This wasn’t a pretty game. Far from it, actually. But the Lakers battled, kept the game close, and made the plays down the stretch to beat the Blazers 84-80. The win clinched the Pacific Division and served as a reminder that the guys with the old legs still have some left in the tank.
And really, that was the big take away from this game – the Lakers, for all their poor shooting and all the possessions that they came up empty, just kept fighting. They played through contact, kept their composure (for the most part), and found a way to keep the game close so their veteran players could make the plays – plays that they’ve made so many times before – on this night too.
Yes, they missed Andrew Bynum. On too many possessions the Lakers bigs ended up having to scramble to help on both drives and in showing strong side zone looks to deter post entries. This tactic left Blazer shooters open on the weak side and when circling to the top of the key on ball rotations. Nic Batum made this defense pay to the tune of 25 points on 10 of 16 shooting, including 4-9 from three point range. And when Batum wasn’t doing his damage from the outside, LaMarcus Aldridge was shooting that feathery jumper of his before the D could get to him to get his Blazers the points they needed to keep the Lakers at arm’s length.
But the Lakers just kept grinding.
Lamar Odom was great in Bynum’s stead, making 8 of his 11 shots and grabbing 11 rebounds. Better yet, though, was his work as a facilitator in the offense where he tallied 6 assists by moving the ball on to an open teammate both in open court situations (a soccer style outlet pass to Shannon Brown was as pretty a deep pass I’ve seen) and in the half court. Odom brought the ball up and was great in helping to organize the Lakers’ sets so that when they needed a good look they could at least put forth a decent effort to get one.
Pau joined LO in playing a solid game, if not his most efficient one. Gasol needed 15 shots to score his 14 points, but did add 13 rebounds (including 5 offensive) with 3 assists and 2 blocks to provide a strong anchor in the post without Bynum as a partner in the paint. Most important though, was the fact that Gasol only picked up 2 fouls the entire night and that meant that he could essentially match up with Aldridge all night and make his life a bit more difficult than it was the last time that these teams matched up. Aldridge did get some good shots to fall, but Pau did a good job of sitting on his right hand (only a few times allowing LMA to get to the middle from the left block) and making him shoot contested jumpers. It’s a testament to LaMarcus that he was able to hit as many as he did considering Pau’s length and the timing he showed in contesting those looks.
But really, this game was about the closing minutes and how the Lakers’ two longtime clutch performers came up big again. In the final 4:18 of the game, Fisher and Kobe combined for 12 points (and Kobe assisted on the Lakers only other basket in this stretch) to carry the team home. If we hadn’t seen this so many times before, I’d say that I was surprised but really it was just a reminder of what they’re capable of.
A Kobe jumper was followed by his bullet assist to Pau for an easy basket at the rim. On the next Blazer possession, Kobe knocked the ball away from Andre Miller, Fish picked up the loose ball and threw ahead to a streaking #24 for the dunk that tied the game. After a Portland timeout, Derek Fisher got a steal of his own took the ball coast to coast and after taking a big stride scooped up a lay in that gave the Lakers the lead that they’d not give up. Their last two buckets sealed the game as Kobe shot a fading baseline jumper after beating his man off the dribble to his right hand (only a shot that we’ve seen hundreds of times before) and Fish capped it all off with a step in twenty footer at the top of the key after the play broke down. Vintage stuff from both.
In the end, I can’t say I enjoyed this game from an aesthetic stand point but I definitely reveled in the grit, determination, and poise that the Lakers showed to come up with the win. With Bynum out and the game not really going their way for most of the contest, this team could have chalked up a loss to poor circumstances and moved on to the awaiting Suns on Tuesday. Instead they fought hard and made the big plays that championship teams make when their backs are against the wall. They turned a 4 point deficit with 4 minutes left into a 4 point win by riding 5 straight makes from Kobe/Fisher while forcing the Blazers’ into missed shots and turnovers to take seize the contest. Again, it wasn’t pretty but damn was it a sight to see. After Kobe hit his baseline jumper, high fived a fan, and screamed at the top of his lungs as he ran back up the court you could see how much this game meant to him and the rest of the guys. This team is rounding into playoff form. And that, even more than the win, is what I’m excited about.
