New Orleans Hornets vs. LA Lakers: Postgame Grades and Analysis for LA

Sean HojnackiFeatured ColumnistApril 10, 2013

New Orleans Hornets vs. LA Lakers: Postgame Grades and Analysis for LA

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    The Los Angeles Lakers hosted the New Orleans Hornets at Staples Center on Tuesday night. In a game that saw 20 lead changes and 14 ties, L.A. came out on the right side of it with a 104-96 victory.

    Steve Nash sat out with a strained right hamstring (per Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times), while Metta World Peace incredibly returned from knee surgery to play his first game since March 25.

    Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard both started strong with double-digit first halves, as Kobe Bryant scored just four points through two quarters. Everything was going swimmingly for the Lakers until New Orleans went on a 17-2 run over the final five minutes, 38 seconds of the second quarter. Suddenly, the Lakers were down by five.

    Mike D'Antoni clearly had something of import to say at halftime, because L.A. reeled off an early run in the second half. They finished the third quarter deadlocked with the Hornets at 70.

    And then Kobe Bryant finally woke up from his nap. The Black Mamba scored seven unanswered points in 80 seconds to open the fourth, duplicating his scoring total from the first three quarters. Kobe dropped 23 points in the final frame and drove the Lakers to victory.

    More importantly, the Utah Jazz fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder, so L.A. moved back into eighth place for a potential playoff berth. 

    The Lakers came into Tuesday at 40-37, and struggling to beat the 27-50 Hornets is not an encouraging sign. But their strong play to close out the game could help them finish strong over the final four games.

    Now let's put on our tweed jacket with leather patches and give out some grades.

Point Guard

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    Steve Blake, PG: B+

    Because of Steve Nash's strained right hammy, the Lakers started their other Steve at the point.

    Blake scored just seven points, but he also notched six dimes, five rebounds, two steals and a block for a very tidy all-around night.

    Of course, Blake does not possess the skill set of a starting point, but he's capable of busting out now and again. Just look at his 18 points, seven dimes, six rebounds and four steals in L.A.'s March 15 win over the Indiana Pacers.

    Nevertheless, the Lakers need Nash back immediately to ensure their playoff push is successful.

Shooting Guard

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    Kobe Bryant, SG: A-

    Through three quarters, Bryant managed only seven points on 2-of-7 shooting. Those quarters are the reason that Kobe has a minus after his A.

    At the start of the fourth, Kobe remembered that he's vino and only gets better with age. With the game tied at 70, he scored seven unanswered points to seize momentum for the Lakers. And he didn't stop there.

    Bryant scored 23 points in the fourth and nabbed three of his five steals in that final frame. He also chipped in six dimes, six rebounds and a block, but committed five turnovers as well in a troubling trend this season.

    His biggest play of the game came with just under three minutes left and the Lakers protecting a precious five-point lead. Kobe stole the ball from Eric Gordon and drew a foul on his breakaway layup. Up by eight with two-and-a-half minutes left, the Lakers cruised to victory. 

Small Forward

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    Earl Clark, SF: C

    Clark worked himself into foul trouble early. He sandwiched two personals around the nine-minute mark of the first quarter and picked up his third with five minutes left in the half. 

    Clark headed to the locker room with zero points, a rebound and an assist. In the third quarter, he picked up where he left off by committing a fourth foul just 40 seconds in and yielded to Metta World Peace.

    Fortunately, Clark calmed down and played the entire fourth quarter without exacerbating his foul trouble. 

    Though he ended the game on a shutout, he did play some nifty defense and also chipped in three boards, five assists and a block.

Power Forward

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    Pau Gasol, PF: A

    Gasol turned in a strong first half with 12 points and five boards (three offensive). His strong play must be very heartening to Lakers fans as the preseason favorites for the NBA Finals struggle for the No. 8 seed. 

    Gasol finished with 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting, plus 11 boards, four assists and three blocks. He's actually starting to look like vintage Pau, or at least Pau 2.0. 

    Gasol also turned in a sweet play in the fourth quarter, with an assist to Antawn Jamison from his knees. Put a star next to that one.

    If the Lake Show want to see the postseason, Pau will have to turn in strong play like this on a regular basis down the stretch.

Center

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    Dwight Howard, C: A-

    Howard duplicated Pau Gasol with a 5-of-8 shooting first half, adding four rebounds, four assists and a block. Foul trouble limited him in the second half, but he did enter for defense in the fourth quarter and managed not to foul out.

    Dwight finished up with 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting, but his plus-one rating was one of the lowest on the team. It was just an average Wednesday for Howard, but it would have been a great night for most other centers in the league.

Sixth Man

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    Jodie Meeks, SG: C+

    Meeks turned in nine points and three boards through two quarters and was looking good at the half.

    But he disappeared in the second half, which also coincided with the Lakers' run to victory. In seven minutes, Meeks accumulated essentially no stats and finished with the same line he had in the second quarter.

    And strangely, the Lakers played much better defense through Meeks' diminished playing time. His limitations on D are pretty well documented by now, and D'Antoni's love of his long-range shooting is the only thing keeping him in the rotation.

Rest of Bench

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    Rest of Bench: B

    Metta World Peace played in this game only 12 days after having surgery to clean up cartilage in his knee. You have to admire the 33-year-old's will and determination to help his team make the playoffs.

    And he was no decoy either. While MWP only tallied four points and an assist, he finished the game with a team-high rating at plus-12. With the level of defense he was playing on a knee surgically repaired less than two weeks ago, he's a medical marvel.

    Antawn Jamison struggled from the field early, with three points on 1-of-6 shooting in the first half. But he really turned it on down the stretch.

    Jamison ended his evening with 13 points on 5-of-11 and also snagged eight rebounds in his 24 minutes. His contributions made up for Earl Clark's down night, and his play in the second half helped power the Lakers to a crucial win.

    Chris Duhon, Darius Morris and Robert Sacre remained cemented to the bench as D'Antoni played an eight-man rotation. Devin Ebanks was not with the team due to an upper respiratory infection (per ESPN LA).

    Next, the Lakers have a date with the Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden on Wednesday as they continue their quest to squeak into the playoffs. The Utah Jazz are idle on Wednesday, so the Lakers could be in the playoffs by a full game with a win.