The five game skid is no more.
The Lakers brought home a 102-93 win and with it took one step closer to locking up the #2 seed in the playoffs. The Spurs were intentionally short handed with Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili all in street clothes but they proved a game opponent, hustling all over the court and hitting timely three pointers to stay in the game. The Lakers just had a bit too much down the stretch and were able to pull out the win, however. And while it wasn’t pretty, it was enough for this night.
What’s of bigger concern than any result in this game though, is the health of Andrew Bynum. A day that started with news about Steve Blake’s chicken pox diagnosis and Matt Barnes’ still troubled knee turned into a night of absolute worry about LA’s starting Center’s health. In the 2nd quarter Bynum was running back on defense, stepped on DeJuan Blair’s foot, slipped and hyperextended his knee. He instantly grabbed his knee and sat with his head buried in his massive arms and all of us Laker faithful held our collective breath. Bynum ultimately got up and left the floor under his own power but did not return to the game. After reports came out that he’d get an MRI tomorrow and would not travel or play in the Sacramento game, we all sat on pins and needles with championship hopes quickly turning into doubts for many.
After the game however, things may be looking up. Phil Jackson revealed that Bynum says he’s feeling better and that while the pain was severe at first, it has mostly subsided. Bynum states that he’ll be ready for the playoffs, though Phil was still cautious in stating that there could be a bone bruise and that missing a couple of games is still possible. Either way, it’s great news that he’s optimistic and that he left the arena walking without a limp.
As for the action on the court, it was a mostly frustrating viewing experience. The Lakers weren’t engaged in the action for long stretches and when they finally did start to pay attention to detail and truly try to put the Spurs away, the ability to do so wasn’t easily summoned. The Lakers looked to be running in sand and the Spurs played free and loose, making shots to stay within striking distance. As the game wore on, the Lakers were visibly frustrated with Kobe earning a technical foul after committing an offensive foul and the rest of his mates sported looks of stress for most of the night. It wasn’t until a late push in the latter part of the 4th quarter that the team seemed to breath a sigh of relief, and that was only after some of their jumpers started to fall and the Spurs went cold.
But, the Lakers did work through their malaise and for that I do give them credit. Lamar Odom had a big second half, scoring 21 of his 23 points in the final 24 minutes. He had a 12 big points in the final frame and used aggressive drives to the rim to earn a couple of “and 1″ lay ins that were key baskets down the stretch. I also must give Gasol is due for his strong night. Early on he didn’t get many touches but he found ways to make an impact even without the ball. When he finally did get entry passes, he didn’t waste the possessions making 7 of his 12 field goals for 17 points while also pulling down 17 rebounds in Bynum’s absence. As for Kobe, it wasn’t his most efficient shooting night (8-21 from the field, 2-6 from three point land) but he did make all 9 of his FT’s and scored a game high 27 points while grabbing 6 boards and handing out 4 assists. All thee of these guys came up big down the stretch in various ways and clinched the win in a game the team really needed.
And in the end – with Bynum’s MRI still sitting in the back of my mind – this is what matters tonight. The Lakers needed to get a W and they did. The Spurs didn’t play their best guys but they still fought hard and made this a game that really could have gone either way down the stretch. The Lakers then tightened up their D, got aggressive going to the basket, and took a game they really need to win. Hopefully by this time tomorrow, I’ll be able to say the same thing about the Kings game and have some positive MRI results to go along with it.