That should’ve been the official greeting in Las Vegas today after the guest of honor received a key to the city. Apparently, that key opens up more than just casino doors. That key to Sin City seemed to open up the hoop as well because four out of the five times Ron Artest shot from behind the arc, the ball saw nothing but the bottom of the net, and the Lakers saw their first pre-season victory against the young Sacramento Kings.
While Phil Jackson went almost shoeless from the sidelines (wearing socks with sandals), Kobe Bryant went sleeveless at the knee and for good reason. Bryant moved with ease tonight. He ran after loose balls; one that led to hockey assists galore, and ending in one of Artest’s four three-pointers of the evening. Bryant also guarded Omri Casspi into a 1-6 kind of night. He even dictated a fast break resulting in Matt Barnes’ layup. Bryant only shot 2-10 from the field, collecting seven points in all, but he admittedly, is still not100%. The fact that he didn’t appear to experience any pain was a huge upside.
Another upside of the game? Ball movement. The Lakers collected 26 assists on 37 made field goals compared to the Kings’ 15 assists of 29. From Derek Fisher’s fake 3-point attempt pass to Artest for three, to Lamar Odom’s long cross-court pass over Sacramento’s defense for a signature Shannon Brown dunk; from Bryant’s long pass to a sprinting Matt Barnes for a layup, to Steve Blake’s set-up for a Pau Gasol jumper, the importance and effectiveness of sharing the ball in the Laker offense is obvious. The 26-18 assist to turnover ratio could use some work, however.
The Laker bench, led by Shannon Brown’s 17 points and Odom’s effort all around, produced 45 points, 16 rebounds, 12 assists, 5 steals and 5 blocks. Brown’s points came from his usual dunks, and a stepback or two, but he’s also shooting more confidently from the perimeter.
Matt Barnes, still trying to feel his way through the complicated offense, shot 3-4 from the field for eight points, showing he is more than just a defender or enforcer (though a quick skirmish with Kings’ forward, Carl Landry might beg to differ). Two of his inbounds passes led directly to easy baskets.
Rookie Devin Ebanks continues to show promise, scoring 4-9 from the field for 10 points.
After a weeklong (let’s call it what it is) vacation in Europe, the Lakers came back to Southern California to put the actual training back in camp. Much time has been spent familiarizing the five new players on the team with the triangle offense; a system not often mastered as quickly by some than others. Tonight’s display, however, looked to be a step in the right direction.
Pre-Game Thoughts: Vacation’s over. Let’s see what this Lakers team is shaping up to be.
Half-Time Thoughts: 47-46 – Before Sacramento had their run, the Lakers were playing some great team ball and Ron Artest is sort of on fire. Let’s see if he can carry that into the second half.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Freethrow line – each team missed 12 free throws. It doesn’t matter now, but if it were January, missing a dozen free throws in a three-point game might be a factor.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: The bench had a very productive game, but this night’s star was Ron Artest who shot 7-11 from the field, including 4-5 from downtown, for his 18 points. Artest seemed to channel his inner Game 7 tonight.