The Los Angeles Lakers came into Tuesday night’s game in a must win situation as their playoffs hopes were dangling by a thread. The Lakers and Utah Jazz are constantly battling back and forth for the final spot in the Western Conference and the Lakers cannot afford to lose many games down the stretch.
In the heat of the battle, the Lakers took a time to remember one of the most dominate players in NBA history, Shaquille O’Neal. The Hall-of-Fame bound center had his jersey retired by the Lakers at half time and it gave the team an opportunity to reflect on what O’Neal did for the franchise.
O’Neal won three championships during his tenure in Los Angeles and if the Lakers even want a chance to compete for a 17th banner, they had to knock off their Western Conference foes, the Dallas Mavericks.
Due to the fact that Steve Nash and Metta World Peace sat out the game with their injuries, Kobe Bryant was forced to play the small forward position, a spot that he has played a few times this season. With Nash out of the lineup, the Lakers needed other players to take on the facilitator role, something that Bryant has picked up quite a few times.
In the early going, the Lakers’ big men dominated the ball and the offense ran through them. Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard wanted to assert their will against the Mavericks and the Lakers made sure they had room to operate. However, the Mavs had an answer for every Lakers bucket and grabbed a 10-7 lead with 7:40 to play in the quarter.
Los Angeles began to move the ball very well and that allowed everyone to get good looks at the basket. Bryant used his penetration to open up the defense and Gasol’s passing ability gave the players some easy baskets.
I asked Gasol what he likes to do most in the post. His answer: pass. He’s now has given Howard 2 dunks, the latest + Dirk’s PF.
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) April 3, 2013
Still, the Lakers were still unable to create separation from the Mavericks and both teams kept going back and forth. Los Angeles was playing very well on the offensive end of the court, but the team could not do much to get stops. As a result, the game remained fairly close throughout the period and it ended with the Lakers ahead by just three, 24-21.
The Lakers used Gasol very often in the opening minutes of the second quarter as he had a mismatch against the smaller Mavericks’ front court. However, the team once again had trouble getting stops on defense and that allowed the Mavs to stay neck and neck with the Lakers. Los Angeles had no problem scoring and the fire power of Bryant and Howard got them a 34-29 advantage at the 8:21 mark of the period.
Just like in the second quarter, the Lakers did make a little run to create a cushion and it was sparked by great play on both ends of the court. Bryant continued to play efficient basketball and he found a great balance between dishing it out to his teammates and scoring the basketball. With 6:19 left to play in the half, Kobe had a plus/minus of +7 with nine points and five assists.
I will say this, the Laker offense does look very strong. Other than Dwight’s FT problems, this team is cruising offensively.
— Lakers Nation (@LakersNation) April 3, 2013
The Lakers continued to dominate the Mavericks and their defensive pressure was what fueled the stellar play. The Mavericks had absolutely no answer for Kobe Bryant and he kept on dissecting the defense. The ball movement was exceptional and that allowed the Lakers to open up a 13-point lead after an Earl Clark three, 46-33.
After 24 minutes of play, the Lakers held a 55-40 lead led by Bryant’s 15 points and seven assists.
Los Angeles struggled on the offensive end at the start of the third quarter, but the Mavericks were not much better and they could not cut into the deficit. The Lakers were getting open looks on that end of the court, but after the extended halftime, it seemed as though they had lost their edge just a bit. Nevertheless, the team still held a double digit lead over the Mavericks and were ahead 59-44 at the 9:45 mark of the period.
The Lakers did a great job forcing the Mavericks to commit turnovers and that allowed them to build on their first half lead. Dallas had trouble finding a flow to their offense and if it wasn’t for the offensive ability of Dirk Nowitzki, the Lakers would have blown the game wide open. With 5:45 to play in the period, the Lakers were up 63-51.
However, the momentum of the game changed quickly as the Mavericks went on an 11-0 run. Dallas kept on fighting and with its incredible three-point shooting, the team got back into striking distance. After O.J. Mayo drilled a three in transition, the Mavericks cut the deficit down to five, 63-58 with 3:05 left to play.
The Lakers responded very well to the Mavericks’ surge and ended the period on a high note. Through three quarters of play, the Lakers were ahead 72-61.
Gasol once again showcased his offensive skill set in the paint and he was having great success against the Mavericks’ big men. The Lakers were feeding Gasol the ball down low and he responded by hitting shots near the basket and from mid-range. To make things better, Bryant continued with his efficient offensive play and the Lakers held a 78-68 lead with nine minutes to play.
The offenses for both teams hit a snag as the quarter progressed and neither one of them was able to put together a run. Los Angeles was getting clean looks at the basket, but it could not find a way to create some more separation from Dallas. At the 5:30 mark of the period, the Lakers were up just eight point 83-75.
Dallas increased its defensive pressure and the Lakers were having trouble getting their offense set up. The full court press allowed the Mavericks to force some turnovers and slowly take control of the momentum. Dallas stayed in striking distance and the Lakers needed to be careful since their opponent had the ability to catch fire quickly. With 3:50 left to play in the game, the Lakers were up 88-78.
The Mavericks resorted to the “Hack-a-Howard” tactic in the final minutes of the period, but it proved to be a bad decision as Howard was able to hit the majority of his attempts. As a result, the Mavericks could not cut into the Lakers’ deficit and faced a large hole with only a few possessions remaining.
As the final buzzer rang, the Lakers walked off the court winners 101-81. Kobe Bryant recorded a triple double with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists while Howard scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.
In case you missed it, be sure to check out Kobe in our dunk of the week!
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