A concerted effort from tip-off to the final buzzer – well waddya know? After losing two games in a row, both in which they had early leads, the Lakers had to come into Dallas and play out of their minds to forget those unnecessary losses. Both the Jazz and Rockets games were winnable, and the team was in the process of doing just that – winning. But overconfidence always seems to peek in and the Lakers fall for the bait every time. Tonight, however, they were a team on a mission.
With a Dallas Mavericks team playing without the services of Shawn Marion and Brendan Haywood, they were short a big body and a big scorer. The Lakers knew they needed to take care of this game tonight, and they knew they had to take advantage of their opponent’s disadvantage. They’d beaten Dallas twice this season already, at their full strength. There would be no excuses tonight.
Just as they did in last night’s game, the Lakers opened with a hot first quarter, shooting 60% from the field, led by Kobe Bryant’s 10 points on 4-7 and Pau Gasol’s eight points on 4-5. The stand-out star of the night, however, began his night with just under five minutes of the first quarter but produced five points and four assists. Ramon Sessions, in just his fourth game as a Laker, showed off his savvy under every category and the team is worlds better because of it.
In the second quarter, the Lakers managed to score 30 points on 54% shooting and allowed Dallas only 15 points on just 25% from the field. The Mavericks were kept to just 40% shooting for the half while the Lakers managed 57%.
Unlike last night’s game, the second half was an even better played 24 minutes of basketball than the first. The Lakers shot 61% from the field and completely pulled away midway in the final quarter. The threeball was falling (heck, even Pau Gasol hit one from the corner), the ball movement was there, they were aggressive on defense and the energy never wavered, and that goes a long way.
Ramon Sessions – 17 points on 7-8 from the field, 3-4 from downtown, plus the nine assists and five rebounds? Many expected Sessions to work out for the Lakers, but maybe not as quickly as he has. In just his fourth game in purple and gold, with nothing but one practice to fill in since he arrived last Friday, Sessions looks like he’s been with the team all season. His playmaking skills alone are such an asset to this team that thrives on ball movement. With only a few seconds since he stepped on the floor tonight, he immediately threw a bullet pass straight to Matt Barnes, who scored on a wide open, easy drop-in. His passes are quick and he’s crafty, drawing defenses in when he penetrates to the hoop while keeping an eye on the open teammate. And the offense he’s contributing is a bonus, especially when it comes off the bench. He and Steve Blake take turns running the point for each group of players, but he’s not just passing the ball when he’s out there – he’s an active scorer. He had a great give ‘n go with Troy Murphy in the second quarter where he finished with a layup, and he can shoot from behind the arc as well. He led the game tonight with a +28, which is no surprise.
O’ Captains – Since the trade deadline has passed, Pau Gasol was promoted to be one of the Laker co-captains with Kobe Bryant, and despite his calm and sometimes quiet demeanor, he leads by example on the floor. 27 points on 13-16 from the field, hit the only three-pointer he attempted and grabbed nine rebounds. He also hounded Dirk Nowitzki all night, and despite getting 26 points himself, still needed 24 shot attempts to get there. Gasol’s jumper was particularly dead-on today. Give him that face-up anytime and he’ll make you pay for it.
Kobe Bryant, after going just 3-20 last night more than made up for two awful games with a 30-point on 11-18 from the field kind of night. He also grabbed four rebounds and handed out four assists. If Gasol’s jumpers were dead-on, Bryant’s were even more so. His attempts were hitting nothing but net tonight, even the over the head shot he tossed up after receiving a lob from Gasol AND getting fouled in the process. Bryant also hit all seven of his free throw attempts.
Threeball – When Pau Gasol is hitting threes, you know it’s a good day in downtown. The Lakers hit 9-18 from back there while the Mavericks went 8-26. Most attempts came, as they should, in rhythm. 27 points from behind the arc.
Laker bench – Due in large part to Sessions’ presence, the Laker reserves have come alive upon his arrival. In the first half, they’d already outscored Dallas’ bench 24-15. In the end they were outscored 38-36, but in the grand scheme of things, they scored over 30 points and had two bench players in double figures. Matt Barnes, in particular, had a great game with his 11 points, nine rebounds and two assists.
Rebounding – It’s the category they should win every night and they did again tonight. The Lakers outrebounded the Mavericks 46-29 and only allowed seven offensive rebounds.
Defense – The Lakers kept Dallas to shooting just 40% for the first half and 43% for the game. Dirk Nowitzki was especially smothered all night and had to work extra hard for those 26 points. Pau Gasol did a good job staying in his path and contesting his shots. At certain points in the game, even Kobe Bryant was on Nowitzki. Getting a talent like him to slow down takes a group effort and the Lakers, fortunately, knew that coming into tonight.
Steve Blake – Appointed the starting point guard for the foreseeable future, according to Coach Mike Brown, Blake didn’t have his best game, scoring just three points on 1-6 from the field, zero rebounds, two assists and two steals. Again, in a line-up where Bryant, Gasol and Bynum are present, scoring may be hard to come by, but Blake needs to be more assertive because he will get the opportunity, especially with Bryant and Bynum constantly being double-teamed. At least he attempted six shots tonight, a rarity, but if he needs to be another threat out there too.
Andrew Bynum? – It’s difficult to put Bynum down as a low point in this game because, though his box score is relatively sparse compared to some of his previous monster games, he still played defense, passed out quickly out of the double teams he encountered and he didn’t have a single turnover in 36 ½ minutes of playing time. He did manage nine points, seven rebounds and three assists. It’s not the stat line we’re used to seeing from the young center, but it’s not nothing either.
The Lakers played an excellent game overall tonight. They’ve owned the Mavericks this season and have one more game left against them before season’s end. On a night that their former leader, Derek Fisher, joined the young Oklahoma City Thunder, the Lakers welcomed a new floor general in Ramon Sessions.