With only two games remaining in the regular season, some playoff decisions have already been made. The Chicago Bulls (61-20) clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference Friday with a win against the struggling Cavs, establishing a first round matchup against the Indiana Pacers. The Washington Wizards (28-53) may have beat the Boston Celtics for the second time this season Monday, but their playoff dreams have been over for quite a while.
One thing that is still uncertain, however, is the decision as to who has home court advantage.
The Los Angeles Lakers recent 5 game skid has put them out of contention for the top seed in the Western Conference, with the San Antonio Spurs winning their last 4 to clinch that honor last week. The Spurs (61-19), before heading into their match against LA Tuesday night, had the best record in the NBA, slightly on top of the Chicago Bulls.
All around the NBA the past few games with playoffs getting closer and closer, something seems different. Teams are choosing to sit their starters instead of vie for a higher seed. The Celtics lost to the Wizards the night before by one in overtime, sitting Garnett, Pierce, Allen and Rondo. Doc Rivers’ method of coaching may be rubbing off onto Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who decided to sit Duncan, Parker and Ginobili Tuesday against the Lakers.
Regardless of whom the Lakers played tonight, one thing was certain: they needed to win. If the win were not intended to silence the doubters or even increase the team moral, it would solely maintain their own home court advantage in the second round.
The Lakers hosted the Spurs, hoping to snap their 5 game losing streak to leap frog over Dallas, and retake control of the 2nd seed in the Western Conference.
Kobe started it off with the first basket, sinking a 3 to get the game rolling. Although the camera kept panning to the Spurs bench, showing their starters looking dapper in their suits, the four players on the court for San Antonio not usually getting a start seemed to be handling the Lakers quite easily early in the quarter.
Derek Fisher missed two aggressive drives to the basket early, which seemed like a redundant statement from the past 5 games that we’ve been writing about.
Kobe Bryant looked like the only player with his eye on the target within the first 3 minutes, scoring LAs first 7 points of the game, while Bynum was on defensively, getting an early block and playing big in the paint.
Things then began working offensively when the Lakers went on a 7-0 run, feeding the ball to Gasol to give him his first 4 points of the game. Jefferson, the Spurs only typical starter on the court, drilled a 3 to make his first basket of 5 attempts more than halfway through the quarter.
In the final 5 minutes of the quarter, Fisher, Bynum and Artest began making their offensive presence known, all getting on the board and bringing the Lakers lead up to 10. Andrew Bynum began putting in work, especially, getting important rebounds and easily becoming the dominant force within the paint on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court.
The Lakers had Kobe and Gasol take a seat, bringing on Lamar Odom, the likely 6th man of the year. The absence of both Steve Blake and Matt Barnes was apparent, however, as a new face on the bench made the team look a little different than usual. Barnes was out as a precaution, feeling slight pain in his knee, while Blake was at home with the chicken pox.
Thankfully for the Lakers, chicken pox was the only thing spotty for them in the first quarter. Kobe’s 9 points and their improved defense had them up over the second string Spurs, 24-15.
The second started off with a quick 2 point jumper by Green, immediately followed by an ally oop from Quinn to Blair to make it a 5 point game. An unhappy Phil Jackson called a timeout after only 50 seconds, needing to reinstate what was obviously ignored in the huddle at the end of the 1st quarter.
Something seemed to work in regards to waking the Lakers up, as the first play back on the court, a missed shot attempt by the Spurs, had both Kobe and Odom fighting for the rebound amongst each other. However, their missing of 8 consecutive shots in the 2nd made the lead be cut down to only 1, until Bonner sunk a 3 to take the lead with 9 minutes remaining in the half.
Lamar Odom finally got the Lakers back on the board with a layup assisted by Shannon Brown.
Silence was the only thing present in the Staples Center with 8 minutes remaining, however, when Andrew Bynum took a fall on the defensive end of the court, grimacing while holding his knee that has been giving him so many problems. A replay showed his leg slip into a hyperextension of the knee, and Bynum slowly limped to the locker room.
35 year old Joe Smith, wearing number 1, came onto the court for Odom after he picked up his first foul, hoping to bring some spark to a Lakers team that seemed haunted by the thought of losing big man Bynum.
Although the Spurs didn’t seem to showcase their typical starters, halfway through the second, the Lakers on the floor were: Kobe, Gasol, Brown, Walton and Smith. Not your typical team, but their 7-0 run, giving them a 33-26 lead was enough to force Gregg Popovich to call a time out.
The Spurs came back out with a 3 pointer from the corner by Novak, immediately answered with Kobe Bryant’s 14th point of the game, adding another assist to Gasol’s tally.
While thinking about their injured teammate, the Lakers finally began to step up both offensively and defensively in the final minutes of the half. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol continued to knock down shots, while holding the best 3-point team in the league down to 40% shooting from beyond the arc.
Ron Artest ended up fouling Richard Jefferson during a shot attempt with barely a second left in the half, allowing him to shoot 2 free throws to tie the game at the half. The Spurs closed out the 2nd quarter with a 16-6 run over LA, having the half end tied 45-45.
