The Los Angeles Lakers outlasted the Portland Trailblazers at Staples on Friday night thanks to the efforts of an old friend. The scoring Kobe Bryant took center stage as the Lakers endured 11 4th quarter lead changes to hold on to 9th place in the West, 111-107. His 40 points on 15-23 shooting, a self-proclaimed “somewhat of an off-shooting night,” paced the Lakers to their second win post All Star Break. Bryant scored 11 in the 1st, none in the 2nd, 18 in the 3rd, and 11 in the 4th, a line commensurate with the Kobe that started the season leading the league in scoring.
Kobe transformed into passing Kobe and has struggled from the field in the meantime, especially from distance. Kobe, 1 for his last 34 three point attempts, went 1-3 vs. Portland. After finally seeing the ball go through from behind the arc, he proceeded to attack the basket and drain the array of jumpers expected of the recent Mr. 30,000. Without the help of the three ball, he relied on the old fashioned three-point play, garnering a key And 1 in the 4th quarter. Future NBA Rookie of the Year, Damien Lillard, put on a show as well, trading buckets, attempting to match Kobe’s outburst in the 4th. His 19 points and 7 assists would not be enough as Kobe sank four straight free throws in the final seconds to seal the W.
The two teams on the outside of the playoffs staring in matched each other step for step. The Lakers turned up the defensive pressure as the game progressed; sustaining their energy after Dwight tweaked his injured shoulder late in the 2nd quarter. Dwight poured in 15 on 5-9 from the field in the first half, ending with 19 and 16 boards. His activity early helped keep the Lakers in it, considering the rest of the squad shot 18-48.
The Lakers allowed 107 points against a team that averages 96 per game, but these Lakers aren’t built to shut teams down. They are finding ways to get stops when they need them, which is a huge step forward as they barrel towards the end of the season. Houston beat Brooklyn, so the Lakers stay 3.5 games back. Yet, their identity, scrutinized as absent for much of the year, seems to be forming. They fight like a team with a purpose and an idea of how to achieve it.