With the game clock nearing the end of the night, Dwight Howard stood on the corner behind the three point line, when Chris Duhon threw him a pass. Wide open (as he should be from that position), Howard rose up, released and swish! It was his second career three-pointer; 28th point for the night and the 17th three for the Lakers in the game, tying their all-time high. Andrew Bynum must be really jealous.
It was the perfect ending to a nearly perfect night, and without the Laker bench’s performance, this may have been another game under the wrong column. After the loss against Indiana just three days ago, the team put together the same effort they had against the blow-out in Dallas and it paid off in dividends.
On a night where the usual offensive suspects (namely Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol), weren’t their usual stellar scoring selves, a group of teammates picked up the slack in a large way, and put this game (despite a few runs by Denver) on cruise control for much of the night.
The energy was more than obvious – it permeated even through the TWC logo on the corner of my television. The Lakers looked lively out there. They were having fun, all at the expense of the Denver Nuggets.
• Dwight Howard – 28 points on 12-16 from the field, 20 rebounds, three blocks and just one turnover in over 32 minutes of play. Howard was all over it tonight. When he wasn’t scoring on putback dunks via his eight offensive rebounds, he was running on the break to receive a timely pass from Darius Morris or stuffing a one-handed dunk off a lob from Pau Gasol. When Howard wasn’t dominating the paint, he was beating Denver’s big men to rebounds or getting in their way to keep them from scoring or passing. Despite getting smacked in the face, resulting in a laceration on his left lid, Howard was unphased, continuing his strong showing
• Antawn Jamison – If Jamison continues to play and produce as well as he has been the last few games, the man needs another 6th Man of the Year consideration. Whatever demons he was dealing with when the season began, they appear to be fading into the background. Jamison is an opportunistic scorer. He shot the longball when he was left open (5-10 from downtown). He received quick passes in all types of circumstances, from Bryant, Gasol or Chris Duhon, and whether he had to squeeze through a crowd or beat the transition defense to the hoop, he did it and contorted his body to get the highest percentage shot. Tonight he chipped in 33 points on 13-19 from the field, and brought down 12 rebounds and a pair of assists.
• Jodie Meeks– Fire is thy name! By the halfway mark of the second quarter, Meeks had hit his first five shot attempts, all
from behind the arc. He scored 15 points in five minutes, each from a different point on the perimeter. He finished with 21 points on 7-9 from the field, all three pointers, in just 17 ½ minutes of playing time.
• Well-Reserved – As a unit, the Laker bench scored 61 points on 13-21 from the field, 14 rebounds, 12 assists and six steals. Chris Duhon, taking the majority of the ball-handling task off the bench, scored just five points, but handed out eight assists, had three steals and didn’t commit a single turnover in 31 minutes of floor time. He led the game on the +/- scale with a +27. It’s nice having someone familiar with Mike D’Antoni’s system around, isn’t it?
• Let It Rain – 17-33 from downtown. 17-33! Even Dwight Howard got a chance to shoot a three (and made it).
• Sharing is Winning – The Lakers racked up 33 assists on 47 made field goals. Except for Howard and Jordan Hill, every Laker who saw playing time handed out an assist. Bryant, Gasol and Duhon, who combined for just 25 points, each handed out eight dimes. With better ball movement, comes a cleaner game, and the home team had just five turnovers in the first half. They collected 10 more turnovers in the third and fourth quarters, but 15 isn’t 20 or 25, which they’ve been guilty of this season.
• Defense –It wasn’t a completely low point, but while the Lakers’ offense is starting to become more clockwork, their defense still needs to tighten up. They allowed Denver to score 57 points on 53% shooting in the first half, and they outscored the Lakers in the paint 60-48. Allowing a team to get such high percentage shots can’t happen. The second half defense did improve slightly, with Denver shooting just 41% from the field in the final two quarters.
• The Usual Suspects – If the Lakers had lost this game, a bigger deal would be made about Bryant, Gasol and MWP’s contributions, but the truth is, they didn’t do NOTHING. Despite the inefficiency in their scoring, (Bryant’s 5-15 from the field, Gasol’s 3-7 and MWP’s 3-11), the three veterans found other ways to be effective in the game, like playmaking.
It’s easy to get caught up in a game like tonight, but the question remains – can the Lakers pull a string of these types of wins together? The trumping in Dallas appeared to be a stepping stone, until the Pacers came in and the Lakers seemed to take a step back down. Mike D’Antoni is still tinkering with the rotation and the Lakers are still learning to play in the system together. Luckily, there are still 66 games to figure it out.