Jordan Hill leads Lakers past New Orleans Pelicans, 116-95
Mike D’Antoni received a gift exactly one year after being hired by the Lakers.
A blanket? A pen? A life preserver?
The Lakers gave him a breezy 116-95 decision Tuesday at Staples Center over the same New Orleans team that ran them off the court last Friday.
Jordan Hill had a career-high 21 points after being inserted into the starting lineup and Pelicans forward Anthony Davis looked much more like an inexperienced 20-year-old than he did a few days earlier.
Pau Gasol snapped out of a bad trance, the Lakers crept closer to .500 and D’Antoni got to reflect on his tenure so far, whether he wanted to or not. He was typically humorous when asked if he would summarize his 365 days in L.A.
“The weather’s really good. Really nice,” he said. “That’s about it.”
Eventually he answered.
“A lot of ups and downs,” D’Antoni said. “New York wasn’t easy, but it was a steady path toward upward. This has been up and down. This is a little different.”
Make that a lot different.
The Lakers (4-5) continued to be a confounding team, booed at home two days earlier against Minnesota but still able to beat the Clippers, Houston and now the Pelicans team that toyed with them in the fourth quarter last Friday.
Who exactly are these guys?
Hill gave them an energy injection, making seven of 12 shots and taking 11 rebounds. Gasol had 14 points on six-for-10 shooting and eight rebounds.
Gasol had endured a coarse four-game stretch, averaging only eight points and shooting 30%. Last Friday against the Pelicans, he had nine points on three-for-12 shooting while Davis had a career-high 32 points, 12 rebounds and six blocked shots.
Gasol struck back Tuesday.
“I felt better,” said Gasol, who revealed he had been playing with a strained muscle in his left foot. “I was able to put a better effort together — sharper and I’d like to continue to shoot over 50% if I can.”
Davis, weighed down by foul trouble, had 15 points and five rebounds in 26 minutes.
“He has to lead us,” D’Antoni said of Gasol. “He has to be the guy that dominates the game more or less. He’s the most talented guy we have on the team and he’ll have to be our leader.”
That might be true, but Hill is the new fan favorite. One Lakers follower yelled out in the third quarter, “Those guys can’t guard you down there. They’re just a bunch of boys.”
True. Davis is pretty young.
“He’s going to bring energy, he’s going to bring effort, he’s going to be around the rim,” Gasol said of Hill. “Just by doing that, he’s going to give himself the chance to get rebounds and putbacks and easy layups when the defense collapses on other guys.”
Nick Young had 17 points off the bench, and Jodie Meeks and Xavier Henry each had 15.
Henry lit up the crowd with a flying dunk over rookie center Jeff Withey late in the third quarter to put the Lakers up by 24. Fans especially seemed to enjoy the super slow-motion scoreboard replay a few minutes after the play.
“Of course it felt good,” Henry said. “It’s just a bucket, it’s two points, but something to get our team going, something to get everybody’s spirits up.”
There was even an unfamiliar sound in the fourth quarter — the return of the “We Want Tacos” chant. The Lakers won and actually held an opponent under 100. Everybody left happy.
With Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash sidelined at least two more weeks, D’Antoni did some more lineup juggling, going for a defensive look by starting Hill and Wesley Johnson in place of Chris Kaman and Young.
When New Orleans wasn’t on pace for a 47-point first quarter like Minnesota, you could almost sense Lakers fans exhaling.
Not D’Antoni. There’s still a mountain ahead of the old-and-getting-older Lakers.
“We’re without Kobe and in a transitional period and we’ve got to get through this,” he said. “And we’ve got to play a little bit better than what we’re playing.”
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