Led by Kobe Bryant on offense and Dwight Howard on defense, the Lakers (31-31) stormed back from a 25-point deficit to defeat the stunned Hornets, 108-102. A loss would have been devastating to their goal of reaching the playoffs, but the purple and gold dugged deep and got themselves within a game and a half of the spiraling Jazz for the 8th spot in the west.
Tonight, they'll have an opportunity to go above the .500 mark against a team that hasn't beaten them at Staples Center since 2001.
Coming into the game, the Toronto Raptors (24-38) have lost 3 of their last 5 road games and 9 of their last 31 outings away from Air Canada Centre. But their inability to win against the Lakers in Los Angeles eclipses whatever record they may have on the road. That is if the Lakers themselves don't let their success against this team dictate how they play tonight.
The Lakers may have displayed an unbelievable come-from-behind win against New Orleans, but they shouldn't have been in that position to begin with. That game pretty much told the story of the Lakers this season — good in one moment, terrible in another. Kobe talked about the team passing the test of gut check after that game, but that wasn't the only time this year they've done that.
With only 20 games left, including tonight, Laker fans better hope the Lakers will not be tested again to see how badly they want to be in the playoffs. At this point, that should no longer be in question. If not, it's fortunate for the team they have Kobe as their leader.
Since the All-Star break, Bryant has been a dominant force for the Lakers averaging 32.8 points, 6.3 assists, 6.3 rebounds, 54% from the field and 42.5% from distance. Better yet, he's found a way to balance his scoring and his assists while dunking over defenders on a bad elbow. His remarkable perseverance has been well-documented throughout his 17-year career. But this season, he seems to have been spitting more venom than usual in order to show his teammates what it takes to win against all odds.
Out of all his teammates, Howard is the guy who needed to get the message. For one night at least, he got it. Versus the Hornets, Howard took command of the defense by challenging nearly every shot taken in the paint, but his rejection on a 2-handed dunk attempt by Robin Lopez with only 28 seconds left in the game is the kind of plays the Lakers have envisioned out of him when they traded for him. Will the Lakers continue to see that effort tonight and beyond?
This is the final game of the season against the Raptors. The Lakers lost the previous game 108-103 in Toronto, so they're looking for some payback tonight. The purple and gold have won 4 of the last 5 against this team.
Matchup of the Game
Rudy Gay vs. Metta World Peace: The Raptors have traded away their Laker-killer in Jose Calderon for a much-needed scoring wingman that can defend as well. Gay leads the team in scoring and in steals averaging 19.8 points and 2.3 steals. His length and athleticism over MWP could mean the difference for the Raptors if Metta allows it.
Keys to the Game
> Dominate: The only way to show that they learned anything against the Hornets is to dominate this game on both ends of the floor from tip-off. The Raptors have a few young, quick, athletic guys who can get it done on offense and defense, so this team shouldn't be taken as a joke despite their recent slump.
> Turnovers: Toronto rarely turns the ball over averaging a league 3rd-best 13.3 turnovers per game while forcing their opponents to 14.9 a game. That means that the Lakers better take care of the ball and prevent a lot of easy transition points.
> Bench: The 2nd unit for the Raptors is ranked 10th in scoring at 36.6 points per game. But that won't mean anything if the Lakers bench continue to play well and provide support.
Watch Out For
RAPTORS: Landry Fields: He was the guy for the Raptors last time with his 18 points and 10 rebounds. The Lakers just couldn't seem to stop him at all. Fields is coming off the bench now since they traded for Gay. That might render him less effective tonight, but we'll see.
LAKERS: Dwight Howard: Howard was ejected in the 2nd quarter after receiving his 2nd technical foul in Toronto. He'll probably remember that and come out with aggression from the get-go tonight.
vs. Toronto Raptors
Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. (PST)
TV: TWC SportsNet (Southern California)
Radio: 710 AM ESPN/1330 KWKW
LAKERS: Pau Gasol (foot) and Jordan Hill (hip) are out.