With nine games left in the regular season, the Lakers look to finish strong and hold onto the third seed in the Western Conference playoff standings.
Last week did not pan out exactly the way the Lakers had hoped after they won their first two games. The week began with a close four-point victory over Deron Williams and the New Jersey Nets when Kobe Bryant knocked down a huge three-point basket to put the Lakers up four with under 10 seconds to play. The Lakers blew a 17-point lead, and despite Andrew Bynum sitting out this game with a sore left ankle sprain suffered in Sunday’s game versus the Golden State Warriors, the lack of focus late in games for the Lakers is a concerning factor.
Tuesday against the Nets was not the only game the Lakers blew a large lead in as they faced the Clippers the following night for a Lakers road game, and gave up the lead for the first time late in the fourth quarter. The Lakers jumped out quickly against the Clippers and grabbed a 15-point lead early in the first. The Lakers did score 92 points after three quarters, but what was not as positive was they gave up a three-point basket at the end of the third that sparked the Clippers run. The Lakers won 113-108 and won the season series two games to one, giving the Lakers a two game advantage over the Clippers in the Pacific Division.
Kobe Bryant started the game missing his first three attempts, but caught fire soon after hitting his next eight straight shots. He finished the game with 31 points but was not the game’s leading scorer. That title went to Andrew Bynum, who had a monstrous game with 36 points and 13-20 shooting and 10-12 from the free throw line. He was too tall, too strong, and simply too good for anyone on the Clippers to defend. The problem the Lakers had in the fourth was not giving Bynum the ball more. When a player is dominating the way he was, the ball should have gone through him every offensive possession like it used to with Shaquille O’Neal.
The Lakers were off Thursday but back at it Friday and Saturday. Friday they were home against the Houston Rockets, but fell short 112-107. They did give up an 11-point lead, but never had a strong grip on the game. Andrew Bynum’s immaturity got him in trouble again as he was ejected from the game within the first minute of the fourth quarter after talking some trash to the Rockets bench. The lead changed six times after that moment, but the Lakers could never regain control after Matt Barnes tied the game at 99 with 2.5 minutes to go on his three-point shot. Luis Scola was unstoppable, hitting 10 of his 25 in the fourth quarter, and Goran Dragic lit the Lakers up with 26 points and 11 assists.
Saturday night the Kobe-less (shin injury) Lakers flew to Phoenix to battle the Suns. This was never much of a game as the Suns controlled the tempo of the game and got open looks at will. Former Laker Shannon Brown scored 20 of his 24 points in the third quarter alone, and former NBA All-Star and Suns bench player Michael Redd scored 17 of his 20 in the second quarter. If there was any good news to take from this game it was the shooting of Pau Gasol, and for the second straight game Metta World Peace had 19-plus points. Gasol had 30 points on 14-25 shooting and 13 rebounds, while Metta backed up his 23-point performance (season high) against Houston, with a 19-point effort against the Suns. The last two games, Metta has finally been taking advantage of his size and scoring in the post. If he continues to do this throughout the playoffs, he will average over 15 points per game, and make the Lakers very difficult to beat.
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