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This was not a dominating performance by the Lakers, but it was a performance that suggests they’re going to be okay.
It was another must-win game, but unlike the game against the Celtics on Wednesday, not everything went right for the Lakers on Friday night.
For starters, Steve Nash’s back condition (spondylolisthesis) acted up and as a result his shot was off all night, leading him to score just four points on disappointing 2 of 11 shooting. Nash, one of the greatest free throw shooters of all time, also had a terrible miss from the charity stripe – not DeAndre Jordan terrible, of course, but not close to going in, either.
No problem, though. Kobe Bryant picked up the slack and scored 40 points on very impressive 15 of 23 shooting, meaning that the Lakers starting guard combination scored 44 points on solid 50% (17-34 FG) shooting.
In other words, Kobe stepped up and bailed out Nash on a night when Nash needed help. That’s what good teammates do.
Another example was when Dwight Howard was fouled hard and re-aggravated his right shoulder. Lakers fans remember the last time this happened in Phoenix on January 30, when Howard left that game with his team leading comfortably in the fourth quarter, only to see them collapse in one of the team’s five most disappointing losses of the season.
Not this time, though. Whether he was drawing inspiration from the ceremony for Dr. Jerry Buss earlier in the week or not, Dwight played through the pain this time, and in the process ensured his team got the win. He finished with 19 points and 16 rebounds, including some great defensive play when the game was on the line.
Regardless of the source of Dwight’s inspiration to play through the pain, his teammates will now in turn draw inspiration from his performance against the Blazers. Commitment is contagious.
It is definitely true that this was a game Lakers fans were hoping their team would win as convincingly as they had against the Celtics two nights earlier, and instead they pulled out a nail biter.
But the key take-away is that the Lakers showed some heart and grit, continued to look like a team rather than a collection of individuals, and managed to win a game they likely would have lost in January. They willed themselves to a win, which is what they need to do on nights when things are not going their way.
Going forward, the biggest immediate concerns for the Lakers are injuries – which include not only Nash’s back and Howard’s shoulder, but also Earl Clark’s newly-dislocated finger – and the schedule.
At last report, all three injured Lakers are expected to play through their injuries. On the one hand, this is great, as it shows all three recognize the importance of winning these games. On the other hand, it means that 60% of the Lakers’ starters will be playing injured, which surely will have some adverse effect on their performance.
The schedule is the other immediate concern.
First, they have a Sunday morning game in Dallas which, like Portland, is another team vying with the Lakers for the final play-off spot. Beyond the injuries and tough competition, though, the other concern is the early tip-off time. Fans clearly remember the maddeningly uninspired January 20 morning game against the Raptors, which was another of the Lakers’ top five most disappointing losses of the season.
After the Dallas game, the Lakers then fly to Denver to play the fifth-place Nuggets in the mile-high city on the second night of a back-to-back, which is historically a recipe for disaster for any visiting team.
Somehow, the Lakers need to pull off the win in Dallas on Sunday, which would remove at least some of the urgency for the Denver game. But if the Lakers lose in Dallas, then the Denver game would become a must-win.
(A note on Nash’s back: Nash suffers from a condition called spondylolisthesis. His entire regimen is geared toward keeping it from flaring up, but it somehow flared up against Portland – for the first time this year, I believe. It’s been my observation over the years that once Nash’s back acts up it only fully heals when he calls in noted therapist Rick Celebrini to work on it, and once Celebrini’s work is done Nash returns at 100%. But I have not yet seen any mention of Celebrini’s name since the Portland game.)
Lakers’ Player of the Game
Kobe Bryant was tonight’s Player of the Game. He scored 40 points very efficiently (15-23 FG, 1-3 3-PT, 9-9 FT), grabbed seven rebounds, dished out four assists and grabbed two steals. Given Nash’s troubles tonight, it was important that Bryant step up, and he did just that.
Since the previous game against the Celtics, Kobe had said publicly that there was no doubt in his mind that the Lakers would make the play-offs, and he saw to it tonight that they got a win in a game they could not afford to lose.
Top Two Tweets in My Twitter Feed
“Nash: ‘It’s great to win when you don’t play your best, not on your A- game; that’s what it’s all about. Playoff teams always find a way.” – @Lakers, post-game tweet
“Dwight very candid tonight: ‘I think it starts with me. I have to do a better job of playing hard. I’m going to try.’” – @RamonaShelburne, post-game tweet
Sunday, February 24 vs. the Dallas Mavericks, 10:00 a.m. PST