Jodie Meeks steals the ball from Luke Babbit and runs off. He tries to lay it up but gets blocked. He grabs the offensive rebound and tries to score again, but for the second time in a row, is rejected. As he fights for another rebound on the floor, he manages to hand it off to Darius Morris. After getting up off the floor, Meeks strolls to the corner and asks for the ball again so he can score from downtown.
In 16 seconds, Meeks got a steal, grabbed two offensive rebounds, attempted trio of shots and hit a three-pointer. That happened halfway through the fourth quarter when the Lakers were up by 20 points. 48 minutes of effort – that’s what Meeks’ sequence symbolized, and the Lakers were overflowing with it tonight.
Only three Lakers scored in double figures, but every player, save for Jordan Hill and the reserves who played in the last five minutes of the game, each handed out an assist. Every player who saw the floor, except for Steve Nash, grabbed a rebound. The Lakers played with something else tonight that wasn’t there against the Nuggets – joy. They were having fun out there. It’s funny what winning can produce.
Offense Humming – Mike D’Antoni’s philosophy is that the ball finds energy and the Lakers were full of it tonight, attracting the rock for all sorts of adventures. Whether it was Steve Nash throwing up a floater, Pau Gasol hitting from downtown, Kobe Bryant’s lob to a running Darius Morris, or Dwight Howard hitting four free throws in succession – the energy was there and the ball found it. The Lakers outscored the Blazers 58-38 in the paint, 26-13 in second chance points, 23-10 in fast break points and led by as much as 27 points. They racked up 62 points in the first half alone.
Defense Protecting – Following his ejection in Denver, Dwight Howard came into tonight’s game with a purpose – a greater effort on his specialty, defense, and he managed to take the rest of his team with him. Box scores never tell the whole story, especially when it comes to defense. Yes, Howard had 14 rebounds and those three blocks were huge, but it’s his presence inside that repels the opposition, no matter what position they hold. Point guards, like Damian Lillard, are usually a challenge for big men to guard, but Howard forced Lillard baseline tonight, then tapped the ball away from him, and Darius Morris managed to save it from going out of bounds. Kobe Bryant, who has been criticized lately for falling short on defense, had two steals that led to a basket for him and a converted lob for Morris. The Lakers also held Portland to 48 points in the first half and kept them to 37% from the field in the last two quarters.
A Sum of Great Parts – Howard finished with 21 points on 7-13 from the field. Kobe Bryant broke his streak of consecutive 30+ point games at
nine, but 27 points on 9-18, five rebounds, four assists and two steals aren’t too shabby. Steve Nash – well, what can you say to 10 perfectly doled out assists except, “Thank goodness he’s back?” Pau Gasol – He told John Ireland that his New Year’s resolution is to be a better person, but tonight he can settle on just rolling with the punches (injury – first tendonitis in his knees and now plantar fasciitis?, the new offense, etc). He’s still not as close to the basket as he’s used to playing, but that three-point stroke is starting to look really smooth and quite becoming of one of the greatest post players in the NBA. Darius Morris – He managed to save the ball from going out of bounds twice, and his opportunistic scoring is a great boost from someone other than the Bryant, Gasol, Howard and Metta World Peace. He also held Damian Lillard down for a great part of the game. The rookie went just 4-17 from the field for his 11 points.
Jamaal Wilkes – The Laker legend had his #52 jersey retired, so it now hangs on the wall of greatness along with Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Gail Goodrich, Magic Johnson, James Worth and, of course, Chick Hearn.
Antawn Jamison – M.I.A. status. As far as playing time drop-off goes, Jamison’s is clearly a winner this season. To go from riding the pine, to being the first guy off the bench, to starting and then sitting from a string of DNP-Coach’s Decisions, it can’t be easy for the veteran. Mark Medina of the L.A. Times tweeted the following Jamison quote, “It doesn’t make sense at all. They’re pretty much telling me my services are no longer needed.” Jamison had been playing solidly, but when Mike D’Antoni started getting into the meat of his rotation, he was, unfortunately, one of the casualties. Whether due to his lack of defensive stability or just the coach’s preference for what another player offers, someone had to be left out, and in this case, it was Jamison. Unless injury or foul trouble are an issue for one of the forward spots, Jamison may have to get used to this reduced role for awhile.
The effort by the time the final buzzer sounds, should be as strong at it was at tip-off. The Lakers failed to exude any sort of effort and energy in Denver two days ago, so that loss wasn’t a mystery. Tonight, the energy and the effort were ever present, and it began with Steve Nash on one end, and Dwight Howard on the other – just as it should be.