There were some uncertainty before tip-off whether or not Andrew Bynum would return after skipping Tuesday's game against the Nets to rest a mild left ankle sprained he suffered against Golden State last Sunday. But to the Los Angeles Clippers' undesirable luck, Bynum played and wreak havoc to a tune of a season-high 36 points along with 8 rebounds and 4 blocks.
Andrew wasn't the only reason why the Clippers' 6-game winning streak and 7-game home streak were snapped in one night. Kobe Bryant continued his suddenly efficient shooting and dominated the perimeter with 31 points on 13-out-of-19 shooting. Two of those points became the game's biggest shot when he nailed a 21-footer on the face of Randy Foye to give the Lakers a 110-106 lead with 25 seconds left in the 4th quarter and putting the season series in the books 2-1 in favor of the purple and gold.
The win not only puts the Lakers 2 1/2 games ahead of the Clippers in the west for the 3rd seeding, it also gives them a tie-breaker should both teams finish the regular season with identical records.
There are only 11 games left for the Lakers, which includes 3 games versus 2nd place San Antonio and the final matchup against Oklahoma City at Staples Center. That makes the victory against the Clippers a big one since the rest of the schedule for their crosshallway rivals is easier with only the Thunder twice and the Grizzlies once. The Clippers have beaten OKC once at home and have yet to lose to Memphis this year.
Heading into the game, Ramon Sessions was one of the keys to a W. Sessions didn't disappoint. Chris Paul may have collected 22 points and 16 assists for the night, but Ramon made some big plays and didn't go out of his game to try to match CP3's production on the floor.
Sessions attacked the rim and converted a couple of long balls on offense. Defensively, Paul couldn't get into the paint as easily as it was in the previous 2 games against the Lakers because of Ramon's size and quickness. If the Lakers hadn't switched so much on those pick-and-rolls with either Bynum or Pau Gasol ending up on Paul, maybe CP3 scores below 20 for the game.
Metta World Peace wasn't the head of the spear in the Laker win this time around. But his single steal on Paul with 2:14 left in the final quarter turned out to be the defensive play of the game.
The Lakers were only up 105-104 and Paul had already dropped a couple of mid-range jumpers in the paint over both Bynum and Gasol in the previous Clippers possessions. So everyone expected another one from him until Metta's pilfer ended that and any hope for anyone wishing a loss for the Lakers.
Two monster dunks by Blake Griffin over Gasol irritated the big Spaniard but far from enough to drive Pau out of his element. In fact, Gasol played the rest of the game with a chip on his shoulders since Blake's offensive foul..err...one-handed dunk on him in the 3rd quarter.
Gasol rejected Griffin's jump hook attempt and got physical with him under the basket battling for rebounds. In one play, both players were called for a double-foul after Blake answered Pau walking him under the basket with a semi-headlock on a made 3-pointer from Bryant in the 3rd quarter.
Seeing Pau this pumped up and physical is actually a plus for the Lakers since a lot of times he gets outhustled under the boards even when he has excellent position to get a rebound. So it's a treat to watch when it happens because, as we know, they are hard to come by.
Gasol finished with 12 points, 7 boards, and 2 blocks.
The bench struggled to maintain the lead again. The Lakers were up 92-81 when Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, and Josh McRoberts were on the floor to start the final quarter.
It only took the Clippers nearly 60 seconds to bring that lead down to 4 points because Blake was put on instant offense Nick Young and the Lakers' inability to score and rotate to open shooters quick enough.
Mike Brown is doing a pretty good job of harnessing his inner Phil Jackson by putting too much stock on slumping veterans and too little faith on young rookies who couldn't possibly contribute less than what Blake is giving right now.
It's clear to see that Brown is limiting his rotation to get his players acclimated on their minutes for the playoffs. But the danger there is what happens if Blake or Barnes gets injured. They'll then get replaced by the young players who are forced to pick up the slack on the fly after spending each and every game on the bench for several weeks.
The transition wouldn't normally faze a seasoned veteran. But for a young buck like Andrew Goudlocke, Darius Morris, and Devin Ebanks, the sudden, unforgiving weight of the playoffs would unfairly put them in a situation to fail and be remembered for it.
Overall, the Lakers competed from beginning to end. About the only things they didn't do a good job of is keeping the Clippers from grabbing less offensive rebounds than them and not putting the Clippers away after building a 15-point lead.
But whoever said the Lakers were going to correct that problem in one game.
There are exactly 11 games and 20 days left until the end of the regular season. The Lakers are running out of time to rectify a number of outstanding issues before everything is magnified in the post-season.
Seeing that they have yet to find answers to those questions, it's likely that they never will during the remaining weeks leading up to the opening round. If so, they will have to figure out what they've been doing wrong since the start of the season during the final exam.
Let's hope that will all come before it's too late.
Player of the Game
Kobe Bryant: Bynum may have put up more points, but it was Kobe who set the tone for the Lakers and made the clutch basket that secured the victory.
vs. Houston Rockets
Friday, April 6 at 7:30 p.m. (PST)
TV: Prime Ticket
Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN
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Game Highlights (Thanks to LakersHDHighlights)