PORTLAND, Ore. –Too many times the Lakers’ playoff fortunes appeared to evaporate.
The Lakers couldn’t stop Portland’s speedy rookie point guard Damian Lillard. The Lakers couldn’t consistently hold onto a lead after fighting so hard to overcome a double-digit deficit. The Lakers couldn’t ever get a grip on their defensive rotations.
But as they once demonstrated during a run that secured them consecutive NBA championships three years ago, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol turned a dicey situation into one that gives the Lakers hope their season goes beyond next week.
The Lakers’ 113-106 victory Wednesday over the Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden cemented a one-game edge over the Utah Jazz (41-38) for the Western Conference’s eighth playoff spot with three games remaining. The Lakers also swept their first back-to-back set this season after 15 unsuccessful attempts despite playing in a venue where they have gone 5-17 since 2002.
It all started with Bryant scoring with 47 points on 14 of 26 shooting in 48 minutes, an output that eclipsed LeBron James for the most points an opponent scored at the Rose Garden
“He’s just determined to get us into the playoffs,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “That’s what happens when you open your mouth and guarantee we’ll get in the playoffs. Now he’s got to do it.”
Bryant became the first player in NBA history to record 47 points, eight rebounds, five assists, four blocks and three steals in a game. He reached such a feat despite averaging 45.66 minutes in the past six games.
“You don’t look for excuses,” Bryant said. “You don’t wait for anybody else to try to make rotations. You do it yourself. By doing that, it sets an example for everybody else to do the same thing.”
But this was hardly the case of Bryant continuing of bailing out a team lacking offensive chemistry. He had a familiar teammate to rely on with Gasol, who posted 23 points on 11 of 15 shooting in 39 minutes. Though Dwight Howard posted 20 points on 9 of 11 shooting, most of the play centered around Bryant and Gasol.
“That’s been working for us really well,” said Gasol, who’s averaged15.8 points on 54.7 percent shooting and nine rebounds in the previous five games. “We have to stick it with it especially down the stretch. It’s pretty unstoppable.”
The Lakers didn’t always look that way.
They entered the locker room trailing 69-61 at halftime, which accounted for the Lakers’ second–worst defensive first-half performance of the season. The Lakers overcame that by opening the 17-2 third-quarter run.
Gasol scored eight of the first 10 fourth-quarter points to tie the game up at 98-98 with 6:15 remaining. Bryant converted on two free throws, thanks to a clear-path foul from Lillard. Bryant then followed that up with a 23-foot jumper that put the Lakers up 106-100 with 4:09 left. Once Bryant stepped to the free throw line with 28.2 seconds remaining, Lakers fans drowned out the Rose Garden with “MVP” chants.
“That’s very unexpected particularly in this building considering all the history that we have,” Bryant said. “But I appreciate it especially at this stage of this career.”
At this stage, the Lakers remain alive in the playoff chase. At least for now.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org