More experiments with tonight’s line-ups, as Kobe Bryant sat courtside in his warm-ups to support his teammates up close. He joked with former teammates Jordan Farmar and now assistant coach, Mark Madsen. He provided instruction for young Jordan Hill and newcomer Chris Kaman. He provided some advice for Xavier Henry after a timeout, before the young player walked back to the floor. Most of all, he watched the potential of the team before him.
Is the coaching staff done figuring out which permutations work? Probably not completely. But did they gain more insight into the framework of this season’s team? Absolutely.
Gasol-Kaman Duo – First item that deserves an asterisk (*) was the pairing of Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman to start the game. The duo have obviously developed a solid two-man game in their time at training camp, because they played like they’d been teammates before. Kaman has mentioned, in various interviews, how easy it is to play with Gasol. It’s an exhaustive observation, but Gasol’s court vision is truly that of a point guard. Can he score? Yes. But his instinct is simply to make the right play, whether it’s passing to a teammate or scoring himself. He went 6-11 from the field for his 14 points, but he also handed out a pair of assists, and both ended with Kaman scoring four of his 12 points. This chemistry that Gasol is building with Kaman is reminiscent of how quickly he developed chemistry with Lamar Odom. Their on-court relationship came about almost instantaneously when the two hit the floor together.
Steve Blake – Playing to the very end of a game that shouldn’t have gotten as close as it did, Blake is continuing to solidify his value to this team. Whether it’s scoring (16 points, including a pair of threes and 8-9 from the charity stripe), providing instruction on the floor or playing scrappy defense, Blake has proven himself time and again since the end of last season. He’s gotten some time playing the two alongside Steve Nash, and taking over the point when Nash checks out. In either position, he seems to flourish because he’s a no-nonsense, blue-collar, does-what-needs-to-be-done type of player so it’s no surprise why he’s been depended upon.
Defense (first half) – The Lakers held the Nuggets to just 31 points on 23% shooting, while scoring 48 points on 49% from the field themselves. A large part of that effort came from Jordan Hill. He’s known as the energy guy on the team, and he certainly lives up to the name. Whether it is fighting for rebounds (he led the game with 12 boards) or chasing after balls to save a possession, he does it. Nick Young, known mostly for his desire to score, was active on the other end of the floor as well, simply by sticking closely to his defensive assignments.
Assists (first half) – At halftime, the Lakers handed out 15 assists. They finished the game with just 19, but of the 12 players who saw the floor, nine had at least one dime.
Turnovers – As efficient as their first half was, the Lakers’ second half was just as INefficient. The ball movement halted (just four assists for the last two quarters) and the turnovers took over. After turning the ball over 12 times in the first half, they committed 10 more in the second, and a once-21 point lead, turned into a deficit as the game clock ran down. The Nuggets’ running game suddenly awoke, which put the Lakers’ defense on their heels.
Defense (second half) – After allowing just 31 points in the first two quarters, the Lakers allowed the Nuggets to outscore them 57-42 in the second half.
Jodie Meeks – Coming into the pre-season, I expected Jodie Meeks to have some great games, especially since he has started in Bryant’s spot in two of the last three games. Unfortunately, Meeks has gone just 6-18 from the field, 4-10 from three. If his game doesn’t pick up, he’s liable to lose his place in the rotation to guys like Nick Young, or the two PG/SG Jordan Farmar and Steve Blake.
Next game takes place in Sin City against the Sacramento Kings, before the Lakers head out to their weeklong visit to China.