The Lakers won a game they were supposed to win. After an elating victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday the trap game was upon the purple and gold. With the New Orleans Hornets visiting Staples Center before the Lakers pack their bags for the annual Grammys road trip it was incredibly important for a win to be the outcome tonight. For the majority of the game the Lakers played phenomenal basketball, but as the game came to a close in the final minutes, what was once an 18 point lead became a 1 point differential. Still, despite nearly choking a win they had in the bag, they still wound up doing enough to be victorious. Final score; 111-106.
The Pass Mamba preyed on the Pelicans tonight as he notched in 11 assists and again set the tone to open the game. Is this simply a theme, a coincidence, or a strategy? Whatever it is, it's working, and the Lakers are passing the ball around like it's on fire. Like, literally on fire and burning their hands. 34 assists on 39 field goals is absurd, but isn't that exactly what the Lakers have been all about this season? An absurd season from top to bottom. Kobe Bryant ended the night with 14 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds, and only 12 field goals (5-12 on the night). Another solid all around outing from Kobe who continues to play an entirely different brand of basketball after blowing the doors off of efficient scoring to begin the season. Three straight games of double digit dimes, 39 assists in 3 games, and the continued wonderment of just how long he will play in this manner.
Take notice, though, that the Lakers defense played miserably in the second half. While they "managed" to "hold" the Hornets to 42 1st half points, they gave up 64 2nd half points. How did New Orleans get in their damage? To start, 30 fast break points is a good ice breaker. Yes, as stunning as it may seem, your eyes do not deceive you. The Lakers transition defense flat out stinks. Eric Gordon dominated the Lakers defense from deep (another shocker) as he went 6-8 from beyond the arc and ended the night with 25 points. The Hornets had only 9 turnovers while the Lakers had 15. Plenty of little nuggets show why the Hornets were able to stay in the game, but in the end, they blew a ridiculous amount of open jumpers and a handful of layups, and in the end it amounted to another L on their season.
This Earl Clark fella, though, continues to show promise. His audition with the Lakers is beginning to reach that "ok, this is what it is" stage, and tonight was a gem of a game from him. 21 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 assists while he went 4-5 from deep was about all the stat line you could ask for. The only blemish on his night were his 6 turnovers, but here's a rug for us to sweep them under. It was an impressive night for a player we're still trying to decipher, but he continues to show all the little things we've discussed here in the past. Great cutting, passing ability, dribble penetration, running the break, and the length and foot speed on defense to be an asset. A great night for Earl.
Dwight Howard had 24 points on 9-13 shooting while only pulling down 4 rebounds. However, he also had 5 steals and 4 blocks, and was active defensively all night. Whether or not the cliche "feed me early because I'm a center or else" mentality is a reality is unclear, but the Lakers made it a point to get the ball to Dwight early and often. It doesn't hurt that he's doing a better job of rolling to the rim, running the floor, and sealing his man in deep position instead of trying to use his dazzling array of post moves and footwork to score points.
The remainder of the Lakers did enough to accumulate the points necessary to win in a nearly choked game. Pau Gasol continues to be effective off the bench and had 7 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists (what, you forgot Pau could pass?!). Antawn Jamison had 16 points off the bench along with 7 rebounds of his own. Steve Nash scored 12 points on 4-5 shooting (3-4 from deep) along with 5 assists. Most importantly he hit a heimlich manuever of a three with the Lakers choking on a chicken bone in the final moments of the game to seal a victory that should have never been in question.
Add it all up and the Lakers find their third straight win and will head off to Phoenix to play the Suns tomorrow. Their 7 game road trip begins in Phoenix and ends in Miami. Dig deep Lakers, the time is now. More in the morning.
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- The Pelicans Pelicouldn't. Ok, that sucked. Go check out At The Hive before they change up their blog for their rebranding.