How many more times do the Hornets need reminding that they traded away Kobe Bryant for Vlade Divac?
Once they officially transform into the New Orleans Pelicans, they can at least pretend the draft day gaffe will forever more remain part of the folklore of their former moniker. But, for one more night against the Los Angeles Lakers, the franchise must bear witness to what might have been.
Kobe sat on 4 points until he broke a string of 16 straight misses from three with :30 seconds remaining in the 3rd quarter. The Lakers managed a 70-70 tie heading into the 4th with their playoff future swaying between comeback or catastrophe.
Kobe, no doubt utilizing a rare, yet rejuvenating 6 minutes and 54 seconds of in-game rest, erased any hopes of a spoiler by erupting for 23 points in the final frame, en route to a 30 point, 6 rebound, 6 assist, and 5 steal night. He paced the Lakers by scoring their first 14 points, using an array of jumpers, a three, and even a finger roll. Pau and Dwight chipped in with 22 and 19 points, respectively. Metta World Peace shocked the world with 15 minutes of run, returning way ahead of schedule following surgery 12 days ago to a torn meniscus in his left knee that required cleaning over repair. The original prognosis sidelined him for at least six weeks. The 104-96 W moves the Lakers back into 8th place, a 1/2 game ahead of the Jazz following their loss to the Thunder.
No rest for the back-to-back weary Lakers, however, as they travel to their personal pain cave, otherwise known as the Rose Garden. Since the ’96-’97 season, the beginning of Kobe’s tenure with LA, the Lakers post an inconceivable record of 6-25 in Portlandia. Even though the Blazers enter the game with questions surrounding the health of Batum, Hickson, and Matthews, expect whoever dons a Rip City jersey to strive for the pleasure of denying the Lakers a post-season experience. It should be a war. The last time LA left Oregon with a W required overtime.
On February 23rd, 2011, Kobe came up gigantic on the second night of a back-to-back. After forcing overtime with two signature, fallaway jumpers, he scored the Lakers’ final 8 points, including six straight FTs, for a total of 37, securing a 106-101 victory. Metta even hit a clutch three down the stretch to spark the 4th quarter comeback as the Lakers trailed by 7 points with 1:23 to go, so his return brings more confidence and hope.
A quick peek at the last three games for the Jazz, now sitting at 41-38, leaves little wiggle room in the loss column for the Lakers. A home and away with the Timberwolves followed by a showdown with the Grizzlies in Memphis means at least one loss for Utah. Granted, if Minnesota plays up to their potential for their final home game, gifting the fans a peak at the possibilities of yet another “next year,” the Jazz could end with 42 wins. Pundits projected the magic number of wins for an 8 seed in the West this season to hover around 44 or 45 wins. If the Lakers fail for the first time in franchise history to win back-to-back games in a season, then, at the very least, their final games against GSW, SAS, and HOU at home give them a fighting chance to hit the reset button on a turbulent 2012-2013 campaign and redefine themselves in the NBA Playoffs.