Score: 99-97 Los Angeles Lakers
Charlotte Bobcats record: 24-24
Offensive Efficiency: 115.5
Defensive Efficiency: 116.5
Meritorious Player: Nazr Mohammed – with Gerald Wallace out of the game, the Bobcats needed someone to step up and replace Gerald's effort on the boards. And did Nazr ever step up: 23 points on 15 attempts, 17 rebounds, including 9 offensive, 1 block, and solid defense on Pau Gasol/Andrew Bynum as they finished with 31 combined points on 27 attempts.
Down 3 with under 10 seconds left, coming out of a timeout, the Bobcats have a chance to cut the lead or tie. They choose option 3 – a poor pass from Stephen Jackson to Raymond Felton is batted loose, the Lakers recover, and a fast break dunk later the game is over. Yes, Ronald Murray made a 30-footer with over a second left to cut it to 2 for the final margin – but the rest of the Bobcats were discouraged enough from the previous play that they did not even find a man to pressure on the final inbounds play and the Lakers were free to ride out the final second. It was a frustrating end to a game the Bobcats competed hard in and one where there were a lot of positives.
Aside from Nazr's strong play, Stephen Jackson also took charge – 30 points on 10 of 16 from the floor, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals. Oh, and he helped hold (along with Stephen Graham) Kobe Bryant to just 5 points on 2-12 shooting – you know, no big deal, just the Lakers all-time leading scorer held to single-figures. Jackson recognized the Bobcats were short-handed and forced the action to a degree, and I have to admit that I was not always thrilled when the ball left his hand with the shot he decided to take – but he made most of them and the Bobcats needed for someone to be the aggressor. The other positive that I want to make sure I mention: DeSagana Diop came in and played very well defensively for the Bobcats, with 7 rebounds in just 19 minutes and some active defense in the post. He had just 2 points, two missed free throws, 1 assist and a turnover to show offensively, but against the Lakers big front court, Diop held his own.
Boris Diaw, on the other hand, just seemed ready for the road trip to be over. He picked up 2 quick fouls in the first half, another in the third, and only finally started getting into the game in the 4th, with a couple of offensive rebounds and assists. His final line: 0-4 from the field, 0-2 from the free throw line, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 block, and 1 turnover. He put the Bobcats in a tough spot with the early fouls, forcing them to use Derrick Brown for extended stretches on Pau Gasol – Derrick to his credit did a solid job, but that is not a matchup the Bobcats wanted to see a lot of, since Pau can look down at the top of Derrick's head.
With the Bobcats already down 3, the final turnover was not what handed the game to the Lakers – that just sealed it. What did the Bobcats in was their close to the third quarter: They had two turnovers in the final two minutes that fueled a 6-0 Lakers run that took it from a 1 point game to 7 point margin. While the Bobcats managed to tie it back up in the 4th, they ran out of gas once the game was even and the Lakers ran off 8 straight again. In the 4th, the Lakers scored 27 points on just 20 possessions – an efficiency of 135: The Bobcats were done defensively, the result of being short-handed against a top-tier opponent at the end of a 6-game road trip. Their 14 turnovers were just enough to give the Lakers the edge they needed to seal the deal.
When the Bobcats left on this road trip, 3-3 seemed rather unlikely – now, it is disappointing? It is bound to be, because expectations can change as circumstances do. But it does not make their accomplishment less impressive – they remain at .500 and bring their road record a couple steps closer to respectability.