2012-13 Top 10 Moments: #3
With an emphatic swat at New Orleans in a dramatic come-from-way-down win on March 6, Dwight Howard provided perhaps the most important play in keeping L.A.'s momentum heading into the final month and change of the season.
The Lakers made a major collective turnaround after a loss at Memphis in January dropped them to eight games below .500, rallying to finish 28-12 to get into the playoffs, but a loss at the Hornets' house – a place L.A.'s had considerable success – would have dropped the Lakers back below .500.
Indeed, a 30-32 record at the time, we know now, would have mandated a 15-5 mark in the final 20 games just to get into the playoffs. Instead, buoyed by the big victory, L.A. won five of six games to get into a manageable position for a stretch run.
Missing Pau Gasol, L.A. started the game in sluggish fashion to fall behind by as many as eight points, before back-to-back Kobe Bryant triples allowed the Lakers to tie the score at 28 heading into the second quarter. However, Howard then picked up his second and third fouls two minutes into the second period, and the Hornets started scoring at will. Eric Gordon hit consecutive threes of his own and Anthony Davis showed some rookie mettle to help open as much as a 25-point lead, before another late Bryant burst cut it to 19 at the break.
Despite Howard getting going thanks in large part to Bryant amassing eight of his eventual 12 assists, the purple and gold were able to trim only a single point off the halftime deficit, the Hornets continuing to hit from long range (8 of 16 at that point).
But the fourth quarter was an entirely different story. The lead was down to 12 after Howard's dunk from another Bryant assist before Robin Lopez slammed one on the other end, making it a 102-88 Hornets lead with 6:47 to play.
That would be the last New Orleans bucket of the evening.
Bryant – the fourth greatest scorer in NBA history – was at his bucket-filling best, nailing twisting three-pointers, dunks, layups, pull-up and fading jumpers towards 18 of his game-high 42 points, including the final eight of the game. Jodie Meeks was big as well, hitting four of his five three-pointers in the final quarter, with a single Howard free throw the only point not scored by either of the team's two shooting guards.
But on defense, it was all Howard. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year completely shut down the paint, erasing Hornets screen/roll plays while grabbing 15 total rebounds and swatting four shots.
The biggest of those four blocks was L.A.'s biggest of the season.
It came with 27 seconds left and L.A. nursing a 104-102 lead thanks to back-to-back Bryant buckets. Howard stepped out to thwart Gordon's drive to the left, forcing a pass to Lopez, awaiting on the baseline. Howard recovered in time to slide back to his man, leaping into the air to not only swallow a three-foot layup with his left hand, but also corral the rebound.
On the ensuing inbounds play after a time out, Bryant burst into the front court, unattended by the Hornets, for a dunk with 23 seconds to play, adding two free throws with five seconds left to complete the 20 unanswered points.