There are just 13 games remaining in this forgettable season for the Los Angeles Lakers, who have a disappointing record of just 14 wins and 55 losses. While most franchises would be squarely focused on the future at this point, the Lakers have Kobe Bryant’s fast-approaching retirement to tend to.
The Lakers organization wants to give Bryant the best send-off they can, even if that can’t include winning. Bryant will start against the Memphis Grizzlies in a game that will be televised nationally, giving fans across the country an opportunity to see the Black Mamba in action. While he has been in and out of the lineup recently Bryant still has some basketball left in him, and fans will be hoping to see some flashes of his brilliance before he hangs them up.
Can Kobe and the young Lakers give the Grizzlies a run for their money?
The Lakers began the night with a starting five of D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Kobe Bryant, Julius Randle, and Roy Hibbert. They came out firing, connecting on 4 of their first 5 shots to take an early 9-0 lead. The Grizzlies battled back though, using backdoor cuts to catch defenders sleeping and eventually tie the score at 12 a piece. Former Laker Jordan Farmar checked into the game for Memphis, drawing a cheer from the LA crowd. Surprisingly, veteran defender Tony Allen was the biggest offensive threat for the Grizzlies, using his size advantage to punish the Laker guards inside for 10 points. Bryant struggled with his shot (0-5) and the Lakers committed 6 turnovers, but finished the quarter tied at 25 thanks to 3-5 shooting from deep.
The Lakers struggled as the second quarter started, allowing the Grizzlies to take the lead while their own offense sputtered. Larry Nance Jr. was resting for this game in order to preserve him for the back to back in Phoenix the next night, with Tarik Black inheriting his minutes. Unfortunately Black couldn’t find a rhythm, which was disappointing considering the fact that his opportunities have been few and far between. Fortunately, Marcelo Huertas came into the game and got the offense clicking. He found Russell with a beautiful no-look pass, and then Russell followed that up with a fade away to put the Lakers back in front 39-37. As the starters were gradually being subbed back in the Lakers began to make a run. Roy Hibbert connected on a pair of free throws and Randle scored on a spinning drive to the basket to push the Laker lead to 7. With one minute left in the quarter Russell banged knees with JaMychal Green and fell to the floor in pain. Fortunately he was able to walk it off, and Lakers Nation breathed a sigh of relief. Farmar knocked in a three for Memphis, bringing the score to 48-47 in favor of the Lakers at halftime.
Tony Allen came out for the second half still on fire, hitting a jumper for his 16th point on 8-8 shooting. He followed that up by attacking the basket and getting to the line, which gave Memphis a three-point lead. The Grizzlies offense appeared to be rolling, but a timely three from Kobe allowed the Lakers to tie the game up at 55. Every time it appeared that Memphis was going to pull away Bryant hit a big shot and kept the Lakers close, just like old times. Jordan Clarkson was able to get to the basket using his quickness and then buried a three to give Los Angeles a a 65-63 lead. The Laker offense was all Clarkson and Kobe during the bulk of the 3rd, with both men catching fire from the perimeter. Allen countered for Memphis by posting up the smaller Lou Williams to stay a perfect 11-11 from the field. Clarkson couldn’t be denied though, scoring time and again to push the Lakers to a 79-69 lead with two minutes left in the quarter. Then things started going wrong for the Lakers. Lance Stephenson got to the line to hit two free throws, and Black attempted to roll the inbounds pass onto the court. Stephenson jumped to the ball and hit a layup as Black stepped onto the court and fouled him, cutting the Lakers lead all the way down to three and capping a 7-0 run. The Lakers still had the lead at the end of the 3rd 81-78, but momentum appeared to be with the Grizzlies.
Things got a little tougher for the Lakers as Metta World Peace was ejected for picking up two technicals just one minute into the quarter. Play was sloppy but spirited for both sides as the intensity picked up. Randle got hit in the eye battling on the inside, but he was able to stay on the floor. Jordan Clarkson returned to the game and scored a quick basket and Kobe was fouled on a three to give the Lakers a 92-87 lead but Memphis was determined to stay in it. Randle got a big basket and a foul to give the Lakers a little breathing room with just over four minutes to play in the game. Bryant was subbed out for Huertas, who quickly found Brandon Bass on consecutive possessions for four points. The Lakers continued to get the job done on the offensive end, with Randle converted an up-and-under layup and Bass slamming home a reverse dunk. The Grizzlies made a final push, but Jordan Clarkson came up with a huge steal to secure the win for the Lakers, 107-100.