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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Lakers Down Slumping Magic, 106-93

The L.A. Lakers rode an 18-point third quarter explosion by Smush Parker to a 106-93 win in Orlando versus the Magic. The Lakers trailed 47-46 at halftime but outscored Orlando 33-26 in the third quarter and 27-20 in the fourth quarter. Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 27 points but shot just 8-22 from the field. He also had three rebounds, two steals, a spectacular block of Jameer Nelson's fast break layup (see below) and a team-high seven assists. Parker finished with 20 points, while Grant Hill led the Magic with 20 points but only had two rebounds and no assists. The Magic have now lost three in a row and eight of their last 11, while the Lakers improved to 3-2 on their road trip with one game remaining (at Charlotte on Friday). The Lakers have won three of their last four games and seven of their last 11.

Perhaps relieved (or surprised) to just face single coverage from Grant Hill in the early going--as opposed to the constant double-teaming that the Miami Heat attacked him with on Christmas Day--Bryant scored eight points on 2-6 field goal shooting and 4-4 free throw shooting in the first nine minutes of action, but the Lakers trailed, 19-14. Hill went to the locker room briefly and Keyon Dooling guarded Bryant for a few possessions before Bryant left the game for his customary break near the end of the quarter. Bryant took one three pointer with the shot clock winding down but otherwise did not handle the ball much during that time frame. Orlando led 25-21 at the end of the first period.

The Lakers fell behind by as much as 12 with Bryant on the bench and trailed 37-28 when he came back into action at the 5:44 mark. Sasha Vujacic made two free throws from a clear path foul that preceded that timeout and then on the ensuing possession Bryant hit a jumper to cut the margin to five. Hill answered with a strong post move against Bryant, putting the Magic ahead, 39-32. The Magic began double teaming Bryant more frequently during the second quarter and at the 3:51 mark he found Vujacic for an open three pointer that pulled the Lakers to within 40-39. Obviously, teams will continue to double team Bryant until his teammates prove that they can make open shots--something that they failed at miserably during the Miami game.

Bryant blew by Hill on the left baseline at the 2:18 mark, scoring a reverse layup and drawing a foul on Hill. The resulting free throw tied the score at 42. Dwight Howard converted a three point play of his own to put the Magic up by three. The teams then traded baskets before Bryant hit the final field goal of the first half with 1:04 remaining, a strong drive from the right elbow. He overpowered Trevor Ariza and Jameer Nelson, who left Vujacic at the top of the key to double team Bryant. Bryant muscled the ball up when Nelson appeared to foul him but the ball went in despite the contact and no foul was called. After that, the teams alternated missed shots and turnovers and Orlando led 47-46 at halftime.

Bryant assisted on the first two Lakers' field goals in the third quarter--a Parker three pointer and a Walton layup--and the Lakers tied the game at 51. The Magic then went on a 12-4 run, with Hill contributing six of the points. It would have been a 14-4 run, but Bryant nullified a sure two points with a clean left handed block of Nelson's fast break layup attempt. He not only denied the shot while avoiding the foul but he also kept the ball in play and Parker corralled the rebound. The Lakers did not capitalize immediately on that opportunity but began making their move about a minute later. Parker scored 14 points in a 5:22 stretch and by the end of the third quarter the Lakers led 79-73. Bryant only scored three points in the quarter, all on free throws, but he had five assists and his passing played a major role in the Lakers' rally.

Orlando got as close as 83-80 in the fourth quarter but Andrew Bynum delivered back to back baskets and the Lakers were never seriously threatened the rest of the way. Bryant scored nine points in the fourth quarter.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:45 AM

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