LOS ANGELES — The Lakers made modest history at Staples Center on Tuesday night, but you had to look a little harder than usual to find it.
You had to look past the much-hyped and much-needed return of Pau Gasol to the Lakers lineup. You had to look past LA’s crazy comeback from an 18-point, third-quarter hole for a 101-100 win over the woeful Charlotte Bobcats.
That’s where you found Kobe Bryant, age 34, setting an NBA record by being the oldest player in NBA history to score 30 or more points in seven consecutive games.
Bryant scored an even 30 on this night as the Lakers improved to 12-14 with their third consecutive win, prompting Bryant to praise the team — and especially the bench — for maybe the first time this season.
“Well, we got ourselves down again but we finally got some stops when we had to and we finally got our act together on defense,” Bryant said.
“That’s what our crew should do coming in off the bench. They changed the tempo of the game. Darius (Morris) played great defense and so did Jodie Meeks, even though he’s not known for it. (The bench) needs to cause havoc out there; change the tempo of the game. That’s what they should become known for.”
The Lakers also received boosts from Dwight Howard, who totaled 16 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks, and Gasol, who had 10 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four blocks after missing the last eight games with knee tendinitis.
“It was good to have Pau back out there,” Kobe said. “He just has to start to get his game in rhythm, which he will, and he always makes the games so much easier for all of us to play. As soon as we get little Gatsby (Steve Nash) back, we’ll be ready to roll.”
Coach Mike D’Antoni has been saying for weeks that the Lakers haven’t really had a gut-check moment, where they planted their feet, made a stand and came away victorious.
He finally saw it Tuesday night.
“We pulled it together and played great defense,” a relieved D’Antoni said. “(Charlotte) only scored 22 points in the last 18 minutes. We got a win and now we’ll move on.”
For real NBA history buffs, there was another subplot, this one involving the Bobcats’ Gerald Henderson Jr.
File it under the heading, “The sins of the father will be visited upon the son.”
With the Bobcats trailing by one with four seconds left, Henderson, who scored 19, had an uncontested layup that would have won it for Charlotte. But the ball rolled oh-so-slowly around the rim and fell off. The Bobcats rebounded, but Ben Gordon’s desperation 3-point attempt missed and the Bobcats suffered a 12th consecutive loss.
Where does the elder Henderson fit in all of this?
In the 1984 Finals, the Lakers led the Boston Celtics — and Gerald Henderson Sr. — 1-0 in the series and were ahead 113-111 with 18 seconds remaining in Game 2 at Boston Garden. The Lakers had never beaten the Celtics in a Finals series, going 0-for-7 up to that point.
It looked like that was likely to change, with Magic Johnson and Co. poised to take a 2-0 lead in the Finals by winning two in the Garden before heading back home to The Forum for Game 3. But Henderson, a three-time NBA champion, stole James Worthy’s inbounds pass and sprinted upcourt for a layup that sent the game into overtime.
The Celtics would win 124-121 and eventually claimed their eighth Finals against the Lakers in a hard-fought seven-game series.
Henderson Sr. is a reviled still by longtime Lakers fans, and watching his son blow a “gimme” layup was maybe a bit of redemption for what the father did 28 years ago.
1. D’Antoni decided to bring Metta World Peace off the bench after he’d started the first 25 games of the season. He responded to the change with 17 points, seven rebounds and four steals, and said he’ll do anything D’Antoni wants him to do. The coach said he was doing it to get more energy off the bench and to give MWP more time at power forward. “For us to have a different look and be a better team, Metta has to play the four,” D’Antoni said. In the long run it may turn out to be the right move, but it might also backfire on D’Antoni for one simple reason: the Lakers also need energy at the beginning of games. They’ve come out flat in the majority of the games they’ve played this season, and MWP’s frenetic movement might be missed early on.
2. The loser in Metta’s position change is Jordan Hill. The power forward/center has been a consistent source of energy for the Lakers since he began to get significant minutes last season when MWP was suspended for elbowing James Harden in the head last April. Hill’s contributions go far beyond his numbers — 5.8 ppg and 5.4 rpg in 15.4 minutes per game — and it really isn’t fair to one of the few Lakers who has played hard all season long.
3. The Lakers will go through one more major period of
adjustment beginning probably on Christmas Day against the New York Knicks at
Staples Center. That’s the target date for Nash’s return to the lineup, and
they won’t have played any minutes with their point guard in nearly two
calendar months. As great as Nash is, it will likely be a chaotic scene for a
while when he returns, as his teammates try to learn Nash’s style all over