Maybe all those agonizingly close games last season are finally paying off for the Lakers. They won their third straight by beating San Antonio on Wednesday night and all three of the games (Orlando and Miami being the other two) came down to the final minutes of regulation and overtime.
Here’s a stat: The Lakers are now 13-4 in games decided by eight points or less this season. They were 20-20 in those games last season.
Kobe Bryant put in perspective what a victory at AT&T Center means afterward. He was telling a story from the Lakers’ win here last season. In the locker room after that game, Lamar Odom told Bryant that he never had won a game in San Antonio with the Clippers or Miami Heat. Bryant couldn’t believe it, but it’s not surprising if it’s true.
The Spurs went 34-7 at home in 2005-06 and a nearly bulletproof 38-3 in 2004-05. Their home record after losing Wednesday to the Lakers is just 14-7. As Bryant said: “This is a tough place to play. For us to come in here and win, it’s big for us. I’m sure it’s not that big (a loss) for San Antonio. But it’s big for us.”
A couple of thoughts from the game:
No. 1: Even though they were outscored 21-11 after he went to the bench, the Lakers still won a game in which Bryant got in early foul trouble. He picked up two personals in the first 3:30, bringing back all the bad memories from last week’s losses at Memphis and Houston. Bryant was called for two fouls in the first quarter of both those games, disrupting the Lakers’ substitution patterns.
“We were able to survive that first quarter,” coach Phil Jackson said, “and then Kobe was able to really carry the team the second.”
No. 2: The Lakers bench players were able to give the team a boost at the start of the fourth quarter before Bryant returned. It was basically two plays – – Sasha Vujacic drawing a three-shot foul and Vladimir Radmanovic driving for that spectacular baseline dunk – – but was enough for the Lakers to lead 79-73 when Bryant came back.
They pushed that lead out to 83-73 with Bryant getting to the line and finding Brian Cook for a dunk. As it turned out, the Lakers needed every one of those points to withstand the Spurs rally. The Lakers’ bench outscored their San Antonio counterparts 37-21 in the game.
No. 3: This was the 202nd game I’ve covered on the beat and I’ve never seen a team get a technical foul for having only four players on the court. The Spurs were guilty at the start of the fourth quarter – – Bruce Bowen was the forgotten man – – and Vujacic wound up taking the technical with Bryant sitting.
No. 4: You had to love Robert Horry hitting a 3-pointer in front of the Lakers’ bench in the third quarter. They were the first points of an 11-2 run for the Spurs. Horry also chased down Radmanovic and blocked his fast-break layup from behind. He finished with three points in 11 minutes.
“He still has that uncanny ability to make key shots,” Jackson said of Horry before the game. “I know they’d like to have him back in a support role instead of in this kind of (starter minutes) role, but he’ll be fine come playoff time to have as another weapon out there.”
No. 5: It feels really strange to play one game in San Antonio this season. With 15 teams in each conference, the Lakers would wind up playing 56 conference games if they placed each team four times. They have to play each Eastern Conference team home and away, which adds up to 30 games. So you’d be looking at an 86-game schedule otherwise. So the Lakers play San Antonio and Portland only once on the road each this season.
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If you’re going to watch one game this month, make tonight’s game against Dallas it. In fact, I might be able to drive you to Dallas if you live along Interstate 35 in Texas. There haven’t been a lot of flights getting in or out of here the last couple of days.
The Mavericks are going to want to avenge the loss that ended their 13-game winning streak. The Lakers are playing with house money after winning in San Antonio. You never know whether Bryant’s going to score 62 points in three quarters against the Mavs. Jackson and Mark Cuban might rekindle an old feud. It should be great.