The Lakers played a familiar foe tonight, a team that they have seen many times in the past. The New Orleans Hornets came into town, but this game was more than just a Western Conference showdown. Trevor Ariza and D.J. Mbenga returned to Staples Center, and they received a warm welcome by the Lakers’ crowd. These players helped the Lakers win championships and they were fan-favorites in Los Angeles.
The game tipped-off after an emotional ring ceremony for D.J. Mbenga. Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher game Mbenga his well deserved ring, and the Laker crowd certainly showed their appreciation for the Congo native.
However, once the game started the friendly environment quickly evaporated. The Lakers started off the game hitting their first three shots, and they were executing properly on the offensive end of the court. The Lakers were getting to the free-throw line at will, and they were taking advantage of the Hornets’ lack of size. Despite their auspicious beginning, the Lakers were only leading by three points, 14-11, at the 7:00 mark of the first quarter.
The Lakers were having trouble securing the basketball, and their multiple turnovers lead to easy fast-break baskets for the Hornets. Neither the Lakers nor the Hornets played great defense, and all of their energy was devoted to the offensive end of the court. The first quarter concluded with the Lakers leading three by points, 27-24. The Lakers shot 71% from the field, but they allowed the Hornets to shoot 61%. In order for the Lakers to expand their lead, they had to amp up their defensive intensity.
As usually, Phil Jackson rested his starters in the beginning of the second quarter. Instead, the bench was on the floor and they brought in immediate energy and speed. Lamar Odom and the “Killer Bs” expanded the Lakers’ lead to seven with 9:33 left in the second quarter.
The Lakers continued the ride their momentum, and they were forcing the Hornets to take tough contested shots. At the mid-way point of the second quarter, the Lakers opened up a nine-point lead, 39-30. However, turnovers continued to be an issue for the Lakers. Their carelessness with the basketball allowed the Hornets to creep back into the game.
At the end of the first half the Lakers had a five point lead, 51-46. The team shot 61% from the field, but they also committed eight turnovers; the leading scorers were Kobe Bryant with 14 points and Pau Gasol with 11 points. The Lakers had the lead going into the locker-room, but they had to make major adjustments in order to win the game.
The Lakers opened up the second half with one less player on the bench. Prior to the third quarter, the Lakers found out that Matt Barnes suffered a sprained knee and he would not return to the game. Without Barnes, the Lakers lost valuable energy and tenacity off their struggling bench.
The Lakers were knocking down their shots in the third quarter, but they were unable to get a stop. Instead of pulling away from the Hornets, the Lakers could not expand their lead or put together a run. At the 6:00 mark of the third quarter the Hornets recaptured the lead, 62-61.
After the Hornets went on an 8-0 run, the Lakers woke up and they began to play with more energy and intensity. The Lakers regained the lead in the latter half of the quarter, and Kobe reached another milestone at the 1:10 mark. After hitting a runner, Bryant passed Oscar Robertson for ninth on the NBA’s all-time leading scorers list.
The Lakers entered the fourth quarter leading by nine points, 80-71. The Lakers ended the quarter strong, but they had to maintain their level of energy in order to win the game.
Kobe Bryant started the fourth quarter on the bench, but he was quickly subbed back into the game after Steve Blake rolled his ankle. The Lakers were already a banged up team, and their problems grew worse as two players left the game with injuries.
Despite the fact that the Lakers struggled in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, they eventually found their offensive groove and they captured the momentum. Thanks to an Odom-three at the 9:39 mark of the fourth, the Lakers opened up a double-digit lead, 87-77.
The last five minutes of the game were played with high energy and high intensity. The Lakers had a large lead in the quarter, but they were never fazed when the Hornets made a run. Thanks to the clutch play of Lamar Odom and Kobe Bryant, the Lakers prevailed. The final buzzer rang and the Lakers beat the Hornets, 101-97.
The Lakers advanced to a record of 26-11 and their next game will be in Staples Center vs. the New York Knicks.