The Los Angeles Lakers are not used to battling down the stretch for the last playoff spot, but they are off to a good start after beating the New Orleans Hornets 104-96 Tuesday night. Kobe Bryant stepped up to the challenge and led the Lakers with 30 points, six rebounds, and six assists.
Bryant’s Lakers started off to a slow start in 2013 but have picked up their play of late and it showed against the Hornets Tuesday. Outside of scoring 23 of his 30 points in the final 12 minutes of the game, Bryant also added five steals as the Lakers rallied to their fourth win in their last five games.
Pau Gasol finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds for a double-double in the win while Dwight Howard added 19 points and six rebounds. Antawn Jamison scored 13 points off the bench as the Lakers came away with a much needed victory.
The Hornets took a five-point lead into the half against the Lakers, and the game was tied going into the fourth quarter when Kobe Bryant took over. Bryant knocked down one big shot after another and recognized his aggressive play after the game.
“I knew I needed to be aggressive,” Bryant said in the locker room. “Our energy was down all game, so I just kinda had to wait to the fourth quarter and see if my jumper was going.”
Bryant was the only Lakers’s player to score in the first seven minutes of the final quarter for a 77-70 lead before the Hornets stormed back to tie it at 82. The Lakers’ star shooting guard went on to hit two jumpers to regain the lead before running away from the Hornets in the final minutes.
The Lakers now hold a half-game lead over the Utah Jazz for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Jazz lost 90-80 to the Oklahoma City Thunder while the Lakers beat the Hornets, dropping them out of the final playoff spot in the West.
The Lakers and Jazz will not face each other before the end of the regular season, making every game that much more important leading up to the playoffs. The Jazz beat the Lakers in two of their three meetings this season and will win the tiebreaker if the two teams are even after the final day.
Can the Los Angeles Lakers erase a terrible start to the season by clinching a playoff berth in the final week?
[Image via Keith Allison]