Grim news was brought to the court during the quarter, as well, when fans were told Bynum suffered a hyperextension of his surgically repaired knee, meaning he would not return, or travel for the next game against the Kings Wednesday. An MRI is scheduled for Wednesday morning.
The Lakers came into the third hoping to improve upon their 40% shooting in the first half. They started off with the first basket from Lamar Odom, who the Lakers may be looking at as a starter now that Bynum’s knee is questionable.
Whether it was that the Lakers had something worth fighting for with the likely loss of a starter, or an excellent pep talk from Phil Jackson in the locker room, the Lakers came out playing better than they had in the first half. In the first 4 minutes of the 3rd, the Lakers didn’t allow the Spurs to make a field goal, allowing them to take a 7 point lead until San Antonio called for a time out.
Kobe and Odom did all of the scoring in the start of the third quarter, bringing Kobe’s total up to 20.
However, while the offensive end looked to be improving, the absence of Bynum was noticeable on the defensive end of the court. The lack of the Lakers second big man alongside Gasol was forcing other players to make rebounds, enabling rest of the team to step up in a time of need.
With eight minutes remaining, the Spurs began scoring, cutting LA’s lead to only 3 until Derek Fisher shot another 26 footer three point jumper to give Los Angeles some breathing room.
Turnovers and fouls were giving San Antonio all of their opportunities to stay in this game, as constant trips to the free throw line were deeming harmful to the Lakers breaking their 5 game losing streak.
The absence of Barnes, Blake and Bynum was already affecting the Lakers play, so the addition of another technical foul to Kobe’s current collection and his receiving of a 4th personal foul halfway through the third made him take a seat, forcing the rest of the players on the floor to step up even more to keep this game in their favor.
Splitter scored his sixth point of the game for San Antonio, dropping the Lakers lead to only two until Pau Gasol headed to the line again to bump his point value to 13.
The shooting by both teams was abysmal, as San Antonio was only 18-61 in the game with 3 minutes remaining, bringing their percentage to a low 29.5%. The Lakers weren’t much better, making 23-55 to have a percentage of 42%.
Shannon Brown looked to be the player struggling the most from the floor, shooting 1-6 in the game.
As the quarter was brought to a close, Spurs players continued to miss shots and disregard rebounds while Lakers players continued to foul, both offensively and defensively. Shannon Brown finally ended his struggles with a nice cut down low to perform an easy layup, bringing the Lakers lead back up to 8, but that was the only really exciting thing that happened within the 3rd. The absence of Bynum, sitting of Artest and Kobe and lack of shooting by the Lakers bench brought about one of the most boring second halves ever witnessed, as the TNT commentators began comparing the game to the 2011 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.
The quarter finally ended with the Lakers up over the Spurs, 70-64.
Phil Jackson was labeled as the most honest man in Staples Center at the start of the fourth, stating that the Lakers were playing terribly. Once again, Phil Jackson needed to call timeout 57 seconds into the fourth after LA allowed Gary Neal to make a 13-foot jumper followed by a Novak three pointer. As quickly as the quarter started, the Lakers lead was minimized to only 1.
After every player in purple and yellow received an earful from Jackson, the Lakers came back on the court with a quick jumper from Shannon Brown, taking his total up to 7.
An offensive rebound by Gasol with 10 minutes remaining signaled his triple double, looking like the first positive we had seen in a while. A hard foul by Blair on Kobe while shooting took Bryant to the line, making both of his shots to bring the lead back up to 5.
The Spurs began playing some basketball again, retaking the lead with 3 consecutive baskets from Neal, Blair and Novak until Lamar Odom got a 3 point play from a shooting foul by Novak. As Kobe continued to draw hard fouls from different Spurs players on the floor, he continued to talk back to the officials, putting some fans on edge about what Kobe’s presence will be Wednesday night against the Kings. Another technical foul would result in a one game suspension, which would really hurt the Lakers right now.
Within the 6th minute of the quarter, both teams finally started making some baskets. Lamar Odom drew another shooting foul, allowing yet another 3-point play, giving the Lakers the lead once again, 86-83. Ron Artest scored his 6th point in 26 minutes, sinking his second shot on the night with 4:50 remaining.
13 consecutive free throws made by San Antonio kept the Spurs in the game, as their poor shooting performance from the field would make any team cringe.
Kobe, however, made his presence known again with a 3 pointer to take the lead back up to 8, finally giving the Lakers the opportunity to get the win and put this terrible performance behind them. Odom finally finished the Spurs off in the final 2 minutes, putting his total up to 23 making 9 of his 17 shot attempts. Kobe Bryant had the game high of 27 points.
Poor shooting by both teams enabled the Lakers to somehow pull through with a win, 102-93, snapping their 5 game losing streak and regaining the second seed in the Western Conference. The Lakers will play the Kings Wednesday without Bynum, who will not be traveling to get an MRI. The absence of a few players on the road in Sacramento will hopefully enable the Lakers to regain a full healthy squad for playoffs.