1. Lakers Scratch And Claw Past Bobcats
LOS ANGELES -- Problems during a slide always seem fatal.
While the Los Angeles Lakers were engulfed in their downward spiral during which they lost six of seven, they looked like a team both ill-prepared and uninspired.
To many, the issues seemed intractable. Skeptics insisted the Lakers could never overcome Mike D'Antoni's supposed allergy to defense, and a lack of depth that demands significant minutes from marginal players -- a shortcoming the Thunder, Spurs, Clippers and Grizzlies don't have to worry about.
Should a precarious 101-100 win on Tuesday night at Staples Center over the Charlotte Bobcats -- one that required a 32-8 run to come back from an 18-point second-half deficit -- quell those concerns? Do you salute the resilience, even if the rally came against a Charlotte team that came into the game as losers of its last 10 games? Or is it unseemly to take comfort in a squeaker over a young, reeling team that hasn't won since Thanksgiving weekend?
"There's no need to be disappointed," Dwight Howard said. "This is three games in a row."
Setting down Washington, Philadelphia and Charlotte in order isn't exactly a sweep of the Texas Trio of yore, and we've hardly witnessed wholesale reform on the defensive end -- yielding 100 points in 95 possessions to the 25th-ranked offense in the league doesn't impress.
But the Lakers got key stops during their spurt, as they applied basic defensive principles that were entirely absent during the slump -- and for much of Tuesday night before the great awakening.
"The last three games our energy has been there," said Kobe Bryant, who led all scorers with 30 points. "We got six stops [at the start of the fourth quarter] and we got the [deficit] down by a big margin. We finally got our act together and started playing some defense."
So while the worm hasn't completely turned in Los Angeles, it's starting to wiggle through the California soil.
While the losses were piling up for the Lakers, all the blemishes seemed terminal to hardened pessimists -- the transition defense (29th in points allowed), coughing up the ball (last in turnover rate), giving up 3-pointers (24th in opponents' 3-pointers made) and Pau Gasol's discomfort in D'Antoni's system prior to the big man's injury, among other assorted deficiencies.
For all the anxiety over Gasol's adaptability in D'Antoni's offense, the Lakers rank fifth in offensive efficiency. On Tuesday night, Gasol took the floor for the first time in nine games.
He put up modest scoring numbers in 29 minutes -- 10 points on 3-for-10 shooting from the field -- but appeared more comfortable in D'Antoni's scheme. This was especially true when he was the sole big man on the floor. With Howard on the bench, Gasol logged a plus-18. While the two were out there together, Gasol was a minus-22.
"I think it's good that we spend some time together on the court and also apart so I can play a little more center and closer to the basket," Gasol said. " I always like to combine [playing power forward and center], but mostly I like to be inside and operate from there because I still feel like I'm one of the best players in the post in the league with my skill set. I want to be able to utilize it."
D'Antoni's system is more amenable to a single big surrounded by four perimeter players, one reason the Lakers coach has recently slid Metta World Peace to the power forward slot, allowing Howard and Gasol to operate as the lone big man. On Tuesday night, World Peace came off the bench in that capacity.
"For us to have a different team, a different look, Metta has to play the 4," D'Antoni said. "That's the whole process. And I think Metta going forward, as soon as he gets comfortable with the 4 role, he will be very productive and our team will be very productive. You have got Dwight, you have a 7-footer in there so we can go small and I just think it puts Jodie Meeks out there. It puts Kobe more room to operate. Once we get [Steve] Nash back, it will be the pick-and-rolls that are able to operate."
D'Antoni can tolerate a few posts sets, as long as the ball pops quickly if the offense begins to stagnate, something the Lakers did with success on Tuesday night. Through all the turmoil, D'Antoni has maintained an unwavering devotion to his plan. He has readily acknowledged that the team has underachieved since he took over, but he also conveys great conviction that these issues are entirely correctable.
"I'm trying to figure out what's the best way to play the team," D'Antoni said. "We will keep looking at film, keep revisiting."
A protracted discussion of systems has reigned in Los Angeles since Mike Brown and Eddie Jordan instituted the Princeton Offense what seems like eons ago. D'Antoni has now instituted his scheme, though it's still a work in process.
One system has endured for the Lakers, and that's Bryant's solo performance during closing time. With the game tied 97-97 inside of 90 seconds, the Lakers managed three possessions.
