That’s two wins in a row for the Weekend With Bernie project. It’s not much, but at least it’s a streak on the right side of the column. Though numbered are the days of the current coaching staff, Bickerstaff (and staff) have made the most of their time with the Lakers, producing some positive sightings of a once down-trodden-looking squad.
For a team whose head coach was fired just two days ago, and whose future coach is yet to be determined (or yet to be finalized is probably more like it), the ill effects of the uncertainty appear minimal, if that. In their last two games since Friday’s firing of Mike Brown, the Lakers look like they’re having fun. “It’s like playing in a pick-up game,” back-up point guard, Chris Duhon said.
The Golden State Warriors and the Sacramento Kings (who played without a suspended Demarcus Cousins) aren’t exactly playoff-bound teams, but when Kobe Bryant runs a break, and sprinting down the court with him with his index finger point upwards asking for a lob is Metta World Peace, the fun factor has definitely risen. Bryant started laughing the second MWP rose up to convert that lob with a dunk, and the two laughed all the way back on defense. Freer. Less overthinking. That’s the noticeable difference with these Lakers in the last couple of games.
Despite the 18 turnovers, which have become the Lakers’ vice this season, the team managed to do more good than bad tonight, especially since they game out with another victory (for anyone keeping track, that’s three wins). Dwight Howard production was key; despite Steve Nash’s absence (not to mention Steve Blake’s for most of the game – more on that later), there were enough playmakers to go around; and even the bench contributed something. Pick-up basketball indeed.
• Dwight Howard – 23 points on 8-14 from the field, 7-13 from the free throw line, 18 huge rebounds, three assists, two blocks, a pair of steals and a headband with the U.S. stars and stripes in honor of Veterans Day. Not bad for someone who isn’t even considered 100% recovered from his back surgery yet. It’s been a few games since Howard logged in double-digit rebounds, so he appeared to make it a personal mission tonight to crash the boards, and that he did. Sacramento’s starting front court had 14 rebounds combined. A thunderous dunk off Steve Blake’s lob, backing in Jason Thompson for an easy hoop, fighting for multiple possessions to create more opportunities to score – Howard had a productive 39 minutes. That he was able to play that much a true testament to how well he’s recovering.
• Metta World Peace – 18 points on 6-11, 4-8 from three, hit both free throws, grabbed five rebounds, a steal and zero turnovers – great game for MWP. Sleeker frame, no facial hair, quicker, lighter on his feet = MWP 2.0.
• Pau Gasol – It was pre-determined, going into this new season, that with Dwight Howard on the roster, Gasol’s scoring would most likely decrease. Gasol himself probably knew that. But as someone who can do as much as he does, his impact on the game stems from beyond his point total. With 18 points on 7-14 from the field and 4-4 from the charity stripe, not to mention five rebounds, four assists and two blocks, Gasol led the game with a +20. Why? Because good things happen when he’s on the floor. His playmaking abilities, especially for a seven-footer, is one of his most defining traits on this team and in the league. “One of the best passing big men in the NBA” is a moniker that will stick to Gasol for a long while.
• Kobe Bryant – Let’s forget his 20 points, six rebounds and six assists in tonight’s game for a moment. How’s this for the Mamba’s season so far – 56% FG, 44% 3PT, 91% FT. The numbers speak for themselves. Bryant, despite his sore foot which is still in the healing process, is in great form for the long season.
• Jordan Hill – His eight points aren’t anything to brag about and we can shake our heads at his game-leading four turnovers, but Hill did some good work tonight. Most notable are his seven boards, five of which were on the offensive end. Hill is a lurker when it comes to crashing the boards. He benefited from two of those offensive boards by dunking in a missed shot from Darius Morris and then tipping in a missed hook from Gasol. Stats aside, however, he’s just always moving, ready to grab a miss. It’s exactly the energy that this older Laker team needs.
• Steve Blake – Suffering from a painful straight abdominal for about a week, Blake headed to the locker room during the first quarter, and attempted to play in the third quarter, but was in too much pain to continue. That’s two point guards down if Blake can’t make it to the next game. He will have an ultrasound before the San Antonio game on Tuesday. Hopefully it isn’t something that will keep him out for a long period of time.
• Empty the Bench – The Laker reserves were still outscored 38-22, but they filled in well enough to keep any starter from playing over 40 minutes, and that’s always a good thing. Coach Bickerstaff played every activated player tonight, including the rookies and Chris Duhon. Jodie Meeks got more burn but went 1-6 form the field and Antawn Jamison added another underachieving 0-2 in 11 minutes of playing time. As if it isn’t already a task to get used to playing with so many different rotations, it seems to be inevitable for this team this season. With the possibility of Blake being out, Darius Morris or Chris Duhon must step up.
• Turnovers – 18 turnovers. That needs to be pared down and quickly. Those 18 giveaways resulted in 26 points off turnovers for the Kings tonight. That is too many points to sacrifice. The Lakers have got to figureout how to take better care of the ball.
That’s 2-0 for Bernie Bickerstaff as Lakers’ head coach, and now the wait continues for his successor. The Lakers seem poised to welcome the new coaching regime whenever that becomes final. Phil Jackson, Mike D’Antoni and Michael Dunleavy seem to have made the shortlist. In the meantime, we’ll just enjoy this two-game winning streak.