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Lakers 99, Nets 92: Nothing Comes Easy These Days


I have two pieces of good news for you. First, the Lakers won today. It was a bit of a struggle, and the outcome was in doubt until the final minutes, but the champs juuust managed to avoid core meltdown by quashing the Nets, 99 to 92. Which brings me to my second piece of good news: the Lakers don't have to visit New Jersey again until sometime next season.

No disrespect to the Garden State, which is a lovely place to visit if you're into diner food or seeing tons of cars parked on front lawns alongside broken household appliances, but the Nets just aren't the type of opponent to bring out the Lakers' peak form. Granted, exactly what that peak form looks like at the moment is open to argument. But even in their shorthanded, fatigue- and ennui-ridden state, the purp and yellow should be capable of a better showing than what we saw today.

Perhaps jet lag and the early start time were factors. Or maybe the Lakers were intimidated at the thought of facing their former teammate Jordan Farmar. Possibly the Nets were just unusually jacked up in hopes of avenging their sweep in the 2002 Finals. Whatever the explanayshe, the Lakers played yet another sluggish and sloppy game and fumbled away yet another double-digit lead. Only a huge second half by Kobe Bryant and the Nets' inability to make an outside shot spared L.A. the twin nightmares of losing to one of the NBA's lowliest crews and falling behind the Miami Heat in the league standings.

At the outset, it certainly appeared that the Lakers had whacked the snooze button a few too many times this morning. Their first five possessions resulted in a pair of Kobe turnovers, six missed shots and zero points. They did, however, pull themselves together pretty quickly. Threes by Kobe and Lamar Odom - yep, the Lakers made some threes today! Oh I know, right?? - keyed a run that put the good guys ahead up six at the end of the first quarter. Odom was sprightly and industrious in the period, finishing the first with 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting. And Phil Jackson elicited some good early minutes from the bench. Matt Barnes, Derrick Caracter, Shannon Brown and Steve Blake all entered the game about nine minutes in and held the Nets to four points on their last seven possessions.

In the second, both squads struggled to score. With Kobe resting for more than seven minutes, the Lakers focused on getting the rock inside to Pau Gasol. He scored seven points in the quarter but on only 3-for-7 shooting, and he got his shot swatted twice. Ron Artest as well tossed up a few very, very ugly attempts. Fortunately the New Jersey offense was sputtering even worse. They tried to get their outside game going - not a bad idea, considering the Lakers' recent struggles in their perimeter D - but no one could knock down a look. As a team they jacked up seven threes in the second quarter and made only one. The Nets in the first half scored only 0.91 points per possession. The Lakers led by 10 at the break.

Would that lead hold up? Hahahaha of course not. I mean, I informed you a few paragraphs ago that it didn't, but if you've been paying attention at all lately, you know without my telling you that a Nets comeback was nigh inevitable. Every game, it seems, the Lakers have (at least) one quarter in which the offense falls completely apart, and today it was the third. The starters played most of the period, but the shots just stopped falling. Artest was 0-for-2, Gasol 1-for-4, Derek Fisher 0-for-1, Barnes 0-for-2 and Steve Blake 0-for-1. Only Kobe (5-for-7, 11 points) was a reliable option. The Nets, meanwhile, took advantage of LA's gooey inside D to get their own offense in gear. Behind some aggressive dribble penetration by Devin Harris and good post work by Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries, they cut the Lakers' lead down to two at the end of the period.

Things got mucho dicey for a while in the fourth. Phil started with a lineup of Blake, Brown, Kobe, Barnes and Gasol, but after only a minute he lifted Gasol for Caracter. That opened up the paint again for New Jersey, and the Nets smartly resumed attacking the rim. A pair of Lopez free throws with 7:09 remaining gave the home squad a one-point lead, their first since the middle of the first quarter. Kobe then decided to take over. That hasn't always worked out well for the Lakers this season, but it did today. In their final 16 possessions they scored 22 points, including eight by Kobe and six by each of Pau and Odom. In that stretch the Nets attempted six three-pointers and made only one.

This wasn't exactly a performance to reignite anyone's flagging confidence in the team, but obviously we'll take the W. The Lakers did a nice job of getting to the line and making their freebies. They also made over 40% of their threes for the first time in a few weeks. Kobe was clearly the star with 32 points on 25 shots (including free-throw possession) and six assists. Phil's decision to keep him on the bench for most of the second period seemed to give the Mamba a little extra energy in crunch time. Lamar was also productive with 22 points on 14 shots and seven boards.

Pau's shot was off: he missed 13 of 19 field-goal attempts and two of five from the stripe. He was, however, OK on the glass - not great, but not terrible - and he did pick up five blocks. His counterpart Lopez scored 25 but needed 25 shots to get there.

They key stat is the 20% New Jersey shot from three-point range. Recently the Laker D has been riddled by opponents' threes, and it was encouraging not to see so many shooters left open today. The Lakers were more disciplined in this one about not double-teaming guys when the situation doesn't call for it.

Next on tap is a visit with President Obama, followed by a back-to-back against the Wizards and Pacers starting Tuesday night. Enjoy the rest of your weekend, everyone.











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