LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers despite Kobe Bryant exiting the game in the first half ended their four-game losing streak with a 95-91 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
New Orleans carried a three-point lead in the second half at 41-38, which they held on through much of the third quarter behind nine points from Eric Gordon. Jordan Clarkson‘s 10 of his 18 points for the game in the period kept Los Angeles in striking distance.
However, the Lakers took their first lead of the game early in the fourth quarter at 74-71 after a corner three-pointer by D’Angelo Russell. The Pelicans responded with a 10-point run to take an 81-74 lead with 6:45 left in the game.
Los Angeles continued to battle back taking a 90-89 lead with 1:16 left in the fourth quarter after a leaning jumper off the glass from Lou Williams. Jrue Holiday put the Pelicans ahead on the next play with a layup. Julius Randle gave the Lakers a 92-91 advantage with 43.3 seconds left with a driving layup, which was extended to three points on the next possession by Williams on a layup.
Tyreke Evans, who had a game-high 21 points, missed a potential game-tying three-pointer with under 10 seconds left in the game. Randle sealed the win with a free throw.
Williams scored a team-high 19 points with eight assists. Clarkson notched 18 points with seven rebounds. Russell chipped in with 13 points, and Randle had seven points and 11 rebounds. Anthony Brown scored a career-high nine points.
“The young guys are starting to get a little resilient, and starting to learn,” Lakers head coach Byron Scott said. “Obviously, minus Anthony [Davis]] they are a totally different team, but yeah it was a gutsy win for us. Our guys got it done tonight.”
The Pelicans raced out to a nine-point lead in the first quarter behind a quarter-high 11 points from Evans while the team shot 41.7 in the period. Bryant lead Los Angeles with five points in the opening quarter.
The slow first half continued for Los Angeles hitting just five field goals in the second quarter while shooting 25 percent from the field and was 0-for-12 from three-point range in the first half. Despite that, the Pelicans lead only 41-38 at halftime with Evans leading the team with 13 points.
It was the Lakers’ first win of the season after trailing in the first three quarters of the game. Here are five things we learned from the Lakers’ ninth win of the season:
Bryant suffers setback
The 37-year-old returned after a one-game hiatus but his night was cut short due to his sore right Achilles tendon that forced finishing with seven points in 16 minutes on 3-of-9 shooting including 0-5 from three-point range with three rebounds and one assist.
He missed his first three shots but made three out of his next four next attempts. His last two shots were taken with defenders draped all over him. After he was subbed out with 2:42 left in the second quarter, he headed to the locker room where he was deemed done for the night.
Prior to Tuesday, Bryant has been pretty productive in his first game after returning from injury this season averaging 22.0 points on 47 percent shooting with 4.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists in 33 minutes played in four games. However, he has struggled shooting from three-point range hitting just 25 percent of his attempts.
Following the game, Scott stated that he was unsure if Bryant could return for Thursday road game against the Golden State Warriors. That said, he stated he would first need to see the team’s medical staff determines before making any decision.
“I haven’t thought about it,” Scott said to Bryant’s status for Thursday’s game. “It’s real early. I want to see what Gary Vitti says and our doctors then we will go from there.”
In what’s been another disappointing season for the Lakers, one consistent bright spot on the team has been the play of the second-year guard.
Clarkson has scored in double figure in all but five games this season, added his 17th game of at least 10-points in the last 18 games played. It also marked his eight straight games that he’s notched double-digit points, and is the second-longest streak of 10-plus points in his career.
However, the 23-year-old struggled in the first half missing all eight of his shot attempts. He found a little rhythm in the third quarter knocking down his first two field goals with a corner three-pointer that he fouled on and followed with a driving layup in transition over two defenders. This didn’t get him out of his shooting funk finishing 4-of-14 from the field.
“I just kept pushing, that’s why there is four quarters to a game,” Clarkson said. “I had to clear my mind, I was a little frustrated in the first half when I couldn’t get anything to go, especially after last game. I didn’t shoot the ball that well, but I just tried to finish strong.”
This overall performance shouldn’t overshadow what’s been a consistently productive year from Clarkson.
Russell’s productive return
After missing two consecutive games due to a right ankle sprain, the Lakers’ rookie guard was back on the floor on Tuesday night posting 13 points on an efficient shooting night going 4-of-8 from the field with three assists and four rebounds in 24 minutes.
It wasn’t a flashy performance by any means, but Russell looked more mobile on the floor than his eight minutes played in Sunday’s game against the Utah Jazz. That said, he did state after the game that his ankle did feel a bit stiff throughout the game but it didn’t limit him too much.
“A little bit. I just try not think about it,” Russell said of his ankle. “But once you get passed that it becomes easier.”
Although he missed the last couple of games, Russell has seen an uptick in his production over the last month 13.2 points with 3.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists in the month of December. He also posted his first three 20-plus efforts over the last five weeks, including a career-high 27 points on 11-0f-16 shooting against the Sacramento Kings. This was also the most points for a Laker player off the bench this season.
With his ankle improving, expect Russell to have an opportunity to string more encouraging performances together with his first chance against the defending champions on Thursday night.
Evans adds to strong season
Since making his return in early December from offseason right knee surgery, Evans has been on a tear in his 18 games back as he and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook are the only two players in the NBA averaging at least 16.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 7.0 assists.
This also includes knocking down a career-high five three-pointers against the Washington Wizards on Dec. 11. He has been quite the stat filler this season scoring in double figures in all but two games, including seven 20-point outings. He’s coming off two consecutive games scoring more than 25 points. He also dished five or more assists 15 times and grabbed five or more rebounds on 12 occasions.
Evans continued to roll against the Lakers with 11 points in the first quarter on 5-of-7 shooting. He was effective getting to the rim with three of his five made field goals in the period being layups. He led the Pelicans with a first-half high 15 points.
The 26-year-old cooled down in the scoring eight points on 2-of-5 shooting, including missing a potential game-tying three-pointer with less than 10 seconds left in the game. His five turnovers in the game were also critical but overall it was another performance that showed the type of impact that Evans can have on different facets of the game.
Defending the Paint
Entering Tuesday’s contest, the Lakers were in the worst team in the league in points allowed in the paint at 46.4 per game. That didn’t change against the Pelicans as they gave up 50 points.
The Pelicans had their way in the first half at point holding more points in the paint (22) than the Lakers had points scored (20) early in the second quarter. Los Angeles struggled most with Roy Hibbert out of the game as the dribble drives by New Orleans’ guards created easy buckets at the rim for their big men.
This trend continued in the second half with the team allowing the Pelicans to continually get in the paint for easy buckets. This may have become a bigger problem had Davis played in the game. All in all, it’s one of the Lakers’ biggest problems defensively year and there doesn’t appear to be a quick solution.