Matt R. says
Heckuva game, and I liked that the Lakers were able to limit Aldridge’s efficiency and effectiveness.
One gripe (and something everyone might have worried about going into the game) is that we gave up WAY too many offensive rebounds, but good on the Lakers to grind out one of those ugly, football-style wins like we did in the Finals last year.
The last two games have been ugly, but they are exactly the types of games the Lakers were losing in the first 50+ of the year. Now they are winning them. Just like they won the single ugliest game of last season: game 7 against the Celtics.
The nice thing is that if they keep this up they will have a legit chance of keeping home court against any team (east or west) other than the Spurs. They are only a 1/2 game behind the Celts and Bulls right now (a full game in the loss column). To me, that’s the real race.
I’d have to agree with you Darius that this wasn’t the prettiest of games, but what got me all excited was seeing the Lakers starting to grind it out, Ron and Matt starting to bare their fangs on defense, with Ron taking over as enforcer without Drew (the T late in the game) when they were being pushed, bumped and slapped around (without getting calls), LO being the consistent threat, Fish waking up in time for the playoffs, and Kobe’s late game heroics that have spoiled us Laker fans for more than a decade.
I must say that the team is rounding into championship form in time for the playoffs. The rotations are set, everyone knows their roles, the defensive schemes are set, and for the first time all season, the dogs have been let loose! mentally, the Lakers are “engaged”, and the biggest testament to that was the reaction of Mamba after he hit that tough fadeaway over Roy. Some bottled up emotions (mostly frustrations from his injures and the non calls for the night). He was downright scary (good sign) especially during the slow mo replay!
Truly a sign of good things for our beloved Lakers!
As much as it was a reminder than something we haven’t seen before, at their respective ages every reminder is almost as shocking as if we’ve never seen it done before.
All in all, I am glad we didn’t have to pull a “they never beat our starting five when they’re healthy” liner, but I am sorta worried as to what this will do to Lamar’s 6th man chances, as it was another start for him.
He’s already fairly 50:50 in terms of games started and games off the bench… something that could derail his 6th man chances. Seeing him miss the all-star selection, I would hate him to miss 6th man of the year too.
Lamar is safe, it’s close but all he has to do is start less than half, which he has (he’s at 30 after 70 games). He deserves it not just because of the All-Star game (which he was not as snubbed as LMA), but at 31, I doubt he will get another opportunity as great as this year (at home, playing great, coming of the World Games and back to back NBA Championships). He deserves it because he is the best overall 6th Man in the League. Based upon everything he contributes, he is our x-factor. Without him, we would not be where we are.
All in all a great gut check game by the Lakers. These are the ugly games you have to win in order to win in the playoffs. Hats of men!!!
Reign on Parades says
“Instead they fought hard and made the big plays that championship teams make when their backs are against the wall.”
I gotta admit I love sports cliches and I’m glad it only took until Game 70 of year 1 to drop some of the flowery stuff and start banging out these phrases. It just gets me psyched up, primal. Wish it was more like the NFL:
“NOT IN OUR HOUSE!”
“NOBODY BELIEVED IN US, NOBODY BUT THE GUYS IN THIS HERE LOCKER ROOM”
Instead of you know
“Both teams played hard”
When all the lakers fans were booing about a no-call the blazers anouncer said “lakers fans are not as educated as blazers fans” hahaha like their fans would never boo an iffy call
Yeah I was sitting in a bar in downtown Portland where I was playing a gig later in the evening and watching the game. Right next to me, a table of 3 blazer fans. Right behind me, a random Laker fan looking exactly like everything Laker haters hate about Laker fans…a Kobe jersey tied around his neck, a hat tilted sideways…polo shirt and baggy chinos…
Best moment of the night was when Kobe hit that shot over Roy, the Blazer fans were crestfallen, I was laughing and that guy behind me yelled “YOU CAN’T STOP HIM. YOU CAN’T STOP HIM”.
