a rare quarter of rest, it was a fair trade-off. Kobe was 9-18 for 27 points on the night, doing the brunt of his damage early in the game as Nash found him multiple times for easy buckets around the rim and even a few open perimeter looks. His defense was solid, he made some great passes himself and ended the night with 4 assists, and he even cashed in on a defensive gamble as opposed to going broke as he so often tends to. A great all-around night from Kobe and the Lakers.
It was another night of all-around Pau Gasol in Los Angeles as he showcased why he's still so vital for this team's success. Playing through his plantar fasciitis (which will surely be overlooked), Gasol had 15 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 blocks. His passes were glorious, his scoring was efficient, and his defense was impressive for a man playing with legs held together by paperclips. He once again brought his game out beyond the three-point line and was 2-2 from outside. In the 3rd quarter he lead the team to glory and did a little dreamshake number that was spectacular. No line more Pau Gasol than 15/9/5. Keep on keepin' on you giant Spaniard.
Honorable mention to Darius Morris who did a great job bottling up Damian Lillard. Lillard, standout rookie who had 23 points and 11 assists against the Lakers on Halloween, was 4-17 on the night with only 4 assists. Not only was his defense a net positive, but Morris was great early in the game in transition and around the rim (gasp). Kobe even caught him with a huge lob in transition. Nights like this show the value of having Darius Morris on the roster, though they've been incredibly limited thus far through the season. Still, being able to hide Nash on individual defense and put Morris out on an athletic point guard won't be a luxury the Lakers always have, but when it's there for the taking it's almost a necessity.
Portland couldn't get anything going offensively and were broken down to giving the ball to LaMarcus Aldridge and waiting to get back on defense, which went well for Aldridge. He had 26 points on 12-17 shooting . Overall, though the Trail Blazers were 36-87 from the field and 3-19 from downtown. With the Lakers roaring like a Lamborghini it was nowhere near enough, and the Lakers tore through the finish line. Final score on this glorious night: 104-87. Most impressive was that the Lakers big four finally had a game where they could rightfully sit on the bench and rest. Nash played 26 minutes, Dwight Howard played 29 minutes, and Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant each played 30 minutes. Full recap in the morning, but a great way to end 2012 for the Lakers.
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