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Kobe Bryant’s right wrist was wrapped and secured by a brace, but even a torn ligament in his shooting hand couldn’t keep him from pumping his fist into the air at the sight of teammate, Andrew Bynum catching a lob from Derek Fisher (7 points, 8 assists) and dunking with some authority. Without Bryant on the floor, there is always concern, but with his absence comes an opportunity that this fragmented Laker team cannot surpass, and that’s for the next two players on the pecking order to stop waiting to be led and built up, and start leading and rebuilding themselves.

Andrew Bynum, who led the Lakers with 26 points on 11-15, 11 rebounds and two blocks, had a night that wasn’t all that unfamiliar. It just feels rare because each time he’s risen to the occasion, he’s instantly brought down to earth by injury that forces gaps between games like tonight. After a long summer spent getting fit instead of rehabilitating from surgery, however, Bynum didn’t have to wait long to push himself to produce and might have even learned a thing or two about maturity in the process. He was patient, keeping his complaints to the refs at a minimum. He was aware of each ball handler, awaiting his chance to receive passes and lobs for high percentage scoring opportunities. He was attentive (though could be moreso) on defense, running to get back in time to block shots or grab rebounds. He also played over thirty-one minutes en route to his second double-double in a row.

Pau Gasol’s stat line appears average in comparison to his typical production, but with his 13 points on 5-7 and nine rebounds, he also had five assists. Good things happen when Gasol has the ball in his hands. Double teamed early in the first quarter, he threw an overhead pass to a cutting Derek Fisher who beat Chris Paul to the baseline, for a reverse layup and 1. In the third quarter, Gasol was doubled by Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, so he threw a no-look lob to Bynum who easily converted. Late in the game, after Bynum had rebounded his own miss and scored, he was met during a timeout with a bear hug and a few words from Gasol. Though chemistry between Odom and Gasol was effortless, so too appears Gasol’s mentor-like relationship with the young Bynum. With the opportunity for Superman’s second coming closing for the Lakers, it is up to Gasol and Bynum to help carry this team now and so far, they’re off to a solid start.

The Lakers led by as many as 11 points, until the third quarter came around. In the first eight minutes of the second half, the visiting team had scored just six points. To make it worse, Matt Barnes’ knuckleheadedness made an appearance, shoving Blake Griffin and resulting in, not only a flagrant-1 for his record, but an amped up Clipper team and crowd. Despite digging themselves into a double-digit deficit after leading by a double margin themselves, however, the Lakers did manage to keep it competitive until the very end and they owe that, in large part, to the efforts of Steve Blake and the bench, who outscored the Clipper reserves 49-33. Blake’s shooting touch appears to have recovered from last season, as he went 5-7 from behind the arc and finished with 20 points, four rebounds and three assists. As a team, the Lakers shot 50% from the three-point line and 54.8% from the field.

Despite the great shooting night for most players, though (Metta World Peach continued his shooting woes with 4-13), the defensive efforts still leave much to be desired. The rotations continue to lag, the instinct to contest shots is still not there (Gasol gave Griffin more room to maneuver than should be allowed by any coach with clipboard) and a collective, defensive mind in general is still a work in progress. Hopefully the amount of progress will soon equate, if not surpass, the amount of work because there’s no time left before lapses in defense will start to matter. Christmas Day against the Chicago Bulls is up next, and with the accelerated and truncated season, every possession counts.

Box Score
Pre-Game Thoughts: Kobe Bryant is out tonight with a torn ligament in his right wrist. The hits just keep on coming for the Lakers, don’t they? Though this is everything BUT good news, there is an opportunity here for the rest of this motley crew, and that is to, simply, step up to yet another challenge. With Lamar Odom gone, Kobe Bryant injured and Andrew Bynum suspended for the first five games of the regular season, it’s up to Pau Gasol, more than ever, to take his turn and lead this team.
Half-Time Thoughts: 56-53 – Andrew Bynum leads the game with 17 points on 8-10, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and zero turnovers. Derek Fisher leads with 7 assists. For all their efforts on the offensive end (Lakers are shooting 58%), however, they’ve allowed the Clippers to shoot 50% which included a late 8-0 run to cut a double digit deficit. The defense still needs tightening for the second half.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Matt Barnes – Perhaps he was signed to give the Lakers a little more edge, but unnecessary shoves like he did tonight on Blake Griffin did nothing but fire up the Clippers who outscored the Lakers 30-17 in the third quarter.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Andrew Bynum – He said he was winded after Monday’s game, but tonight showed no signs of lacking any conditioning. He rose easily to convert lobs, ran back on defense in time to block shots and his footwork gets better each game he plays. It’s just a shame he won’t be back on the court for another week, serving his 5-game suspension.