On Tuesday night, the Lakers would host the lowly Hornets still without point guard Steve Nash as they try to regain a foothold in the brutal climb we call the Western Conference Playoff Race. The Lakers entered the game with a 40-37 record but trailed the Utah Jazz by half a game. The Jazz also have the tiebreaker for the playoff’s final spot, making this a must-win for L.A. The Lakers also received some shocking and surprising good news, as it was announced that Metta World Peace, who had knee surgery just 12 days ago, would already come off the bench and make his return tonight. World Peace was expected to miss 6-8 weeks, but his early return could provide the boost the Lakers need.
The Lakers started with Steve Blake, Kobe Bryant, Earl Clark, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard. The Lakers carried an air of intensity from the opening tip, when Earl Clark made a beautiful pass to Dwight for the dunk, but the Hornets quickly responded with six straight points. A few minutes into the game, both teams had settled in nicely offensively as Kobe set up both Steve Blake and Pau Gasol on consecutive possessions. With 8:57 remaining in the first quarter, Metta World Peace entered the game for Earl Clark much to the approval of the crowd.
World Peace’s entry did not provide the injection of energy it has in the past, however, as both teams traded baskets and turnovers. While Kobe began the game setting up others with ease, he soon had difficulty finding his own shot. As the Hornets killed the Lakers with offensive rebounds, L.A. stayed close as Kobe scored his first points on a putback dunk with six minutes left. Number one pick Anthony Davis, however, was showcasing his game with several nice shots but an offensive surge from Dwight Howard allowed L.A. to regain the lead as World Peace promptly drained his first three-pointer of the game.
As the quarter came to a close, the Lakers fell behind early but kept it close and with an offensive surge took the lead 27-22.
With the second game of a back to back on the road tomorrow, the Lakers aimed for a win that would get the starters some rest. In order for this to happen, good bench play would be imperative as the Lakers looked to start fast in the second quarter. The two teams began the quarter going back and forth, trading turnovers and baskets before the Laker defense broke down and allowed the Hornets pulled within one. With Kobe getting a rare rest, the Lakers as a group would need to pull themselves together and rally to preserve this game.
As Kobe rested, Dwight returned and began to dominate offensively. As the Lakers ran the offense through their two seven footers, nearly every bucket was scored or assisted by either Dwight, Pau, or Jodie Meeks. The Hornets, though, stayed in the game with a scrappy and balanced effort. The Lakers took their largest lead of the game at eight with six minutes to go, as Dwight dominated on defense and Meeks stayed hot on the other end. The lead was immediately extended to double digits with a beautiful hook shot from the other big man in Gasol.
By the time Kobe returned with six minutes to go after his longest rest in the past week in seven minutes. Bryant, however, had been a nonfactor as the Hornets stayed close after an offensive drought from the Lakers.
As the half came to a close, the Lakers suffered a massive offensive drought and trailed 50-45.
The quarter did not get off to an ideal start, as Kobe bricked yet another shot before Earl Clark picked up his fourth foul as Eric Gordon was tearing up the Lakers. The first bucket of the quarter for L.A. came as a relief to many as Steve Blake cut the Hornet lead to four before the New Orleans quickly responded. As Pau continued to play well offensively with two straight buckets, it came down to defensive stops for the Lakers. L.A. tied the game immediately as Pau Gasol had single-handedly tied the game for the Lakers. As both the crowd and the Lakers regained energy, the purple and gold regained the lead on a free throw from World Peace.
Metta brought an influx of energy for the Lakers as Pau continued to dominate on offense while the Laker defense was holding them back. The Laker lead was stretched to three after Pau gave Dwight a beautiful alley oop as the lead swung back and forth. Key plays from Steve Blake were answered by Greivis Vasquez as the Lakers continued struggle in building momentum. The two teams had remained in a deadlock since the start of the third quarter and neither seemed capable of building separation.
After three quarters, the Lakers and the Hornets were tied at 70, as L.A. was once again in a dogfight to keep its playoff hopes alive.
The Lakers were tied heading into the final period of a must win game and all eyes were on Kobe, who has carried the team in similar situations this season. With the season on the line. Kobe, revitalized by his team’s need for offense, swished a jumper on the first play of the quarter. The Lakers then responded with great defense before Kobe nailed a pull up three pointer. After another miss from the Hornets, Kobe made another jumper and doubled his point total through three quarter with seven in a minute. The Hornets, though, would not go away and had the deficit down to three.
Still early in the quarter, the Lakers clung to their slim lead as the two teams answered each other’s every basket. As the Kobe quickly attracted double teams, the Lakers came up empty on several possessions and allowed New Orleans to tie the game. As Kobe began to falter again on offense, the Laker defense was cut wide open by Eric Gordon as the Hornets regained the lead. A tough shot from Kobe tied the game as the Lakers desperately needed some stops on defense. Coming off of a miss from Ryan Anderson, Kobe drained another tough shot as the Lakers were on top of a see-saw game. The Hornets, of course, promptly responded as neither team could maintain a lead.
A key thee point play and a layup from Antawn Jamison gave the Lakers their first two possession lead with under five minutes to go as the Lakers surprisingly came up with several key stops as well. Another clutch three point play by Kobe put the Lakers up by eight with just under three minutes to go, making it L.A.’s game to lose. Crucial team defense late in the game followed by clutch free throws iced the game for the Lakers, who won and kept their playoff hopes alive, 104-96.