Mike Penberthy says
That second best overall record is in sight. But i want to talk about the team the Lakers just beat. Interesting that nobody calls these Blazers the team of the future anymore. They are the same team they’ve always been – a bunch of good above average players, but not a single great player. These kinds of teams don’t win championships. In fact there’s pretty much has only been ONE team that has won a ‘ship with no future hall of famers on its roster – 2004 Pistons. In 60 plus years only one team. I don’t know about you, but knowing how the Blazers and their fans hate the Lakers, the fact that they won’t be winning anything anytime soon fills my heart with all kinds of joy.
This referee disrespect against No 24 has been irating and mind boggling.
Craig W. says
Referees are no different that other humans. The get used to certain situations and levels of play and they make calls accordingly. Kobe has been doing what he is doing for so long that they just assume it is going in and, unless the arc of the ball is suddenly off, he didn’t get fouled. Kobe gets frustrated, but at least he knows just how many technicals he does have. Pick up the 16th on the 82nd game, but not until then.
Matt R. says
(hey look, there’s another Matt R. up there)
This was a game that I only saw in fits and starts because I bartend on Sundays so I would glance up and see the Lakers up by 6 or 8 (early) and then looked up at the end of the first half to see them down.
I don’t know if I made any drinks properly during those last 4 minutes. I was either straining to see the game through the mirror across the room or turning my head over my shoulder to see what was going on.
Great job as always Darius! This is probably the best Pro Sports team blog there is.
2nd best record in the league looks like the big prize left out there. It’s very possible that the Lakes could tie Celts, Bulls or both teams. What are the tiebreak scenarios vs. Celts and vs. Bulls and how do we stand right now if there were a tie? (Obviously head to head is one, but they are tied with Celts on that one)
Three interesting stats from last night, one expected, one not so much, and one rather surprising
Points in Paint–LA wins 54-36–not a big shock, but good job in Drew’s absence
Points off of Turnovers–LA wins 21-11–even though the teams were about even in TO’s committed–good job on that front, and a bit surprised
Fastbreak points –LA wins (?!) 19-6–more easy baskets in transition for the Lakeshow for once…..what a welcome surprise….
9, I think you’re forgetting that Roy was really close to a superstar-level before his injuries really slowed him down.
But they were still depending on almost all their players trending upward, like Fernandez, Bayless, Batum, and most of all, Oden. Batum has improved, but Fernandez has been spotty, Bayless is on another team, and we all know what happened to Oden.
They’ve been decimated by injuries, but if they had a completely healthy Roy, Oden, and Aldridge, that’s a 1-2-3 that you can win a championship with. Plus, they would’ve surrounded those guys with Andre Miller, Batum, Wes Matthews, Fernandez, and Gerald Wallace. That’s a championship contender when healthy, and definitely a deeper squad than this Laker team.
But the problem is, they’ll never be healthy, with Roy’s knees having no cartilage and Oden being Oden.
13, after overall record and head-to-head record, the next tiebreaker is conference record. Boston is 32-9, Chicago is 30-12, LA is 29-11.
11 of 14 of Boston’s remaining games are against East teams, big ones being 2 vs NYK, @MIA, @CHI.
10 of 14 of Chicago’s remaining games are against East teams, big ones being BOS, @ORL, @NYK.
All 12 of LA’s remaining games are against West teams, with all except 3 being against playoff contending teams.
However, I would not count Miami out, as they are 48-22, 2 games behind the Lakers at 50-20, but have a cakewalk of a schedule. Their only tough game will come against Boston on Apr 10, and that’s even at home. It would not be surprising to see Miami run the table and win all their remaining games to finish 1st in the East with a better record than us.
T. Rogers says
13- I’m pretty sure the first tie breaker is record vs each teams own conference (Ex: Lakers vs Western Conference, Chicago vs Eastern Conference). The next tie breaker after that is record vs each teams own division.
The Dude Abides says
16, 17. But that doesn’t make any sense. A more logical tiebreaker after head-to-head record would be record against the opposite conference. I realize that “logical” might not be true, though.
18, the tiebreaks are designed to break ties in playoff seeding first. It just so happens that the same criteria is used for HCA in each successive series (including the Finals). When you look at it that way, it makes more sense.
thanks zephid and others for the playoff HCA scenarios. the western conference has beaten up on the eastern conference this year, thus its a tougher conference but that will work against the Lakers it seems. better have a better record overall.