Apr 11, 2013, 4:15 AM EST
The criticism for this Lakers team, which has struggled mightily in consecutive nights against teams that have long since been out of the playoff picture, is both real and well-justified.
But regardless of the poor starts, even worse team defense, and a propensity to play down to their level of competition, the reality is that L.A. is being dragged to victory by one of the league’s best players, and that’s been pretty exciting to watch.
Kobe Bryant followed up his 23 point fourth quarter on Tuesday with a 47 point effort in Portland, which was enough to lead his team to a 113-106 victory that pushed the Lakers a full game ahead of the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference standings.
Portland has historically been a tough place for the Lakers to play, as evidenced by L.A.’s 4-17 record there since 2002 heading into this one. But with the Blazers starting four rookies alongside LaMarcus Aldridge, and with the Lakers desperately needing this game to stay in the hunt to make the postseason, the Lakers appeared to have the advantage.
It didn’t start out that way. Whether due to playing on the second night of a back-to-back or simply due to the energy brought by Portland’s young starters, the Blazers jumped on the Lakers early, and put up 41 points in the first quarter led by 17 in the period from Damian Lillard, who finished with 38 points and nine assists.
Thanks to Bryant matching Lillard’s 17 in that first frame, the Lakers trailed by just eight despite the home team’s offensive explosion. L.A. played Portland even in the second behind another 11 from Bryant, before the Lakers clamped down defensively a bit in the second half.
The Blazers shot just 28.6 percent from the field over the game’s final two periods, while the Lakers knocked down 61.3 percent of their looks over that span. Bryant was an efficient 5-10 from the field in the second half for 19 points, and Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol combined to shoot 10-13 from the field during that stretch, with the Lakers getting the ball to Gasol down the stretch for 11 fourth quarter points.
The struggles from the Lakers on consecutive nights to put away lottery teams when every win for them is so crucial doesn’t bode well for the team’s chances, should it eventually sneak into the postseason. But while it hasn’t been pretty, the wins have come nonetheless, and have come thanks to staggering performances from Bryant when his team has needed him most.
L.A.controls its own destiny in terms of making the playoffs now, with just three games remaining in the regular season. All three are at home, but they’re all against playoff teams — Golden State, San Antonio, and Houston round out the Lakers’ schedule.
The Lakers will worry about facing San Antonio or Oklahoma City in a seven game series if and when the time comes. Until then, they’ll take these wins any way they come, even if it’s required ridiculous efforts from Bryant on consecutive nights against sub-par opponents to make them happen.
It seems as though Bryant simply won’t let the Lakers miss the playoffs, regardless of what the ultimate outcome might be once his team actually gets there.
Dec 9, 2013, 12:29 AM EST
Kobe Bryant returned, Rudy Gay was traded, and the Knicks were crushed. Grading a busy Sunday of NBA action: Toronto Raptors: What the Toronto Raptors have not had in recent years is a GM with a plan and financial flexibility. With this and previous trades you get a sense that GM Masai Ujiri has a plan. First, get the…
Dec 8, 2013, 10:40 PM EST
It’s hard to explain to people outside Los Angeles the buzz in the city around Kobe Bryant and his return to the Lakers. The Lakers radio home in the city ran promos that just used pronouns —”You’ve been waiting for HIM” and “HE is back” — and everyone just knew what that meant. So what…
Dec 8, 2013, 9:10 PM EST
LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant is back — he was walking around the Lakers’ locker room pregame in uniform ready to go — and he is going to try to score. It’s what he does. But don’t be surprised if on his return Sunday night against Toronto you see a lot of the dishing, facilitating…
Dec 8, 2013, 7:42 PM EST
The Toronto Raptors are trading Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for multiple players, according to a report from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports. Toronto began the season with the goal of making the playoffs, but it’s become clear after 18 games that even in the dismal Eastern Conference, that’s not going to…
Dec 8, 2013, 6:30 PM EST
The Nets have had their season derailed by injuries thus far, and while having a first-year head coach in Jason Kidd probably isn’t helping given the situation, the fact is that without the team’s full complement of players, it’s impossible to know just how much fault can be placed there. But the clock will be…
Dec 8, 2013, 5:00 PM EST
Kobe Bryant will make his return Sunday night at home against the Raptors, his first on-court appearance since suffering a torn Achilles near the end of last season. While we don’t expect the same kind of heroics Bryant displayed in last season’s epic victory over Toronto, it’ll simply be good to see one of the…
Dec 8, 2013, 3:30 PM EST
The Knicks snapped their nine-game losing streak on Thursday with a 30-point win over the Nets, and followed it up with a 38-point victory over the Magic at home the very next night. Any belief that the Knicks problems were on the verge of being solved, however, was delusional at worst, and short-lived at best.…
