Commentary

Lakers return from 'average' road trip

With a close call vs. the Raptors, Los Angeles finishes its annual Grammy trip 3-3

Updated: February 14, 2012, 10:20 AM ET
By Holly MacKenzie | Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com

TORONTO -- After splitting six games on the road, the Los Angeles Lakers are headed home.

Despite hitting the game-winner for Los Angeles in a 94-92 victory against the Toronto Raptors, Kobe Bryant was reserved when asked to grade the team on their longest road trip of the season.

"Average," Bryant said. "Average, 3-3. Average."

[+] EnlargeKobe Bryant
Ron Turenne/NBAE/Getty ImagesKobe Bryant put the Lakers on his back late in their 94-92 win over the Raptors.

Lakers coach Mike Brown was more optimistic.

"We would have liked to have more wins on this road trip but to go 3-3 is not bad from the standpoint that I told our guys that they have to remember that this season is not a sprint, this is a marathon," he said.

The game against the Raptors was not the sort of game that the Lakers would like to become routine.

After being plagued by slow starts, they wasted no time getting getting things going against the Raptors on a Sunday matinee at the Air Canada Centre. With two minutes remaining in the first quarter they held their largest lead of the game at 18 points, but still needed Bryant to be their closer in crunch time.

This isn't anything new, as the team has gone through offensive lulls throughout this road trip. Against the Raptors, the struggles came in the third quarter as the team came out with heavy legs, hitting just 29 percent of their shots in the quarter to go into the fourth with the lead down to six.

Raptors point guard Jose Calderon scored a career-high 30 points, adding himself to the list of point guards who have given Los Angeles trouble this season. Calderon scored 10 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter when the Raptors took their first lead of the game on a dunk by Ed Davis that was sandwiched around a stretch of six consecutive misses from Bryant.

Despite the cold streak, in the end, it was Bryant who bailed the Lakers out.

He struck first with a 3-pointer to cut a four-point Raptors lead to one. Then there was the steal and assist to Metta World Peace for a lay-in to give the Lakers the lead. Finally, the fadeaway with 4.8 seconds remaining that put the Lakers on top for good. While Bryant was brilliant late, the Lakers benefited just as much from miscues by the Raptors, including a five-second inbound violation with 4.2 seconds on the clock, giving the Lakers the opportunity to stretch their lead.

Bryant knows how to play hero, but heroics shouldn't have been necessary, and he knew it.

"We're a poor road team and that's where we need to turn around," Bryant said. "If we could figure out how to win games on the road our record would be much, much better."

World Peace praised his teammate, saying he has managed to elevate his game yet again.

"It was unexpected," World Peace said of the bounce Bryant has in his legs this season. "Just because he was hurt the last two years I've been here. He was hurt and he was more slow. Maybe he had a lot of minutes, maybe he's getting over the hill, but he came back stronger. Like, wow. He's dunking, he's getting up on his fadeaway shot. He's really getting up on that shot, which he wasn't doing. His fadeaway got lift, which he didn't have last year."

World Peace flashed a grin when he was asked what opposing defenders are thinking when they face Bryant at the end of the game with the game on the line. "On a final possession like that?" World Peace said. "I mean … if it ain't Ron Artest, you probably don't have a chance. Good luck."

After giving up all of their 18-point cushion against the Raptors, Los Angeles didn't quite have to rely on luck, but they did force their superstar into having to save the day. They also turned what could have been an easy game with their veterans watching from the bench into a 48-minute fight.