ATLANTA -- I walked to Phillips Arena from my hotel on Wednesday afternoon with a fan who said he never got the chance to see Michael Jordan play live, so he wanted to make sure he got to see the next-best thing in Kobe Bryant.
The fan figured there was no way Bryant would have two clunkers in a row after going just 4-for-14 in the Los Angeles Lakers' win over the Orlando Magic on Tuesday.
For a while it looked as though the fan would end up disappointed, as Bryant started the game 0-for-6 in the first quarter and had just three points on 1-for-8 shooting by halftime as the Lakers trailed big.
Then the third quarter happened.
Bryant scored 20 points in the quarter on 8-for-16 shooting (along with three rebounds and a steal), nearly matching the Hawks' 21 points as L.A. was down just two heading into the fourth.
Bryant's magic seemed to wear off in the fourth as he started the quarter shooting just 1-for-7 before hitting a deep 3-pointer to pull L.A. to within one in the final minute.
He missed his final attempt, however, a pull-up jumper from the baseline with 2.6 seconds left that could have tied the score. He went down on the floor clutching his left leg after the play, adding injury to insult.
That Lakers fan can try to trick his memory to focus on just Bryant's third quarter when he tells his grandkids about seeing him play one day, but that won't do this current Lakers squad any good.
How it happened: The Hawks had control of this game for most of the night, leading by as many as 14 in the first half. They pulled it out thanks to balanced scoring (six Atlanta players in double digits) a timely late layup by Ivan Johnson and a couple of late free throws from Kyle Korver after he missed one to open up the door for Bryant's potential overtime-forcing jumper that missed.
What it means: It means that on the second night of a back-to-back, a weary Lakers team had no legs. It means that winning on the road for this Lakers team that started off 5-15 away from Staples Center and had since gone 7-5 before Wednesday's loss remains a challenge. It means the Lakers can't afford Dwight Howard missing any playing time because of foul trouble. It means that when Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said "We're still in the middle of a dogfight" before the game, he meant it.
Hits: Howard had 16 rebounds, continuing his streak of 12 straight games of 12 rebounds or more.
Misses: With Atlanta missing three of its best players in Josh Smith, Jeff Teague and Lou Williams because of injury, and the Hawks entering the game losers of six out of seven games, this was clearly a missed opportunity for the Lakers.
Earl Clark suffered a sprained right ankle, leaving the game in the third quarter after putting up just four points and three rebounds in 12 minutes and did not return. His ankle was examined, but X-rays were negative.
Stat of the game: Bryant shot just 11-for-33, taking 24 more shot attempts than Howard's nine.
What's next: The Lakers finish out their three-game trip against the Pacers on Friday in Indianapolis, where they'll have to watch out for most improved player candidate Paul George and former assistant coach Brian Shaw's schemes. Indy had the second-best record in the East while winning seven of its past 10 games coming into Wednesday's action.