Poise and perfection aren’t terms that have been associated with the Los Angeles Lakers throughout most of this turbulent, confounding season.
Tuesday night in Brooklyn, those were perfect descriptions of the final few minutes of a 92-83 win over the Nets.
Following a free throw by Brook Lopez with 2:32 remaining in the game and the Nets leading 83-82, the suddenly confident Lakers were perfect, not missing any shots while scoring the final 10 points to seal the victory.
Steve Nash made four free throws, with Kobe Bryant, Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark adding two-point baskets to give the Lakers six victories in their last seven games. It was also the biggest road win of the season for a team that has struggled mightily (8-16) away from Staples Center.
The victory was the Lakers’ third in a row on the annual Grammy road trip, raising their overall record to 23-26. LA is 3½
games behind Houston for the final Western Conference playoff spot.
Bryant says this is now a Laker team that’s finally starting to play together and stay under control with the game on the line.
“Poise,” Bryant answered when asked why the Lakers were able to take control of the game down the stretch after blowing an earlier lead. “They hit some shots we were willing to give up, so you have to give them credit for that. But we just stayed with what we do best and maintained our poise.”
With the the Lakers able to stay calm with the distractions they faced in their first game at the billion-dollar Barclays Center, it might be time to start believing that they’ve finally turned things around.
Los Angeles went into the game without starting center Dwight Howard, still trying to recover from a procedure to help with the healing of a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Metta World Peace was inactive — courtesy of the NBA front office — as he served a suspension for mauling Detroit guard Brandon Knight on Sunday. In the aftermath of a play underneath the basket, MWP grabbed Knight around the neck and then added a short left hook to the face to earn the game off without salary.
Bryant is nursing a sore right elbow, and the Lakers’ other big man, Pau Gasol, reinjured his foot in the fourth quarter, a possible reoccurrence of the plantar fasciitis that has bothered him all season.
Gasol left the building on crutches and will have an MRI on Wednesday morning in Boston. For the Lakers to overcome all of that and walk away with a hard-fought win is definitely a positive step for the team.
“We scrapped for this one,” said Nash, who ended up with 17 points and eight assists. “We also grabbed some big rebounds, which is hard to do when we’re (forced to) play small and they’re so much bigger. We ran the clock, got some good shots and executed well down the stretch.”
Lopez led all scorers with 30 points. He also grabbed 11 rebounds to tie teammate Reggie Evans for his team’s high mark. … Clark continues his remarkable road from NBA benchwarmer to a valuable, multi-talented starter on a team with four potential Hall of Famers on its roster. Clark had a game-high 12 rebounds to go along with 14 points. … Bryant led the Lakers with 21 points, and defensively helped hold the Nets to just 34.8 percent shooting from the field. … Brooklyn is just 18-9 at home this season, its first in the borough after moving from New Jersey. … The Lakers now prepare to take on the archrival Celtics Thursday night in TD Garden. The Celtics have 17 NBA titles in their franchise history. The Lakers are second with 16. … Boston will be without point guard Rajon Rondo, out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL.
1 — The Lakers could go from a team with two of the best big men in the game to a team that starts 6-9 Clark at center against the Celtics. Gasol said after the win over the Nets that “I’m very worried” about the foot injury he sustained in the game. Howard, who has been racked by injuries for the last calendar year, made it clear he’s not coming back until his shoulder is near 100%. “This is my career,” the All Star said, “And I’m not going to keep going through this. I’ll be back when I’m ready to play at my best.” A very smart move by Howard, who will never recover until he gives the shoulder time to heal. There’s no need for him to be a martyr, as it looks like the Lakers are finally playing consistent, quality basketball. Much better that he sits out now for a few games — or a few weeks — and be near full-strength if they make the playoffs.
2 — Fans have to feel bad for Gasol. One of the nicest and most accommodating professional athletes I’ve ever been around, this season has been nothing but challenging for the 7-footer. Injuries, trying to find his most effective role in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and having to listen to the coach throw verbal jabs his way has made this the worst season of his career. With the Feb. 21 trading deadline approaching, he’ll likely hear his name mentioned every day. The very likeable Spaniard deserves a lot better.
3 — On April 3, Shaquille O’Neal will have his jersey retired at Staples Center. In talking about his relationship with Shaq, Bryant has constantly said this year that despite the on-court hugs since Shaq departed after the 2004 season, he and O’Neal really don’t like each other — which is something O’Neal had confided to intimates for years. About his struggles in the offense getting used to playing with Howard, Kobe said that it’s better than it was with Shaq “because at least Dwight and I really like each other.” Bryant would normally be expected to say a few words during the O’Neal celebration. It will be very interesting if he does — and even more interesting what he says. Just one more day in “As the Laker World Turns.”