For about three quarters, the Los Angeles Lakers looked to Pau Gasol to keep them in the game and in the playoff picture. Once the fourth quarter began, so did Kobe Bryant, who saved his best for last, hopefully serving as some sort of metaphor for a season that might end up not being as disappointing as it looked to be heading towards earlier in the year.
With a 104-96 win over the New Orleans Hornets, the Lakers won for the fourth time in five games, giving them a 0.5 game lead in the race for the final ticket to the NBA playoffs that still hasn’t been decided, with the Jazz having three games left to play at 41-38, while the Lakers are at a bit more comfortable 41-37, hoping that they don’t end up with the same record, as the Jazz hold the tiebreak advantage.
Bryant, who scored 30 points on the day, did his usual thing of starting out very slow, trying to feed his teammates with passes and confidence before getting tired of relying on others, scoring 23 fourth quarter points, enjoying yet another terrible defensive performance from the New Orleans Hornets, who have a player some compared about a year ago to Bill Russell. Anthony Davis might be a great player one day, but he’s not even the best rookie in the NBA this season.
Gasol enjoyed probably his best game since returning from injury, enjoying the fact that Dwight Howard struggled with foul trouble, giving him extra minutes at a position he’s much more comfortable in. Gasol finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks, playing a lot more in the paint than usual. No matter how many attempts the Lakers and Mike D’Antoni make, Gasol and Howard aren’t going to thrive together because it forces Gasol to play way outside of his preferred position.
One of the more interesting additions to the Lakers that might have contributed to the win was Metta World Peace making a much-earlier-than expected return, playing 15 minutes off the bench, giving Kobe Bryant (playing 41 minutes, 45.2 over the last five games) a rare chance for a breather, possibly enabling him the oxygen and strength in his feet to push through with his incredible finish.
Once again, the Lakers have grabbed hold of their fate, although the finish won’t be easy. They haven’t won on back-to-back games this season, heading into Portland, but the Blazers are in complete free-fall mode right now. The rest? The Warriors, Spurs and Rockets, all in LA, hoping that all three teams prefer resting starters before the playoffs than try and ruin a season for the Lakers.