Posted April 15, 2013

Three-Pointers: Kobe-less Lakers cut magic number to 1 by holding off Spurs

Antawn Jamison, Ben Golliver, Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, Steve Blake, Tony Parker
Steve Blake

Steve Blake was one of a number of Lakers who stepped up in Kobe Bryant’s absence. (Noah Graham/Getty Images)

The Lakers held off the Spurs 91-88 at the Staples Center on Sunday, improving to 44-37 and maintaining control of their playoff destiny. The Spurs fell to 58-22 and are now a full game back of the No. 1 seed in the West.

1. Pride check passed, with flying colors

Kobe Bryant’s season-ending Achilles tear offered the remaining Lakers the cover to write off their last two games and call off the playoff chase. Had they laid an egg against the Spurs or Rockets, both playoff-bound teams with high-powered offenses, they would have been spared much of the media’s savaging. The Lakers just aren’t “the Lakers” without Bryant, and any expectation that L.A. might make a little noise in the postseason exited the building as ira franchise player limped off last Friday night. Put simply: Losing out would have been understandable and any result better than that would be treated as found money.

With that in mind, Sunday’s win was a downright plucky performance from the Lakers, who did benefit from Tony Parker struggling and playing limited minutes. Virtually every item on the checklist assembled here at The Point Forward on Saturday was checked off on Sunday, none more important than the emergence of Steve Blake, who scored 23 points on 8-for-16 shooting and 4-for-8 from three-point range. That marked the most points the pass-first Blake has scored since April 2010. His outburst registered with maximum impact in a choppy contest that saw both teams struggle to score throughout.

The Lakers found the second perimeter weapon they needed to compensate in Bryant’s absence, but it wasn’t Metta World Peace, Jodie Meeks or even Darius Morris. Instead, Antawn Jamison hit for 15 points, including three three-pointers, his most prolific outside shooting game in nearly a month. Together, that was enough to supplement a solid, No. 1 option type of night from Dwight Howard, who finished with game highs of 26 points and 17 rebounds, and managed to survive another episode of Hack-a-Howard from Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

The smooth, effortless Spurs offensive attack that we’re accustomed to seeing simply never showed up, with Parker shooting just 1-for-10 and the Spurs as a whole making only 37.1 percent. The San Antonio Express-News reported that Popovich explained his decision to sit Parker down the stretch by saying that his All-Star point guard was “playing awful.”

For all the worrying about the Thunder’s sometimes inconsistent play, the Spurs’ offensive attack isn’t exactly entering the postseason on a high note. San Antonio is fourth in scoring at 103.3 points, and yet it’s failed to crack 100 points in seven of eight games and has failed to top 90 in four of those games. Of course, that streak coincides perfectly with Manu Ginobili’s absence because of a hamstring injury; Parker has also played 30 minutes or more in just three of the last eight games. We’ll see if those struggles — relative to their usual high standard — are enough to make the Spurs a trendy upset pick over the next week. Probably not, but you never know how and when the NBA intelligentsia is going to overreact..

2. The last time The Point Forward checked in on L.A.’s playoff odds, last Monday, we concluded that the Lakers needed to finish 4-1 to give themselves a shot to make the postseason. Sunday marked L.A.’s fourth consecutive victory, one that strongly swung its race with the Jazz for the West’s No. 8  seed in its favor. The 44-37 Lakers and 42-38 Jazz now have a combined three games left. Here are the remaining scenarios.

Lakers beat Rockets –> Lakers in
Lakers lose to Rockets and Jazz lose to Timberwolves or Grizzlies –> Lakers in
Lakers lose to Rockets and Jazz beat Timberwolves and Grizzlies –> Jazz in

L.A.’s magic number is now one. A Lakers win or one Jazz loss and L.A. advances to the postseason, where it will likely face the Thunder, lead the Spurs by one game and own the tiebreaker. After battling for months to get into the playoffs, the Lakers could clinch the No. 8 seed as soon as Monday night, when the Jazz face the Timberwolves in Minnesota. If the Lakers lose their finale to the Rockets on Wednesday and the Jazz win out, both teams would finish 44-38 and Utah would advance to the postseason by virtue of a tiebreaker.

It’s small consolation in the face of losing Bryant to a serious, potentially career-altering injury, but the Lakers accomplished exactly what they needed to over the last seven days to avoid the ignominy of a lottery trip. Defeating the Spurs without Bryant was surely one of the most satisfying victories of the season for coach Mike D’Antoni and his players.

Meanwhile, the race for the West’s No. 1 seed breaks down like this for the 59-21 Thunder and 58-22 Spurs. Oklahoma City can clinch the top spot as soon as Monday night.

