First things first: Here's the big historical takeaway from Wednesday's badly needed 103-87 win for the Los Angeles Lakers over the
Pelicans (sorry, not yet) Hornets in New Orleans ...
Kobe Bryant reached 30,000 points for his career.
And in appropriate fashion. Career points 30,000 and 30,001 came on a second-quarter drive from the right wing around Al-Farouq Aminu. Reaching Robin Lopez in the paint, Bryant shimmied to his left, then rose quickly off his left foot and hit a little 6-footer. Some burst, ballhandling, body control and spacial awareness. In other words, the type of play that got him many of the 29,999 points before. Bryant became the fifth player in NBA history to reach the milestone and only the second backcourt player.
It is a tremendous accomplishment. Put in perspective, playing 82 games a year and averaging 20 points a night in each, it would take a player more than 18 seasons to reach 30,000 points. Staggering, and a testament certainly to Bryant's talent, but more importantly his unmatched work ethic.
A great moment in one of the greatest careers the league has ever seen.
As for the game itself, four takeaways from a game that quickly went from brewing disaster to positive performance for the now 9-10 Lakers ...
Dwight Howard gave the third quarter the death stare, and it wilted in his presence.
The Lakers opened the game in horrific fashion on their own end. No perimeter defense, and absolutely no rotations to speak of. Bryant was among the worst offenders, repeatedly standing still while the action passed him by. Howard, who with great frustration noted the lack of weakside help after the Lakers lost to the Orlando Magic on Sunday was clearly annoyed at Kobe and the rest of his teammates (Antawn Jamison had some rough moments of his own), as nobody was helping him when Howard tried to help them. (A Jerry Maguire speech couldn't have been far behind.) Bryant and Howard exchanged words, early, on and off the court.*
In the second quarter, the Lakers started to tighten up. A Hornets team grabbing five offensive rebounds in the first quarter was coaxed off the glass, and the Lakers held New Orleans to 11-of-27 shooting over the second 12 minutes.
Things were looking up heading into the half, and out of the break Howard went batty. On the offensive end, he popped in nine points, putting the ball on the floor, moving in the post and patiently kicking the ball out of double-teams to open perimeter shooters. But as good as he was on that side, he absolutely dominated at the other end. The Lakers held the Hornets off the scoreboard for over five minutes in the third quarter as Howard erased or altered everything making its way into the paint. And make no mistake, the Hornets still managed to get inside; they were just unable to navigate around Howard once they did. Howard's play keyed a 30-16 quarter that basically gave the game to L.A.
Howard finished with five of the team's eight blocks. As a team, after allowing 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, the Lakers allowed only two in the second, despite New Orleans missing a ton of shots.
The bench produced.
The Lakers currently have two members of the bench (Jamison and Chris Duhon) in the starting lineup and are reaching into the Earl Clark portion of the roster to burn some minutes. Expecting the reserves to dominate isn't fair. But after a three-point first half from the bench (a Jodie Meeks 3-pointer accounted for its only points), the Lakers blew up in the second. Meeks hit two more triples (although he missed eight of 11 overall from the field), and Darius Morris hit a pair of 3s as well, including one capping the third quarter, earning him a bear hug from Bryant. Jordan Hill had nine points and eight rebounds in 16-plus minutes. The numbers aren't going to overwhelm, but the bench helped out. That's all the Lakers can ask.
Duhon has quietly done good work.
Over Duhon's past 10 games, Wednesday included, he has turned the ball over a total of eight times. Tonight, the number was zero. He had only three points but dished out 10 assists and contributed five rebounds. In a lot of ways, he'll be asked to play an Alex Smith-type role for the Lakers (without the young, athletic guy ready to take his job). He's a game-managing point guard. Limit mistakes, get guys where they need to be. Largely considered a toss-in to the Howard trade, Duhon has been very valuable for L.A. in the wake of injuries to Steve Nash and Steve Blake.
Bryant was rock solid.
Save the early defensive problems, Bryant produced a very good game, delivering the sort of controlled performance offensively the Lakers need. He was assertive (nine trips to the line) without being overwhelming, moving the ball well and freeing himself up for clean looks. He finished his landmark night with 29 points on 10-for-17 shooting, plus six rebounds, four assists and three steals.
*I wasn't in the building and didn't get to see it up close, but that early spat between L.A.'s current and future torchbearer feels significant. Dwight, clearly frustrated with the effort and execution of everyone around him -- Bryant included -- got in Kobe's ear to defend (no pun intended) his turf. This is Kobe Bryant's team but defense is Howard's domain. The Lakers need a future franchise face willing to confront the dominant personality of their current one when necessary. Certainly Bryant respects players willing to stand up to him. Ultimately, what happened early in Wednesday's game could be a moment Lakers fans look back on happily.