Lakers-Kings: Kobe Bryant Saves Lackluster Los Angeles

John Engel@@engelsportsguyCorrespondent IJanuary 2, 2010

LAS VEGAS - OCTOBER 15:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots over Kevin Martin #23 of the Sacramento Kings during their preseason game at the Thomas & Mack Center October 15, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Superman’s was Lex Luthor, Batman’s was the Joker, Spiderman’s was the Green Goblin, and the Los Angeles Lakers’ arch enemy has proven to be the unlikely Kings early in the 2009-2010 season.

Similar to these heroes, the Lakers seem to always find a way to prevail over their opponent.

This time, Los Angeles needed a last second three by their personal superhero, Kobe Bryant, to defeat their nemesis.

The Kings visited Los Angeles following a devastating overtime loss at Arco Arena on Dec. 26 to the Lakers, looking to better their disappointing road record of 3-11.

The Lakers entered the first game of the New Year, against the 14-17 Kings, lacking forward and defensive cornerstone, Ron Artest, which would prove to hurt them greatly early in the game.

Though the Kings entered Los Angeles without team leaders Kevin Martin and Francisco Garcia, not to mention rookie sensation Tyreke Evens, Sacramento stayed with the lackluster Lakers offensively in the first quarter with a strong start by Israeli-born forward, Omri Casspi, who had 11 points and four rebounds in the first period of play.

Notorious for slow starts and late-game heroics, the Lakers relied on pivotal starts from the men in the paint with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.

Sacramento began the game with intense perimeter pressure and precise passing early, allowing their shooters to find easy shots out of the gate.

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Gasol finished the quarter with 10 points, keeping the Lakers within five after one. Kobe Bryant was once again amiss early; converting on only one of five attempts in the first.

The Kings finished the first quarter shooting 51 percent from the field, along with the lead over the world champion Lakers, 28-23.

The Kings continued their early success with perimeter ball movement and unselfish play in the paint during the second quarter.

Energetic performances by Casspi and Spencer Hawes allowed Sacramento to build on their early success over the vacant Lakers defense with the help of their young bench, which would finish the game with 28 points.

Bryant’s first quarter woes resembled those in the second, shooting only 3-of-11 from the field. A first-half double-double by Gasol, who finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds after two, allowed the Lakers to finish within 15, 64-49.

After halftime, Bryant and his weary Los Angeles squad entered the third quarter with a newfound sense of urgency after an enjoyable conversation with head coach Phil Jackson.

With the game appearing to be slipping away, a drama-hungry Bryant, who in the first half shot only 27 percent, began to once again make his Hall of Fame push early in the third quarter where he would score 16 of his 39 points. Bryant, however, wasn’t the only player to heat up in the third.

Lamar Odom, who was filling in for an injured Ron Artest, took over early in the half and scored 12 points in the third quarter, after only dropping four in the first half. He would finish with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Throughout the game, career performances by Omri Casspi and Spencer Hawes kept the Kings slightly ahead of the Lakers. Casspi and Dawes would combine for 53 points and 17 rebounds.

With no help from the Lakers bench (3-points in the third quarter), Los Angeles finished the third quarter down only seven points, Sacramento 86, Los Angeles 79.

The second half proved to be very forgiving of the Lakers, who in the first two quarters lacked the championship effort that they have shown in the past.

Following an electric third quarter by the scoring trio of Gasol, Odom, and Bryant, the final quarter of play was not about to be outdone.

The quarter immediately began with a back-and-forth battle between Kobe Bryant and the hungry Kings. Casspi (23) and Hawes (30) both added to their career-high totals as Sacramento attempted to steal a win from the Lakers.

With 6:31 remaining in the fourth quarter, Bryant added his 30th point with a game-tying three-point field goal; making the score 93-93.

With the Kings holding a 108-106 lead, the Lakers sent Ime Udoka to the free throw line with 4.8 remaining. Udoka missed both shots, leaving the Lakers with 4.1 seconds and the ball on their own half court.

After an inbound pass to Lakers forward, Pau Gasol (17-points, 16-rebounds), Kobe Bryant (39-points, 5-rebounds) shook his defender (Sergio Rodriguez) and was left open for three from the left side.

True to history, Bryant nailed the shot with only .1 second remaining once the ball left his hands.

The Lakers finished this rollercoaster game with a win, Los Angeles 109, Sacramento 108.

Though the Lakers once again put on a show in Hollywood, they cannot depend on late game heroics by Kobe to reach the finals for the third straight year.

Los Angeles cannot afford to catch fire in the second half against Western Conference powerhouses, let alone teams like the Sacramento Kings.