Bernie Bickerstaff with the 4-1 record – how about that? It was a good night (perhaps weekend, even) for the purple and gold. Despite the absence of their new head coach and both their primary point guards, the Lakers continue to rise above the turmoil that has been their early season, in order to play their best on the floor.
Tonight, putting in their best appeared to be a common theme. From Kobe Bryant’s 18th career triple double, to Pau Gasol’s 15,000-point milestone, to Dwight Howard’s monstrous double-double and continued endurance, not to mention a solid game from second-year, Darius Morris – the entire team was all in from beginning to end, and no Linsanity could deter them, nor did they fear the beard.
They scored a season-high 119 points (after scoring 114 points against the Suns this past Friday), they kept their turnovers to a minimum, all five starters scored in double figures, and best of all, they looked like they knew what they were doing out there. Don’t look now, but the Lakers are starting to resemble a TEAM.
• Kobe Bryant – There’s a reason he has the highest +/- in the league. 22 points on 9-18 from the field, 11 rebounds, 11 assists and three steals – he’s a renaissance man, can do just about anything. Yes, Bryant can score at will, but in his 17 years in the NBA, he’s learned to do a whole lot more. Forget that he’s shooting 53% for the season. He looked like he was channeling his inner Nash out there, sending lobs and no-look passes to Dwight Howard, setting up Pau Gasol for a milestone shot, and above that, going after rebounds and playing defense. He’s no spring chicken, especially by NBA standards, but man almighty can Bryant still play and at such a high level.
• Dwight Howard – It’s hard to believe that he’s still not at 100% because if 28 points on 11-18 from the field, 13 rebounds and three blocks is 75-80%, it’s hard to imagine what more Superman can do when he’s completely recovered from the summer’s back surgery. Howard, despite a 6’11” frame, is surprisingly light on his feet, leaping high above the rim to dunk Bryant’s lob (a left-handed dunk). He may not be fully recovered yet, but his almost-100% is doing just fine for now.
• Pau Gasol – To be the first in his country to score 15,000 points in the NBA is an amazing feat. Gasol is also only the 10th foreign-born player to accomplish this. After receiving a pass from Bryant, Gasol let a beautiful mid-range jumper go and it hit nothing by the bottom of the net. He finished with a solid game; 17 points on 7-13, five rebounds and three assists. And how perfect was that court-length inbounds pass from Metta World Peace to Gasol for the uncontested hoop? All the credit to MWP for the precise pass, but if Gasol didn’t catch that, it might’ve been another turnover.
• Offensive flow – It’s funny to think that just a few games ago, the Lakers were struggling to put 40+ points on the board for the half, fumbling passes and wasting possessions. Tonight they hit 40 points in the first quarter on 74% from the field, 68 points for the half on a still efficient 67% from the field, and 98 points before the final quarter. Final shooting percentage – 54% for the night.
• Turnovers – The Lakers went into tonight’s contest averaging about 18 turnovers a game. In the first half they only gave the ball away five times. Five turnovers in 24 minutes of game time, even in the process of scoring 68 points. Despite collecting 8 more in the second half, the Lakers still kept their turnovers to a respectable 13 for the game. Hopefully it’s a trend that continues to improve.
• Defense – Of which they didn’t play much. After the first half, yes, the Lakers were shooting 67% from the field, but they also allowed Houston to shoot 54%. Their defense showed more encouraging signs in the second half, keeping the Rockets to just 43% from the field, but they still managed to score over a hundred points. There were rarely any stops in the game, just scoring on each end, possession after possession. The Lakers managed to collect 10 steals and block three shots for the game, but a team with two former defensive of the year players should be more adept at stopping opponents from at least getting such high percentage shots. Houston had 56 points in the paint to the Lakers’ 60. Too much penetration.
• Jodie Meeks – 1-6 from the field in13 minutes of playing time. For the season, Meeks is shooting just 24% from the three. If he wants to keep his place in the rotation, that percentage needs to rise.
…and that’s a .500 record, folks. It’s only good enough for eighth place in the Western Conference, but you know what they say about being at the bottom – there’s no way to go but up. By the looks of things, it appears the Lakers are not looking back at their murky start, instead favoring the brighter days ahead, which is how it should be anyway.