The Los Angeles Lakers were coming off a tough loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in a game in which they held a double digit lead in the first quarter. The Lakers lost another game at home, something that has been quite rare this season. The team did not play well in the second half and lost an opportunity to close the gap in the standings.
Luckily for the Lakers, they played one of the worst teams in the NBA on Saturday. The Hornets came into town and it would have required something special for them to beat the Lakers.
The Los Angeles Lakers were energetic and had a little pep in their step to open the game. Kobe Bryant was getting his hands all over the ball and was looking to find his teammates early on. The ball was moving well, and despite the early tip, the Lakers did not seem to be fazed. Bryant and Pau Gasol were on the same page and those two connected for a couple of easy buckets. With 9:23 left to play in the quarter, the Lakers held a 7-6 lead.
The Lakers began to separate themselves as the quarter progressed, and their length inside really started to show its affects. The Hornets could not do anything against the two seven-footers, and the Lakers quickly took control of the game. Gasol and Bynum contributed with nine points for the team and Kobe had racked up three assists at the 6:40 mark of the quarter. At that point, the Lakers were up 15-6.
Los Angeles’ play in the first quarter was impeccable and everyone was hitting their shots. Bryant was sharing the ball extremely well and that style of play spread to the rest of the team. The shots were falling for everyone and on top of that, the team was shutting down Hornets on the other end. At the 3:44 mark of the opening period, the Lakers were up 20-8.
However, the Hornets made a push towards the end of the quarter and made a small dent in the Lakers’ lead. The shots that were falling before were not going through and the Lakers the not score a single point in the final three minutes. Kobe Bryant missed all of his five field goal attempts and as a result, New Orleans finished 12 minutes by trailing by six, 20-14.
The Lakers’ second unit was on the floor to open the quarter, and this time Pau Gasol was the anchor of the offense. The Hornets outplayed Los Angeles towards the end of the period, but the Lakers had their turn in the second quarter. The defense finally returned to its previous stage and that helped the Lakers get some easy buckets on the other end. Still, whenever the Lakers looked like they would open another large lead, the Hornets came back with a bucket. With 9:15 left in the half, the Lakers held a mere 20-15 lead.
Surprisingly, the Lakers relied on Steve Blake to regain the momentum and his two consecutive threes were much needed. The Hornets were making a push for the lead, but the players went back to what got them ahead. After Blake’s great perimeter shooting, the Lakers fed the ball to Pau Gasol who led the team to a double-digit lead. At the 6:30 mark of the quarter, the Lakers had a 37-28 lead following a third three point shot by Steve Blake.
Once Kobe re-entered the game, the ball movement improved and his ability to pass the ball was great. He was playing unselfish basketball and was finding his teammates for open shots near the basket. Although he was not hitting his shot (0-7), the Lakers were playing well and the others players were feeling it from the field. With 3:06 left in the half, the Lakers held a 41-32 lead.
Still, the Lakers could not hold on to the big lead and the Hornets went into the locker-room down by only four, 43-39.
The Lakers opened the third quarter by exchanging baskets with the Hornets and in that time Kobe remained scoreless. Bryant missed his first two shots in the period and the Hornets were taking advantage of his horrid shooting. The Lakers maintained a four point cushion and were up 47-43 at the 9:00 mark of the third.
The Hornets eventually took the lead and the Lakers were completely lost. Bryant was not hitting his shots and the only Laker who was connecting on jumpers was Gasol. The Spaniard scored 20 points for the Lakers and he delivered with shots whenever the team needed buckets. To make matters worse, the Lakers were not taking care of the basketball and the Hornets were capitalizing on every mistake. Bryant continued to miss from the field and it was just not his night. At the 5:51 mark, the Lakers had a 52-51 lead.
The Lakers were not playing with any energy and the Hornets were in complete control of the game. Los Angeles’ offense was very stagnant and nothing was going right for them. Gasol was the only starter with more than ten points and Kobe Bryant remained scoreless and shot 0-12 from the field. Everything was clicking for New Orleans and it was up 58-56 with 3:35 left in the quarter.
The Hornets maintained their lead and headed into the fourth quarter ahead by six 67-61. Kobe was 0-15 from the field and the Lakers needed something out of him if they wanted to win.
Kobe began the quarter on the bench and the Lakers continued their horrible play. The Hornets opened up a ten point lead and they were dominating the Lakers on both ends of the court. New Orleans was connecting on its outside shots and it was forcing Los Angeles to take tough perimeter jumpers. The Hornets had an answer for every Lakers bucket and with 7:52 left to play in the game, the Lakers were down by ten, 75-65.
Kobe Bryant finally scored his first bucket and it came at the 7:33 mark of the period. Once Kobe scored the crowd came to its feet and it put some energy into the Lakers. Bryant followed his basket with a three-point play and he started to build some confidence.
After Bryant got it going on the offensive end, the Lakers stepped up their game and the rest of the team started to gain some momentum. Los Angeles was forcing some turnovers and were beginning to play like it was in the first quarter. At the 5:29 point of the period, the Lakers were down by five, 77-72.
In the final five minutes of the game, the Lakers were making their shots and Kobe Bryant was starting to find something on offense. He was hitting his shots and that no doubt sparked the Lakers on both ends of the court. Andrew Bynum was also more dominate inside the paint and he was a go-to-guy for the Lakers.
The Lakers faced a deficit in the final minute of the game, but when the team needed a bucket their closer came up big. Kobe Bryant started the game off 0-15 and he could not buy anything from the field. Still, when the Lakers were down by two, Kobe nailed a three and gave the Lakers the lead.
After a miss by Jared Jack, the Lakers walked off with a 88-85 win and somehow avoided embarrassment. Kobe had one of his worst shooting performances in his career, but he came up clutch when the game was on the line.
The Lakers will be back in action on Sunday when it hosts the Golden State Warriors at 6:30 p.m. PST.