Well it had to happen SOME TIME. And no matter how you slice it, the Lakers needed this win. Their coaching staff needed this win. The fans, especially, needed this win. The quality of the opponent doesn’t matter either. Everyone just needed to be reminded how a victory felt. Kobe Bryant and the team said all the right things when it came to their losing record, but even they had to long for the clarity and/or validation that a win could provide.
Unlike the first three games, the Lakers came out with an energy so great that it was noticeable in the first play sponsored by Mr. Dependable himself, Pau Gasol. He missed a hook shot, rebounded his own miss and then scored on a layup. Effort in not only the first possession, but in consecutive possessions thereafter – where has that been?
That first play immediately set the tone for the rest of this Sunday evening, with the Lakers overpowering the Detroit Pistons on the offensive side and, dost our eyes deceive us – on the defensive side as well! The Lakers played as well as we’ve seen them thusfar this season. It was a sustained effort from tip-off to the final buzzer, and that made all the difference.
Frontcourt Fun – Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace accounted for 60 of the Lakers’ 108 points on 61% from the field, most of which came in the paint, where the team dominated 56 points to Detroit’s 34. Gasol started early, scoring 10 of his 14 points in the first quarter, but it wasn’t so much his scoring as much as his activity that helped tonight. He was completely engaged on both ends of the floor, looking, for the first time, like a co-captain leading by example. He’s had better stat lines, but complements, and with great impact, Howard’s contributions.
Howard did most of his damage in the first half, collecting 20 points on an uber efficient 8-9 from the field, and grabbed half a dozen rebounds. He finished with 28 points on 12-14, seven rebounds, two steals and three blocks. Nitpickers may point to his relatively miniscule rebound total and perhaps his four turnovers, but that’s it. Howard was all over the place tonight – finishing lobs, running back on defense, running on the break and just looked like he had an extra bounce in his step. Despite claiming that he was still a step and a half slow on his defensive timing, he looked carefree and comfortable out there with his teammates.
Metta World Peace has been, and will probably be known as the icing on this purple and gold cake. That his purpose is to be the best defender he can be, any offensive production is a bonus and tonight, that bonus was worth 18 points on 7-11 from the field (including 3-6 from downtown), five rebounds, four assists and a steal. That 20-lb loss in the off-season has done great things for MWP, including lightening his load. Simply put, he’s much quicker and the hops raise him much higher than it did even during the end of the last season when MWP was considered “in game shape.”
Kobe Bryant – Those 40 points in the Clipper loss was considered by many as “typical Kobe,” but tonight is really what Bryant is about – a full box score’s worth of stats. 15 points on 50% shooting, eight assists to lead the game, seven rebounds, a steal and one turnover. He sent behind-the-back passes, tossed up lobs, went baseline and finished with a layup. For someone in his 17th year in the league, Bryant, as he usually does, continues to defy his naysayers. In four games, he’s shooting 61% from the field and averaging 30.7 ppg.
Steve Blake – After getting into an argument with a courtside fan in Friday’s game against the Clippers, and constantly considered a huge drop-off when Steve Nash subs out of a game, Blake started his second game this season and did a respectable job. Six points isn’t much, but he also had five rebounds, six assists and five steals to lead the game. In terms of defense between Blake and Nash, Blake is definitely the scrappier of two.
Turnovers – Based on their carelessness thus far, anything less than 20 turnovers is an improvement. The Lakers gave the ball away just seven times in the first half and only twice in the third quarter. It wasn’t until the final quarter when Mike Brown went with an all-reserve line-up and racked up turnovers in a matter of minutes. 15 turnovers for the game is still on the careless end, but it’s been so much worse this season.
Energy and Defense – Howard stated that the team’s energy could already be felt during this morning’s shoot around. Whatever it is they did to amp themselves up to play tonight’s game the right way, they should do for every game hereafter. The activity alone, the alertness, the attention – it all affected the way the Lakers played this game, especially on the defensive end. They held the Pistons to just 13 points in the first quarter, and only 34 points in the first half on 39% shooting. Halfway through the third quarter, Coach Lawrence Frank subbed out and subbed in five players (hello, kitchen sink), to no avail.
Bench In the Fourth Quarter – The Laker lead ballooned to as much as 36 points, and after three quarters, the lead was a comfortable 31 points. All the starters were settling in on the bench, expecting to be done for the night, as they should have. Despite respectable efforts from Jordan Hill and back-up point guard, Darius Morris, the lead dwindled down to 23 points. Mike Brown took no chances and put Bryant, Blake and Howard back in, soon followed by Gasol. There were still about nine minutes left in the game but it was clear the reserves were not ready to blow the Pistons out of Staples. Maybe in a few more games, but for the time being, the win had to be locked up no matter how much Bryant felt his feet were about to fall off.
So the Lakers have avoided an 0-82 season, something many crazed fans were starting to fear (relax everyone, please). There is still a lot of work to be done, but it sure feels good to have a victory this season. Steve Nash is out for at least another week, so the Lakers have to continue their development without his physical presence on the floor, but surely with his watchful eye on the sideline.