On each of the trips, only Bryant touched the ball. He drained two of his three shot attempts, enough to lift the Lakers to a one-point victory.
"It's about winning," Bryant said. "Are you doing what you need to do to win the game? The game that's in front of you. It's not about how many times you shoot the ball, or how many touches you get. You're just kidding yourself."
Kevin Arnovitz is an NBA writer and editor for ESPN.com. Follow him @kevinarnovitz.
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
MVP: It's almost a cop out to give Kobe Bryant the MVP, but he played a hell of a game. He recorded his seventh straight 30-point game on 11-for-24 shooting and chipped in 6 rebounds and 7 assists.
X factor: Pau Gasol had a decent stat line in his first game back after missing a couple of weeks with knee tendinitis. He was Mr. Everything with 10 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 blocks.
That was ... fun: Even though the Bobcats fell short, Kemba Walker was prolific. He hit a barrage of jump shots and was able to get to the rim against the Lakers defense. He dropped 28 points to follow his 32 -point outburst against Orlando a few nights ago.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Mo Williams. He had some ugly shooting percentages, but Williams scored 5 points and assisted two scores -- in four straight possessions -- to give Utah the fourth-quarter lead, and the Jazz never looked back.
X factor: Derrick Favors. Making his first visit to the stadium where he could've played for years, Favors was simply more dynamic than the players forced to guard him, chipping in 13 points and 3 blocks off the bench.
That was ... unfortunate: Reggie Evans could've sent the game to overtime on a putback, but instead took a jump shot while drifting backward -- which, of course, he bricked. That's probably not what Avery Johnson teaches in practice.
Recap | Box score
MVP: That would be LeBron James, the World's Greatest. LBJ scored 22 easy points, dropped 11 dimes and tallied 7 boards and 4 blocks. All along, he exerted a subtle control over the game that became perceptible only when truly necessary.
X factor: The Heat hit 13 of 25 3-pointers. The Wolves hit 4 of 17. The Wolves piled up extra possessions on offensive boards, but it wasn't enough to overcome that ugly outside shooting disparity.
That was ... terrifying: The Heat have had some trouble defending this season; that trouble was not in evidence tonight. They swarmed the ball, collapsed the rim, forced turnovers, helped, recovered and made it all look easy.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Lou Williams. Just when it looked like the Wizards were about to take control of the game, Williams came through. He made timely shot after timely shot, was 10-for-11 from the line and held the offense together when everything seemed else to be falling apart.
X factor: DeShawn Stevenson. Coach Larry Drew was hoping he wouldn't have to play Stevenson, but he did when Jordan Crawford erupted in the third quarter. Stevenson sat most of the fourth but strapped up Crawford on Washington's game-winning opportunity, hit the dagger 3-pointer of the game and, of course, followed it with his "I can't feel my face" hand wave.
That was ... entertaining: This looked like a potential blowout in the first three minutes of the game, but the Wizards quickly righted the ship and made Atlanta work for their offense. Washington received contributions from some unlikely sources, such as Earl Barron and Bradley Beal, but ultimately, the Hawks were just too pesky in overtime.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Joakim Noah. Chicago's hyperactive big man was hyper-productive, racking up a triple-double (11 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists) to pace the Bulls' rout of the Celtics.
LVP: Jeff Green. In the latest in a series of no-shows, Green (1-of-6 in 10 mostly empty minutes) again failed to give Boston anything on either side of the ball.
Defining moment: It went like this and it happened again and again: A Bulls guard breaks down Boston's perimeter defense and dishes the ball to a wide-open cutter for a layup.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Brandon Jennings. He was superb most of the night and scored his game-high 34 points on just 22 shots. When the Bucks needed a bucket most -- up three with just more than a minute to play -- he put himself on an island and blew by his defender to drop in a layup high off the glass. In all, he scored 11 of Milwaukee's final 13 points.
X factor: Mike Dunleavy Jr. The Bucks got 23 points from their bench, and 17 of them came from Dunleavy. He hit three of his five attempts from behind the arc, and even blocked two shots while adding a third credible threat to Milwaukee's offense down the stretch.
