The Lakers’ box score tonight contains the following: K. Bryant (DND – SEVERE SPRAIN, LEFT ANKLE), P. Gasol (DND – TORN PLANTAR FASCIA, RIGHT FOOT), [Jordan] Hill (inactive). Listed are also six players in double figures, two players with double-doubles, +10 in rebounds, +7 in assists, +4 in blocks, 57% FG and a record that is four games above .500.
With three players on the injured list, the Lakers did what any team would and should do in their situation – they played the game like no one was missing. It was business as usual for the purple and gold, with the two Steves putting the ball in the right situations to score, with Dwight Howard leading the way on the defensive end, with Antawn Jamison going at it like he normally does – hard; and Metta World Peace finding his shot just in the nick of time.
The Sacramento Kings may only be 23-44 for the season, but they are not a team to be taken lightly. They answered almost every Laker run with a run of their own, doing their damage inside and outside. In the end, however, the Lakers were too much and the Kings added another to their loss column in a game that ended 102-113.
“Bench” – With Bryant out, Jodie Meeks moved up to the starting line-up, so the bench contribution tonight came
from just two players, Antawn Jamison and Steve Blake. What a contribution they made! If there were a term to describe Jamison, it would be “blue collar” because he’s always one of the hardest working players on the floor. He’s not the best defender on the team, but he’s constantly shadowing his man and reaching for boards. Tonight he had nine rebounds, eight on the defensive end. On offense, he’s as crafty as they come. Aside from his 5-8 from behind the arc, James Worthy considers him the best in the league at cutting to hoop or slipping screens to get in good position for a shot. He led the game with 27 points on 8-14 from the field and led the +/- column with a +23. His fellow reserve, Blake, has been playing his best lately since becoming a Laker. His confidence on the floor, whether it’s shooting, making plays or playing some scrappy defense, is apparent. He finished the night with 16 points on 6-11 from the field, including 4-7 from downtown, eight assists, five rebounds and a steal. That the Lakers are 17-7 since his return is no coincidence. Last note: Kings Bench (3 players) = 34 points. Jamison/Blake = 43 points.
Metta World Peace – 22 points on 10-13 from the field, four assists and a block. It’s odd for MWP not to have a single board, but the rest of the team gang-rebounded all night so it didn’t make much of a difference, especially since his shot appears to be returning. World Peace had been struggling since the New Year, unable to find the lucky stroke with which he began the season. But in the last few games, he’s gotten a lot more consistent, choosing to score closer to the hoop rather than jacking up threes all game long.
Dwight Howard – Six shot attempts for the man in the middle is not enough, but Howard was still a happy camper in the locker room after the game. And why shouldn’t he be? He finished with his 38th double-double for the season, 12 points, 17 rebounds and added five blocks for a well-rounded game. It was his 14th straight 12+ rebound game. He also converted back-to-back lobs in the second quarter that brought Staples Center, especially his teammates, off their seats.
Steve Nash – 19 points, 12 assists, four rebounds – this is the type of stat line that we expected from Nash when he was signed. Since, for whatever reason, Bryant has been assigned to be the primary ball handler, Nash has trained himself to spot up and shoot. Games like tonight is really his bread and butter. Maybe this is a reminder (see: nudge) to the Lakers’ coaching staff that they have STEVE NASH on the team and it might be a good idea to have him control the ball a little more. Let’s face it, Steve Nash = ball movement, and that has been the key to most Laker victories this season.
Jodie Meeks – Maybe he’s not accustomed to playing with the starters. Tonight Meeks chipped in just six points on 2-6 from the field, 1-5 from behind the arc after 28 minutes on the floor. He was the only player in single digits.
Turnovers – 15 turnovers that turned into 17 points for Sacramento.
Lead Rollercoaster – There were 11 lead changes. Each time the Lakers would make a run or take the lead (15 points being their largest advantage in the game), they’d turn the ball over or attempt bad shots and next thing they knew, the Kings were scoring on the other end and either cutting the lead down or taking the lead themselves. The Lakers have yet to learn how to babysit a lead this season. If they’re not falling behind and have to catch up, they are leading by double digits and then giving way for the other team to catch up to them.
Yes, this season has been a challenging one for the Lakers, at best. And it took more than half the season for them to look like they had control over their destiny. Many will point out that the Lakers beat a non-playoff team without Bryant and Gasol – so what? They also defeated the second best defensive team in the league two days ago IN INDIANA so what of that? In the grand scheme of things, what these last two games have done and can do further, is give this team confidence to finish a challenging season the right way.