The path to the playoffs will not be easy for these Los Angeles Lakers. Friday night at Staples Center provided yet another example that the Lakers are fighting an uphill battle to qualify for the post-season.
Entering Staples Center, the Portland Trail Blazers were 8-20 away from home and on a six game losing streak.
On paper, this was about as easy of a game as the Lakers should have had all season long. Ultimately, the Lakers won, but it was not an easy win.
Kobe Bryant carried his team to victory with 40 points on 15-23 shooting, and his team needed all of Bryant's 40 points to beat a hungry Blazers team.
The Lakers fell down early when Portland started the game shooting 8-10 due, in large part, to the Lakers lacking defensive intensity.
“I thought that our problem was that we did not come out with real intensity on defense,” Lakers’ coach Mike D’Antoni said after the game. “We thought we would just outscore them and just run up and down…I just don’t think we had the grittiness we needed.”
The Lakers would go on to play defense in spurts and the game never swung into double-digits territory for either team. The largest lead of the game was a seven-point advantage gained by the visitors in the third quarter.
Friday’s game, however, served as yet another example of how important Bryant is on a night when the team simply does not have the goods.
Steve Nash was 2-11 from the field and missed his only free throw. Earl Clark reached 11 points, but his five rebounds—all defensive—did not inspire much praise. Dwight Howard finished with 19 points and 16 rebounds, but he admitted he was hampered in the second half due to re-aggravating his shoulder injury. Howard only had four points in the second half, but he did find ways to contribute on the defensive end late in the game.
Pau Gasol was presumably not even in the building.
Luckily, the Lakers still have the Black Mamba.
The Mamba entered the game with 6:15 remaining in the ball game, and the Lakers were down by two points. He would go on to score 11 points before the final buzzer sounded, which included hitting five free throws that required freezing cold ice water in his veins.
Sure, he also had seven rebounds and four assists, but on Friday night, Kobe Bryant turned the clock back and carried his team to victory by scoring the basketball—not passing.
This was vintage Kobe, and this was a necessary victory for the Lakers.