Defining moment: Start of the third quarter. The Pacers coughed up 14 turnovers in the first half but shot well enough to feel in control of the game with a three-point halftime edge. Then Milwaukee opened the third on an 8-2 run while holding Indiana to 2-for-10 shooting. This set the tone for a Bucks defense that held the Pacers' offense to 13-for-44 shooting in the second half.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Tim Duncan. The MVP usually goes to the winning team, but Duncan's night was too good to go unrewarded. The Big Fundamental came through with 31 points, 18 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 blocks and 2 steals in a losing effort. He's 36 years old, by the way.
X factor: Thanks to team speed and San Antonio turnovers, the Nuggets outscored San Antonio 29-9 on fast-break points. The Spurs really struggled to defend the Nuggets in transition on Tuesday night.
That was ... quite a reversal: The game started out with both teams looking like they were playing in quicksand. Instead of slowing down even more, the game picked up speed and finished with a flurry. It was a very Benjamin Button-like game.
Recap | Box score
MVP: David Lee. The surging lefty came up a rebound shy of his eighth straight 20-point, 10-rebound game, but made a profound impact in the Warriors' win nonetheless. Dominating offensively from the get-go, he had 24 points on 10-of-16 from the field and doled out 4 assists, too.
X factor: Bench play. There are many factors contributing to Golden State's hot start, but perhaps none more influential than the play of their revamped reserve corps. Carl Landry had 16 points and 9 rebounds, Jarrett Jack had 16 points and 9 assists, and Draymond Green made every available hustle play.
That was ... a close call: The Warriors seemed in control for the game's majority, but a late New Orleans run led by Greivis Vasquez and Anthony Davis tied the game at 92 apiece. Golden State ultimately prevailed, but a team with such a gaudy record should put teams like the Hornets away much earlier.
3. Tuesday's Best
Kobe Bryant, Lakers: Bryant scored 10 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter -- and four in the final 1:26 -- to lead the Lakers' comeback over the woeful Bobcats. Tuesday was Bryant's seventh straight 30-plus-point game and the third straight win for the Lakers.
4. Tuesday's Worst
Nets can't finish: After shooting 51 percent and leading by 13 points after the first half against Utah, Brooklyn crumbled at home. Deron Williams' former team held the Nets to just 33 points in the second half, and Brooklyn failed to capitalize on numerous chances to tie the game in the final seconds. The Nets have lost 5 of 6 at home.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"I had to go back to my whole Peter Pan theory, man. You can't fight without happy thoughts."
-- Bulls guard Nate Robinson, on Chicago's 16-5 run to start the fourth quarter against Boston.
8. Heated In Miami
9. Stat Check
Tim Duncan scored 31 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and blocked 5 shots, but it wasn't enough for the Spurs at Denver. It was only the second time in Duncan's NBA career that he reached those statistical minimums in each of those categories. The other game in which Duncan did that was more than 11 years ago (32 points, 19 rebounds, 5 blocks in Phoenix on Dec. 14, 2001).
10. Dunk Of The Night
MVP: Jose Calderon was extremely efficient, posting 23 points on 10-for-15 shooting. He took advantage of Kyrie Irving tonight, blowing by him with impunity and either converting at the rim or finding a capable teammate.
X factor: The Raptors' ball movement on offense was superb. The Cavs couldn't key on any one player because as soon as their defense rotated, the ball was in the hands of an open man.
Defining moment: At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Raptors bench beat the tar out of Cleveland's bench, transforming a two-point lead into 12 in less than three minutes.
MVP: O.J. Mayo, whose stock has risen as much as anyone's since the 2012-13 season tipped off, did big things again on Tuesday. Juice led all involved with 26 points on just 12 shots -- including a pair of layups that bulwarked a Philadelphia fourth-quarter surge -- and got his teammates involved, too, handing out eight dimes.
X factor: With yo-yoing minutes and similarly uneven performances, Dorell Wright has struggled to find his niche in Philadelphia. He may have found it. Wright was tremendous in a losing effort, hitting four fourth-quarter 3-pointers on his way to a season-high 25-point effort.
That was ... an inside-outside battle: On a night when the Sixers made their hay from the perimeter -- Philadelphia attempted 35 3-pointers and hit a baker's dozen -- the Mavericks pounded the paint. Dallas outscored Philadelphia inside by a 48-32 margin, many of the uncontested "where's the D?" variety.
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