Don’t look now, but the Lakers have a three-game winning streak.
A winning streak – remember those? It’s been so long since the Lakers have had any string of positive things happen that it’s sometimes easier to remember how bad it’s been. Let’s avoid being the party pooper tonight, however, shall we?
The Sacramento Kings aren’t reigning NBA champions. What they have been in the last few seasons, is a team trying to stay afloat in a sea of uncertainty. Their coaching staff turnover is quick; they were, at one point, on their way out of the city, then back into the city…then out again…then in again; by the way, their star player is a head case still trying to grapple with the leadership that’s expected out of him. Be these issues as they may, however, they’ve still got a good group of players who still challenged the Lakers.
Coming off a good win against the Golden State Warriors on Friday, the Lakers needed to continue with the same effort moving forward, and they did that again tonight, starting with Pau Gasol, ending with solid bench play, and an all-around team effort in between. Neither team dominated every quarter, but slowly and surely, the Lakers topped the Kings with every 12 minutes they came upon, resulting in the 100-86 win.
Pau Gasol – The Spaniard is feelin’ it! Another double-double night for Gasol with his 20 points on 8-16 from the field, and 10 rebounds. He looked so comfortable on the floor, shooting with confidence from the paint and from 17 feet away. These last two games have been the best that Gasol has looked all season. Whatever was ailing him to start seems to have dissipated.
Guard Play – Since the pre-season began, the one quality that players, analysts and coaches have noted is the Lakers’ chemistry, which surely contributes to their success on the court. What has also aided in the team’s progress is them knowing their roles and pushing themselves to be the best in the role that they can be. The perfect examples of this shined tonight in Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks. When you have to step into Steve Nash’s shoes, no matter how un-Nash Nash has been the last season or so, there’s obviously a certain pressure there, but the great thing about Blake is, is that he seems immune to talk and pressure of the sort. The man is just a hard worker, team player and scrapper. He’s averaging a little over 7 apg, but it seems like so much more. Tonight he handed out 12 dimes (just two turnovers) and chipped in nine points. Blake can score, but he knows he’s the floor general and takes pride in it. Meeks, sitting in Kobe Bryant’s starting position, and in this line-up where Gasol is the primary scorer, knows his role is to aid in the scoring and, of course, play defense. Tonight, Meeks poured in 14 points on 6-10 from the field and had a pair of steals, one of which he converted into points on the other end.
Jordan Hill – 10 points, 13 rebounds, one block and a whole lot of energy and effort on both ends of the floor. Even Hill’s 13 boards don’t bring justice to the amount of work he did out there. He doesn’t know what it looks like to give up on a play or a loose ball. If there’s a ball in the air up for grabs, you can bet that Hill will be right there trying to take it away first.
Xavier Henry – After a productive pre-season that earned him a spot on the team, not to mention the rotation, and a good start to the regular season, Henry seemed to fade into the shadows. He needed tonight to show he was just going through a slump. He needed to re-assure his team and his coaches too. With 21 points on 7-11 from the field, circus shots that led to free throws, and then hitting 5-6 of those free throws line (where he sometimes struggles), Henry seems to have sent out the reminder.
Defense – The Lakers allowed Sacramento to shoot 50% from the field in the first half, and then came back from halftime and closed the third on a 10-0 run that gave them a 12-points lead going into the final quarter. The Kings shot just 25% from the field in the third and fell behind by as much as 19 points in the fourth. Except for their first two wins against the Clippers and the Hawks, the Lakers have kept the teams in their last five victories under 100 points. It’s funny what that thing called defense can accomplish.
Turnovers – 20 assists to 10 turnovers. It’s hard to remember a time when the Lakers got through a half without 10 turnovers, but to do it for an entire game is stellar.
Downtown Downer – The Lakers are fifth in the league in three-point percentage at 41%. Tonight they went just 8-26 from behind the arc for 31%. It’s a good thing that it didn’t matter so much tonight because they were getting it done in the paint (46 points),
Three game winning streak AND a .500 record? It’s a good way to start a three-game road trip beginning Tuesday. If Pau Gasol dominates the way he’s done the last couple of games, if the reserves continue being the most productive bench in the league, and if the Lakers continue capitalizing on their chemistry, they will continue to succeed as they’ve been the past few games, with or without Bryant and Nash…though WITH is the preference.