After sharing pleasantries and “good game” sentiments with the Portland Trailblazers, Kobe Bryant walked along the side line and came upon teammate Matt Barnes, whose comment we may never learn, causes Bryant to throw his head back in a hearty laugh. Bryant grabbed each of Barnes’ shoulders from behind, giving his teammate a shake as they laughed on their way to the locker room, passing Metta World Peace to their right, doing a post-game radio interview, and Ramon Sessions on the left giving a live interview for the folks at Staples and FSN West.
For someone who hit his first 5-6 shots then missed his next 11, Bryant appeared to be in great spirits. There would be no late night shooting drills on the court; no terse replies or stoic staredowns with the media. The Lakers had just won their 20th game at home and currently occupy the third seed in the Western Conference, looking down at their rivals across the hall who, after being heralded when the season began, have since been doused with a good ol’ bucket of reality. His best friend in the league may have been traded without warning, but in exchange they’ve acquired a fast, young point guard who, get this, scores in bunches. Why shouldn’t Bryant be in good spirits?
After splitting their Texas two-step with a loss in Houston but a win in Dallas, the Lakers came home and Ramon Sessions was promoted to the starting line-up. Just like he fit coming off the bench, Sessions showed tonight that he fits in as a member of the starting five too.
Against a Trailblazers team who has gone through a coach firing and team retooling in the last week, the Lakers might’ve taken a greater advantage and pummeled over this team like they did in their last meeting at Staples, where Portland scored just seven points in the first quarter. But after opening the game with a hot start, scoring 30-19 in the first quarter alone, Portland threw a zone defense at the home team and suddenly the once double-digit advantage turned into a three-point advantage, and then it turned into a tie. Fortunately for the Lakers, a tie was as far as the Trailblazers would reach.
Thanks in large part to great all-around games from newcomer, Ramon Sessions and Metta World Peace, in addition to 33 assists, the Lakers managed to hang on to this win, and it was a fun win. The lost large lead aside, the Lakers looked like more than just a team focused on reaching the end. They looked like a TEAM who enjoyed each other’s successes as much as their own. They looked, simply, like they were having fun, and that seems to make all the difference.
Ramon Sessions – At the end of the game, Jack Nicholson approached Sessions and whispered something into his ear. Nicholson told him, Sessions relayed in his post-game interview, that he was the missing piece to the success of this Laker team. Based on his performance in the last two games, that appears to be an understatement. Tonight Sessions contributed 20 points on 6-10 from the field, 2-3 from downtown, and handed out 11 assists. When was the last time a Lakers point guard scored 20- points? Or more importantly, when was the last time a Laker point guard handed out 11 assists? The presence of Sessions on the floor is gargantuan. When he’s not throwing bullet passes to Matt Barnes, he’s penetrating to the hoop to get an easy basket or running a little give-‘n- go with Andrew Bynum to score on a layup. He is as quick a point guard as we’ve ever seen on this team, able to turn corners and dish out to an open teammate. Bynum said in his post-game interview that he’d never worked with a point guard like Sessions, who is so quick and so crafty. “It’s fun,” Bynum said. There goes that “f” word again…fun.
Metta World Peace – After missing out on converting a three-point attempt, MWP ran after his own offensive rebound and then proceeded to ram his way through to the basket and slam in a one-handed dunk that got every player on the Laker bench up and a whole arena of fans on their feet. Tonight, MWP scored 14 points on 6-8 from the field and hit 2-3 from downtown, but it wasn’t so much HOW MUCH he scored, but when. With Portland slowly cathing up with just a two-point deficit between them, MWP hit a jumper to open up the lead. Late in the final quarter, with the Lakers holding on to a slim four-point lead and a minute and a half left in the game, MWP scored on another pull-up jumper. When Metta is contributing, the Lakers are a different team, a better team.
Andrew Bynum – 28 points on 12-20 from the field, nine rebounds and three assists. Yes, this kid is good. 44 games and Bynum has performed every bit as consistently as we hoped, and even more than that, he’s continuing to improve his game. His footwork tonight looks nothing like it did when the season opened. He is spry out there, moving with a swiftness that we’re not used to seeing for this stretch of game. He’s also shown improvement on passing out of double teams. Each time Bynum held the ball tonight, two, sometimes three defenders lunged to his side, but he made the right passes, kept the ball moving.
Ball movement – Speaking of ball movement, the Lakers assisted on 33 of their 40 made field goals. 33! Every player who saw the floor, except for Troy Murphy, handed out an assist, and some of those dimes were just downright fun to watch – Gasol’s lob to Bynum to open the game, Matt Barnes’ lob in transition to Josh McRoberts’ who slammed it in, McRoberts’ alley oop to Bynum’s reverse two-handed dunk, Sessions’ drive-in and handoff to a cutting Barnes. Because the ball didn’t remain in one player’s hands more than was necessary, the Lakers’ 15 turnovers weren’t bad. They had 10 turnovers in the first half but only committed five in the second.
Rebounds – The advantage on the glass went to the Lakers, who outrebounded Portland 53-29, led by Gasol’s 16 boards. Gasol didn’t have a great shooting night, just 5-14 for his 10 points, but he had rebounds, in addition to his six assists and two blocks. It might’ve been a difficult offensive night for Gasol, but he more than made up for it by doing everything else.
Kobe and Pau – They contributed in other ways tonight, but a combined 10-31 from the field from two of the Big Three isn’t good. The Captains were not the images of efficiency tonight. They fell in love with their jumper; a jumper that, in the Dallas game was SO ON but tonight was SO OFF. It’s a good thing there are other scorers on this team that compensated for their offensively-challenged night.
Defense on Lamarcus Aldridge in the first half – Pau Gasol tried and failed miserably. Aldridge went for 21 points on 10-12 from the field…in the first half. In the second half, Gasol was still assigned to Aldridge but switched off with Bynum, and it must have worked because Aldridge only scored seven points on 2-8 from the field.
Bench – Well there goes the hope that Sessions’ presence off the bench would mean a great deal to the production of the reserves. Tonight the Laker bench was outscored 34-13. Scoring aside, however, the reserves played good minutes tonight. Matt Barnes and Josh McRoberts, in particular, were, as they have been all season, great energy off the bench, and Steve Blake played the two-guard in stretches tonight, apparently testing out a few more of Mike Brown’s line-up combos.
Free throws – The Lakers got to the free throw line 26 times and missed nine. Again, in a close game like today’s every point counts and they’re fortunate not to have those nine points mean a loss.
The Lakers only added one player to the rotation but MAN, WHAT A PLAYER! Despite a sentimental farewell to Derek Fisher last week, fans are starting to put aside their allegiance to the former starting guard, in order to revel in young Ramon Sessions’ current and future contributions to this team. Raymond Felton may have not been the most challenging opponent for Sessions, but Mike Conley and the Grizzlies will be on Sunday.