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Friday, January 7, 2011
Lakers 101, Hornets 97: At the buzzer

By Brian Kamenetzky

The rebuilding project continues, as the Lakers won their third straight and fifth in six tries, beating the Hornets at Staples on Friday night.

Here's how it broke down ...

Three Up:

1. Kobe Bryant. His words to the New York Post were more than a little terrifying to Lakers fans: "I have very little cartilage under my right knee cap, it's almost bone-on-bone," he said, explaining why he's so carefully limited his practice time, not just this year, but for months. No question the revelation is news, but more in the long term. What impact will it have on his future? In the last year of his contract, will Kobe be a $30-million player?

In the now, nothing changes for the Lakers or Kobe. He's the same guy he was Thursday night, and Friday reminded anyone who wondered a) he's still a pretty effective player, and b) how he's adjusted his game to cope with impediments his body and mileage have put in front of him. Producing his 25 points were a variety of jumpers, including an early triple, one of his patented baseline J's, and a host of midrange buckets using all upfakes and step-throughs, so much a staple of his game. One of the prettier came at the end of the third, when, isolated at the top of the key, he came over the left side, penetrated, and rather than rise for the shot, stopped on a dime, pivoted, and made the now-wide open shot off the glass.

Plus, there was a nice hanging jumper in the paint to pass Oscar Robertson for ninth on the NBA's all-time scoring list. That was pretty good, too, as was the driving lefty hook late in the game helping ice it for the home team.

Add to that four assists -- could have been a couple more -- and you get a controlled, balanced, and extremely effective night.

2. Pau Gasol. Maybe it's the Hornets, against whom he had a great game last week? Maybe he read my post today, in which I opined his status as a Western Conference All-Star was no longer a lock? Could just be a matter of Pau playing in the form to which we've grown accustomed. Whatever the cause, Gasol bounced back from a poor game Wednesday in Phoenix with a top-shelf effort Friday. Gasol was aggressive early, taking advantage of his length to face up against both David West and Emeka Okafor for mid-range jumpers, hitting all four of his first quarter shots to go along with five rebounds over the opening 12 minutes. While there weren't shots coming after the first -- he'd finish with eight, making two -- Gasol was extremely active in the paint making himself available for passes, and on the offensive glass, helping him get to the line 12 times, tying his season high.



He'd finish with 21 points, 13 rebounds, and seven assists (including a slick look in the first half to a cutting Shannon Brown on a nice bounce pass under the hoop, and great feed in tight quarters near the bucket to Lamar Odom in the second), a very welcome sight for the Lakers. They've missed this version of Gasol -- the All-Star version, the one who can be this productive with only eight shots from the floor-- too much over the past month-plus.

3. Lamar Odom. There were other things to like for the Lakers, from Andrew Bynum's 17 points to some nice "dirty work" play from Derek Fisher (making up for a one-for-five night from the floor), and more positive signs from Ron Artest, who hit a pair of key 3-pointers, but it's hard to set aside Odom's night. Playing with a sore left shoulder injured Wednesday in Phoenix, Odom was a force off the bench, attacking the rack early and drilling big jumpers late en route to 17 points, making him one of five Lakers in double figures. Odom was also key on the glass, grabbing 13 rebounds, including four on the offensive end. Like Gasol, he was key in generating the team's 18 second-chance points.

There were enough defensive lapses to help keep the Hornets close, and I don't expect the coaching staff will be enamored with how the Lakers attacked New Orleans' zone, but the Lakers won't lose many games where Bryant, Odom, and Gasol combine for 63 points on a tight 24-42 from the floor.

Three Down:

1. Injuries. Matt Barnes left the game at the 5:22 mark of the second quarter because of a sprained knee, and will undergo an MRI exam Staurday. In the fourth, Steve Blake apparently turned an ankle underneath L.A.'s basket, and didn't return. No word yet on his status, but considering Odom started the game dinged up, for the Lakers to get hit with a couple more potential injuries Friday wasn't exactly a model of good timing.

UPDATE: Talked to Blake after the game. He called himself day-t0-day, and was cautiously optimistic he'd be able to play Sunday against the Knicks.

2. Bench Production, Non-Odom Variety. Free pass in some regards, considering they played very shorthanded, but Brown, Blake, and Barnes combined for seven points between them. Shannon actually made some decent plays in his 16-plus minutes on the floor, but all told it wasn't exactly a prolific night for the reserves, outside Odom.

3. First Half Turnovers, Three Point Defense (tie): The Lakers finished the first half leading by five, but it seemed as if it should have been more given they were shooting over 60 percent at the break. And it would have, save the TO's. Eight of them over the first 24 minutes, including four from Gasol (his big blemish on the evening) leading to 11 points for the visitors. In the second half, the Lakers tightened up- they'd finish with 11 giveaways -- but the were still a little careless on the 3-point line. Too many good looks for Marco Belinelli, who drilled three of his four triple attempts (a couple coming at the expense of Kobe, as did at least one of Trevor Ariza's threes). New Orleans finished with a robust eight-of-19 line from downtown, which helped sustain them throughout. That, and a balanced attack in which all five starters finished with at least 12 points.

The expectation on a night where Chris Paul makes only three field goals would be an easier win, and save a spurt in the third the Lakers definitely controlled the action, but the rest of his teammates came through and made it a game.

Much more to come.