The Lakers may have won three games in a row before Steve Nash returned to the active roster, but they didn’t win like they did tonight or three days ago up in Oakland. When Nash went down with an injury ealier in the season, the Lakers did their best (some would say not really) to get by without him, but a different Laker team showed up in practically every game. One night, they’re blowing out the Dallas Mavericks and then in the following game, they’re losing to the Indiana Pacers. The team wasn’t exactly unraveling, but it was obvious they needed some direction; or maybe director is more like it.
Enter Steve Nash on Christmas Day, letting a floater fly and then rising up for a quick jumper to get the Lakers on the board. Some two minutes after that, he sends a pass to Pau Gasol for a midrange and then sends another his way for a rare three-pointer. That’s just typical Nash – scoring with precision or doing what he does best – setting up plays, and that’s exactly what he did today.
The last time these two teams met in the Big Apple, the Knicks owned the Lakers; but that was without Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, both who made quite the impact on today’s game. Neither team led by double figures and the lead changed on 10 occasions. It was an exciting game to celebrate the holidays, especially with the Laker win.
• Metta World Peace – MWP has been the Lakers’ MVP this season – no question about it. Kobe Bryant may be having a phenomenal season despite it being his 17th year, and Dwight Howard is the exciting new enforcer on the team, but it is Metta who consistently comes out fighting. He scored 16 of his 20 points in the first half, and then spent the second seemingly glued to Carmelo Anthony. He even got tangled up with Tyson Chandler fighting over a loose ball and ended up with a long gash across his upper arm as a result. He also added seven rebounds and a steal to his stat line. He even fouled out of the game.
• Steve Nash – 16 points on 10-12, 11 assists, six rebounds – not bad for a guy who was only playing in his second game after being out for almost two months. And it’s somewhat misleading, because Nash did so much more than his stat line reads. His presence seems to be galvanizing this team. In the last two games, the Lakers fell behind, but never gave up and that’s in large part to Nash.
• Pau Gasol – Mike D’Antoni should have arranged that dinner with Pau Gasol as soon as he got to L.A. Whatever it was the player and coach discussed over dinner a few days ago, it’s doing something right. Pau looked more engaged and confident in this game than he’s looked in the recent past (three-pointer, hello!), and his game was punctuated by an inbounds pass that he received from Nash late in the fourth quarter, and which he drove into a white open lane to the hoop for a dunk. He finished with 13 points, eight rebounds, six assists, a steal and a block.
• Kobe Bryant– 34 points on 14-24 from the field, five rebounds, a block and just a singular turnover. Bryant was locked into this game, and for another chance to go up against his good friend, Carmelo Anthony, no problem. This was the ninth game in a row in which Bryant scored 30+ points.
• Defense – …led by Dwight Howard. Aside from yet another double-double (14 points and 12 rebounds), Howard converted on six of his nine free throws and guarded the paint as he usually does, preventing the New York Knicks from getting too many easy baskets. The Knicks only scored 26 points in the paint on 13-31 tries, while the Lakers had a field day, scoring 46 points on 23-38 from inside the same area.
• Scoring together – The Lakers had five players in double figures.
• Turnovers – Just 12 turnovers today, a welcome sight after some inexplicably sloppy games.
• Jodie Meeks – He played almost 22 minutes but only managed to hit one of two free throws. He went just 1-6 from the field (0-4 from downtown)
Michael Wilbon said it best during the half-time show. The Lakers look like a different team in these last couple of games. They haven’t reached their full potential yet, but they are playing with a certain spirit about them – a drive – that certainly wasn’t there before Nash’s return. That’s five wins in a row – it may not be comparable to the longer winning streaks in the league, but it’s just a positive sign that the Lakers are headed somewhere good.
And with that, all of us here at Laker Nation hope that your Holiday Season has been a joyful one!