Thunder beat Kings or Bucks –> Thunder in
Spurs lose to Warriors or Timberwolves –> Thunder in
Thunder lose to Kings and Bucks and Spurs beat Warriors and Timberwolves –> Spurs in

Reminder: The Lakers are 1-3 against the Thunder this season, with two of those losses coming by double digits. Oklahoma City also eliminated L.A. in the 2012 Western Conference semifinals.

3. Bryant underwent successful surgery on his Achilles Saturday and is essentially bed-bound during the early stages of his recuperation. That didn’t stop him from posting messages on Twitter before and after the game.

14 comments
MrMellow
MrMellow

I see a lot of folks on here downgrading Kobe.  But no matter what you say he has five rings and a bunch of other startling stats (like 81 points in one game).  Even Jordan said he would take Kobe over Lebron because as of right now 5 beats 1.  All this he had help winning his Championships is just stupid talk.  Ummm, every great player has help winning their Championships.  Jordan had Pippen.  Bird had Mchale, Parish and DJ.  Magic had Kareem and Worthy.  Its like, the only way you people would give Kobe any credit is if he went 1 on 5 and won a Championship.     

NarayanDeJesúsReyes
NarayanDeJesúsReyes

Kobe for all his skill and ability has never really stuck me as star who elevated those around him; not like Jordan or Hakeem.  I can remember, the players around those two seemed to grow in confidence when put along side them in the game. With Bryant I have only the memory of his lob to Shaq against the Pippen, Steve Smith, Rasheed Wallace - Trailblazers.  Another thing to point out is that the true glue for the later championships was Pau Gasol, without him Bynum would have been a shadow of what you saw out there, Lamar Odom benefited much, because you had to be accountable for the two big men in and around the basket.  I have come to respect Mamba more as times passes, nonetheless I'll stop short of calling him the best player of his generation; and that's without even considering LeBron, Durant, Carmelo or Paul in the conversation.

dorado
dorado

kobe is one of my all-time favorite players, but he's still a ball hog, and teams still double and triple team him every time he touches the ball.  the lakers function better as a team without him and his heroics.  hopefully, management doesn't blow this team up too much over the off-season, and they learn to play well together...then kobe can come back in a derek fisher type role and hit the big shots when necessary, not carry the full load.

TomMeneses
TomMeneses

I don't think Kobe would ever accept that role.

dorado
dorado

@TomMeneses i don't mean coming off the bench.  but if the team is winning before he comes back, his ball hogging will be much more obvious to him.  he'll have to transition back in.  hopefully it will be the end of kobe taking 20 seconds off the clock shot and going one-on-one against a triple team.

Ryan1
Ryan1 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Kobe is over-rated, great player but lets not say he was the greatest of his era?

There seems to be this retrospective history. 


Shaq was the man in those first titles and Kobe ran him out of town, where he went on to win another title, where he in Miami, was again the man, and Wade really rose to the occasion in the playoffs.


Kobe was the man on the next set of titles but he certainly didn't do it alone. The reality is no matter how good Kobe is, outside of maybe Lebron, there is no substitute for a dominant big man and Howard could be that and running the game through him, could make the Lakers more dangerous.

In the era he played and amongst his peers (from which we can exclude Jordan), Kobe is behind Shaq and behind Tim Duncan. He will end up behind Lebron by all appearances. He is definitely superior to other great stars of his era like Garnett or Iverson, and Kobe is an all time great but lets not make him out to be Jordan or something more than he is.

MrMellow
MrMellow

@Ryan1 So who wins Championships alone?  You say Kobe certainly didn't do it alone.  Lebron couldn't win a championship until he let his contract expire than manufactured a team with Wade and Bosh.  

madjob33
madjob33

couldn't agree more...in my recollection, I cannot think of another superstar in  NBA history who forced a separation with another Championship level Superstar ( Shaq) like Kob - "ME". Let's see... keep a $30 million dollar Superstar with a ruptured Achilles  to recover from or rebuild with a younger superstar ( Howard) ? Hmmmmm..........

MrMellow
MrMellow

@madjob33 Hmmmmm, let me stick with the guy who already has 5 rings or the guy who has none.   Hmmmmmm.  I bet Lakers management is smarter than you and is saying we are sticking with both.

tfaw
tfaw like.author.displayName 1 Like

without kobe they will now become a team...win or lose, they will be fun to watch once again now that they are sans rapist.

MrMellow
MrMellow

@tfaw So with Kobe you have no team?  Than how did Kobe win five championships?  And, how many rings do all of the Laker players, including the coaches, have combined?  Two!

porkfish
porkfish like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I got about two paragraphs in before the font rendered this article totally unreadable. Comic sans would look more professional.