Dec 8, 2013, 2:00 PM EST
The NBA changed the way they categorize players for All-Star voting purposes last season, eliminating the center position (and all others) from the ballot entirely and replacing those with either a frontcourt or backcourt player distinction. While it won’t affect superstar big men like Roy Hibbert making the All-Star roster, it will change the way…
Dec 8, 2013, 12:30 PM EST
When Ray Allen chose to leave Boston as a free agent and join Eastern Conference rival Miami following the 2012 season, it didn’t sit well at all with two of the Celtics’ biggest stars. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were upset by Allen’s decision, even though he wasn’t guaranteed a thing in Boston and was…
Dec 8, 2013, 11:00 AM EST
The reports surrounding the status of Rockets big man Omer Asik will continue their steady stream until the inevitable trade happens. Houston wanted to make it work with Asik playing alongside Dwight Howard, but that experiment failed and with Asik being disgruntled in his situation and constantly requesting to be traded, the Rockets seem determined…
Dec 8, 2013, 9:30 AM EST
Coming into Saturday night’s game against Dallas, the Blazers had used the top-ranked offense in the league to get out to a 17-3 start to the season, best in the Western Conference. Portland’s defense is ranked just 20th, however, and playing against a Mavericks team whose offense is ranked fourth and can score almost as…
Dec 8, 2013, 8:00 AM EST
The Nets are going through an especially rough time right now, and even mentioning as much seems like a gross understatement of the facts. Brooklyn has lost several of its key players due to injury, including Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko, and Jason Terry. Head coach Jason Kidd parted ways with assistant Lawrence Frank…
Dec 7, 2013, 11:00 PM EST
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are simply devastating together when the Heat get out in transition, and this highlight from Miami’s easy win over a Timberwolves team playing without Kevin Love is a perfect example. Now of course, a two-on-none fast break will always result in points. But LeBron and Wade often make a spectacle…
Dec 7, 2013, 9:30 PM EST
Remember last season when an idiot fan in Cleveland ran into the court during live game action? Apparently, there are plenty more like him in that lovely city. During the second quarter of Saturday’s contest between the Cavaliers and the Clippers, we once again had a fan walk onto the court while the game was…
Dec 7, 2013, 8:00 PM EST
Luol Deng missed Saturday night’s game against the Pistons with a sore left Achilles, head coach Tom Thibodeau confirmed before tip-off. Deng’s status is listed as day-to-day, and it’s not believed to be anything serious. After averaging 48.5 minutes per game over the last two contests thanks to logging 56 minutes in a triple-overtime loss…
Dec 7, 2013, 6:30 PM EST
So, I had this whole thing written and ready about how Sixers coach Brett Brown doesn’t believe that Michael Carter-Williams is injury-prone, despite the fact that after sitting out Saturday, the rookie will have missed six of his team’s first 21 games. But then the news broke that Carter-Williams had been hospitalized with a bacterial…
Dec 7, 2013, 5:00 PM EST
Kobe Bryant will take the court on Sunday against the Raptors, seeing his first action of the season since suffering a torn Achilles injury this past April. The buzz surrounding Bryant’s long-awaited debut continued at the Lakers practice facility on Saturday, when Mike D’Antoni answered questions about how much Bryant will play, at what level,…
Dec 7, 2013, 3:31 PM EST
It’s all on Jason Kidd now. Lawrence Frank is gone as a scapegoat, Kidd is in charge of the ship — a 5-14 ship with the worst defense in the NBA. You can see how bad the defense is by looking at the stats, where you see the Nets give up a league-worst 108.6 points…
Dec 7, 2013, 2:00 PM EST
Kyrie Irving has been far from the dominating, game-changing point guard he showed capable of last season, and people around the league are beginning to take notice. He’s had games where he’s put up some decent numbers, but has done so inefficiently in recent weeks. After an 0-9 performance in Cleveland’s blowout loss to the…
Dec 7, 2013, 12:30 PM EST
If you’ve only been paying cursory attention to the NBA in its early stages this season, you may not have noticed the rise of the Portland Trail Blazers. But following Friday night’s 130-98 pasting of the Utah Jazz, Portland now has a record of 17-3 — the best in a very deep Western Conference. Guys…
- Sunday night NBA Grades: Rudy Gay traded to Kings, Kobe returns for Lakers 0
- Expect to see facilitator Kobe in his return to Lakers 5
- Raptors trade Rudy Gay to Sacramento for multiple players 23
- Knicks lose by 41 points at home to Celtics 24
- LeBron James likely to start at center for Eastern Conference All-Stars 10
- LeBron says Wade is “getting that Kobe deal” in next contract. Should he? (65)
- Dwight Howard frustrated with Rockets’ effort in recent losses (52)
- Kobe Bryant dunks, looks good in Lakers practice; Friday return possible (47)
- Michael Beasley finding a role, groove in Miami (44)
- The Extra Pass: Our awards at the quarter pole, plus Monday recaps (43)