In one Time Warner Sports promo, a video of players laughing on the bench and on the court shows as a voiceover says, “Work together. Play together. Win together.” Tonight they did just that.
With his sixth starting line-up combo, Coach Mike D’Antoni put together Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Wes Johnson, Jordan Hill and Pau Gasol. Based solely on this game, this starting five looks to be a winner. With high-energy guys like Hill and Johnson, the Lakers played with a liveliness from tip-off to the final buzzer, which we haven’t seen since the first game of the season against the Clippers.
The defense was active, keeping New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, who single-handedly killed the Lakers in their last meeting, to a minor appearance. The ball, as D’Antoni always hopes it will, found its energy time again – in the paint, at midrange, from behind the arc.
Before halftime, the Lakers had led by as much as 20 points, and despite small scoring spurts by the New Orleans Pelicans, they managed to lead by as much as 26 for the game, before the 21-point final win.
Jordan Hill – Note to Lakers coaching staff – keep this man in the starting line-up. His work on the boards and his mere activity warrants 26 minutes of floor time in every game. Hill said after the game that he doesn’t care whether he starts or comes off the bench. He just wants to get the minutes. He always puts himself in the right spots to fight or rebounds or receive passes, and his teammates seemed to make it a point to find him tonight. What a night Hill had – a career-high 21 points on 7-12, 11 rebounds, a pair of assists, two steals and a block.
Pau Gasol – He’s aliiiiive! It feels like weeks since we’ve seen Gasol as active and present as he was tonight. What a difference it makes to see your first shot attempts go in. He began with a fingerroll at the hoop, which he followed with a signature hook shot and then a jumper some minutes later. In the third quarter, he hit back-to-back jumpers. Gasol finished with 14 points on an efficient 6-10 from the field, right rebounds, three assists, and a block.
Backcourt Support – Steve Nash is suffering from some nerve damage and will be out for at least the next two weeks, but in his stead are solid back-ups in Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar. The Laker point guards were responsible for 18 of the team’s 33 assists. Blake may have only scored five points, but he said post-game that he’s more excited when he racks up 10 assists as he did tonight, than when he scores. Farmar chipped in nine points, but it was his eight assists and seven rebounds that made all the difference for his team. Blake and Farmar have really learned the ways in which their teammates like to receive passes, whether it’s bounce passes inside for the bigs, or long lobs to runners like Nick Young.
Bench – Truly the single most consistent and constant contributors on this Laker team has been their bench. And despite the number of times players have gone back-and-forth between the starting line-up and the pine, they have managed to be the team’s backbone no matter who plays which role. Nick Young led the reserves with 17 points on 7-11 form the field, two points which came from receiving a pass from Farmar and dropping it into the hoop mid-air. Xavier Henry had 15 points on 6-8, highlighted by his monster dunk over fellow University of Kansas Jayhawk, Jeff Withey. The reserves put in a collective 56 points. What a difference this group of bench players are compared to last season.
Threeball – How does 11-20 from downtown sound? Sounds like rain, is what that sounds like, and it’s starting to be the measuring stick for this season’s team. When they are shooting well from outside, it’s usually an indication that they are moving the ball, creating a rhythm that gets it to the right spots around the perimeter for an almost-sure thing the long shot. Jodie Meeks led the three party with 3-5 from behind the arc for nine of his 15 points.
Glasswork – The Lakers outrebounded the Pelicans 53-31.
Energy – The ball finds energy – it’s a philosophy that D’Antoni preaches and he’s absolutely right. When the Lakers are getting whomped by 30 points, guess who’s got the energy? The opposing team. But when the Lakers start the game like they did today, and sustain that energy it for the duration of the contest, the ball will indeed be good to them on both ends of the court. Tonight they moved the ball well, handing out 33 assists out of the 44 made field goals. The Lakers had energy on the defensive end as well, holding the Pelicans to just 3-10 from downtown, and keeping Anthony Davis to just six points, two rebounds and three fouls in the first half.
Turnovers – 19 for the game which led to 27 Pelicans points. As expected, the Lakers got a little sloppy when the lead ballooned to that it was, and New Orleans took advantage.
Tonight’s game was all well and good, but it begs the question, which team is going to show up tomorrow in Denver? Or on Friday against Memphis? Will it be tonight’s team, who exacted some revenge on the Pelicans after getting romped in New Orleans? Or will it be Sunday’s team, who allowed Minnesota to score 47 points in the first quarter? There’s no telling what effort we’ll see on a night to night basis, and that’s disconcerting for any fan, or any member of the team for that matter, to have to deal with. Hopefully, tonight’s team will make the Denver appearance.