(Layne Murdoch/Getty Images)
Lakers Fall Despite Russell's 32 Points
The final road trip of Kobe Bryant’s career couldn’t have started much better, as he scored 14 points in the first quarter of Friday’s game in New Orleans. The significance of the checkpoint wasn’t lost on him.
“I’ve never been so excited in my life to start a road trip,” Bryant said. “Very excited. It’s strange. This is the last trip.”
However, it all went south from there, as Bryant sat the second quarter and missed all five of his shots in the final two periods, as the Lakers fell to the Pelicans, 110-102.
Despite D’Angelo Russell exploding for 32 points and Jordan Clarkson adding 26 more, Los Angeles couldn’t keep up with New Orleans, which shot 53.2 percent and led by as many as 25.
Head coach Byron Scott allowed that his starting backcourt “shot the ball pretty well,” but had some strong words for the rest of their performance.
“Defensively they were both awful,” he said. “And two assists between the two of them ain’t good. We’ve got to do a better job sharing the ball.”
Nine Pelicans sat out due to injuries, including their top six scorers led by Anthony Davis, who averaged the NBA’s seventh-most points (24.3) before being shut down for the season.
But that simply allowed backup center Alexis Ajinca to shine, as he poured in career-highs in both scoring and rebounding with 28 and 15, respectively.
The six-year veteran had a double-double by halftime on his way to shooting 12-of-17 from the field. At 7-foot-1, Ajinca also worked the mid-range game well, while managing to collect five offensive rebounds, fueled by the number of Lakers fans who turned out for Bryant’s last game in New Orleans.
“Seeing the whole stadium in gold an purple is kind of annoying, so it gets you going,” Ajinca said. “You want to prove that this is still our home. We did that tonight and we showed them that.”
Bryant provided the firepower in the first quarter after the Pelicans (30-49) jogged out to a 12-8 lead. Led by six points from their retiring star, the Lakers then used a 14-2 run to push ahead early.
Los Angeles led 46-45 with three minutes left in the half before New Orleans piled up the final 12 points of the frame, thanks to four assists from reigning D-League MVP Tim Frazier, who ended with a dozen.
Were it not for Russell’s 13 points in the second quarter, it could have gotten ugly even faster, as his fellow Lakers shot just 2-of-14 while New Orleans hit 13-of-20.
“Just like we do a lot when we stop making shots, we stopped guarding,” Scott said. “It just has that snowball effect.”
Russell added 11 more in the third quarter, but there was no stopping New Orleans, in particular Toney Douglas, who scored nine of his 20 points during a 17-2 surge that put his team up 80-55.
Down by 21 with four minutes left, L.A. (16-63) used some garbage-time offense to end on a 17-4 run and make the score a bit more respectable. Clarkson was the biggest benefactor of this, scoring 14 points in the fourth on 5-of-5 shooting with four 3-pointers.
Meanwhile, Russell notched the second 30-point game of his career by shooting 9-of-16 from the field with three triples. He had his busiest night yet at the free throw line, going 11-of-13, which stemmed from operating closer to the basket.
“Stuff started opening up when I worked from the inside out,” Russell said. “(After) seeing the ball go through, all the shots started falling for me.”
Dante Cunningham scored a season-high 19 points for New Orleans. … The Lakers shot just 10-of-31 in the paint. … The Lakers three remaining opponents are currently seeded ninth (Houston; Sunday), third (Oklahoma City; Monday) and eighth (Utah; Wednesday) in the Western Conference. … A crowd of 18,607 sold out Smoothie King Center for Bryant’s final game in Louisiana.