The Los Angeles Lakers were in New Jersey this morning to take on the Nets in an early morning match-up. After a disappointing game against the Bulls on Friday night the Lakers needed a strong game to get back on track. While they are currently in the middle of an extended road trip, the Lakers are also looking to beat some inferior Eastern Conference teams. This game against the Nets was one that they needed to win, or else the questions would really start to arise out in Southern California.
The Lakers started out sluggish, which could be expected considering the game started at 10:00 PST. The Nets were able to get out in transition and give the Lakers some trouble. The Lakers poor defense has been a hot topic lately, and it continued to be an issue early in this game. While the Lakers offense did look like it had more rhythm than it did Friday night in Chicago, the defense was still a problem.
The two stars for the Lakers – Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol – also struggled to start the game. At one point Bryant and Gasol were only 3-16 from the floor combined. However, due to bench support the Lakers were able to hang with New Jersey and still play fairly effectively. At the end of the first quarter the Lakers were up 30-24 on the Nets.
The second quarter looked similar to the first in many respects. The Lakers have been notorious for giving up big leads this season, and while six points is anything but a big lead, it wasn’t long before it was no lead at all. The Nets were able to capitalize on poor transition defense to get to the lane and score on easy lay-ups.
Towards the end of the half, however, the Lakers were able to turn up the intensity on both ends of the floor. Los Angeles finished the half on a 7-0 run that resulted in their biggest lead of the game. Heading into the locker room at halftime the Lakers were leading the New Jersey Nets by ten, 52-42.
The second half started much like the first for the Lakers, as they looked sluggish. They’ve had problems putting teams away all season, and this looked like more of the same. After the Lakers pushed the lead up to 12 the Nets went on a 9-0 run to cut the lead back down to one. The inability of the Lakers to put away teams when they have the chance has cost them already this season, and it looks like it’s going to be a problem in the future if they don’t fix things fast.
Los Angeles was able to get some rhythm again about halfway through the quarter, as a Kobe Bryant-inspired run pushed the lead back to ten. Once again, though, the Lakers couldn’t finish things off and New Jersey cut into the lead once again. By the time the quarter ended the Lakers lead was all but gone, as L.A. led 69-67.
The quarter started differently for the Lakers, as it saw Kobe Bryant on the floor to start the fourth. Usually Phil Jackson uses this time to rest Bryant and prepare him for the end of the game, but due to the lack of offensive productivity from the rest of the team Jackson put Bryant back in the game. The Lakers needed the offensive boost too, as Kobe was their only reliant offensive source to start the quarter.
The Lakers lead did disappear in the fourth, as Brook Lopez hit two free throws to give the Nets their first lead since the first quarter. After the Lakers were able to get the lead back the Nets once again went on top. This was a perfect example as to why the Lakers need to put teams away when they have the chance. The longer they let teams hang in games the more confidence the opposition builds, and that results in problems for Los Angeles.
Another problem for the Lakers down the stretch was missed free throws. New Jersey was able to keep it close due to missed free throws from Bryant, Gasol, and Lamar Odom. However, in the end Bryant was able to make two nice passes that resulted in easy shots for both Gasol and Odom. Combine that with a Lamar Odom three-pointer and the Lakers were able to put the game away and steal the victory from New Jersey.
The Lakers will head to Washington D.C. to take on the Wizards this Tuesday after defeating the Nets, 99-92.