As the Lakers trudged into the locker room at halftime after surrendering 67 points to the Hornets, a team that only averages 94 points per game, the impact of the trouncing at the hands of the Thunder last night seemed too much to bare. Again, the Lakers lacked fluidity on offense and alacrity on defense.
They looked tired.
After bottoming out by as many as 25 points, Kobe began to assert himself. As he forced in 9 of the last 10 points in the 2nd quarter, it seemed reasonable that his struggling mates might not see the ball again.
25 points and 11 assists in the second half later and the Mamba found the perfect blend of attack and assist. A 42 point, 12 assist, and 7 rebound outburst helped lead the Lakers back from near extinction and steal a desperately needed road win from Hornets. Jodie Meeks 19 points off of the pine, including an array of gigantic threes on 5-9 from beyond, sealed the deal. On a night when the Jazz gave up a big lead to the Cavs, the Lakers picked up a full game on the 8th spot in the West, trailing now by a game and a half. The Mavs chipped into the Laker effort by beating Houston, narrowing the margin between them and the 7th seed to two games.
Defense did the damage for the Lakers as they held NOLA to 9 points in the 4th quarter. They pressured the Hornets, playing them tighter and fighting harder through screens. They switched on high pick and rolls as the Hornets wide-open shots from the first half suddenly disappeared in the shadow of a hand in their face. In a strange twist of fate, following a night when the Lakers stopped scoring at the 6:14 mark in the 4th quarter against the Thunder, a Robin Lopez dunk at the 6:47 mark represented the final points for the home team. Trailing 102-88, the Lakers scored 20 unanswered to escape a devastating defeat.
The Hornets missed shots, but Dwight helped them along the way, despite foul trouble. Challenging floaters by Gordon and Vasquez as they tried desperately to avoid another 4th quarter letdown, Dwight and his five personals also met Lopez at the rim three times in the 4th, the biggest block with 33.6 to go in the game, preserving a 104-102 lead. Lopez caught a pass along the baseline and elevated with two hands. Dwight, adding 20 points and 15 boards, reacted with purpose and pancaked his attempt. As he secured the block, the Lakers’ bench fervently called a timeout to eliminate the Hack-a-Dwight. The Hornets balked on an out of bounds play and Kobe flew down the court for a slam dunk and a 106-102 lead.
The Lakers needed just one more stop, and the defense came from an old, reliable source. Metta World Peace got his hands on the ball and stripped Roger Mason, Jr. to earn a few free throws. Even though he missed, the lost, precious seconds and renewed energy of the Lakers’ defense provided the impetus for a return to an even record at 31-31.
The impossible happened. The Lakers dug deep into the recesses of their collective souls and found a way to crawl back from an insurmountable deficit. This is the type of win that victimized a supposedly inferior ball club, but can spark a team on the brink. The emotion of the battle and the elation of the accomplishment remind a band of weathered veterans and aspiring stars that this is the time. With 8 of 10 games on the road looming in the near future for the road-challenged Lakers, they need wins like this to prove to themselves that 11-20 away from Staples is the past. This is the present, and this win was an absolute gift they shouldn’t return.