Sometimes it takes awhile for new players to weave themselves in through the fabric of a team’s system. Sometimes adding new faces can dramatically affect a group’s dynamic (and not always in a good way). Then there are other times when a new set of tendencies and attitudes come in, observe for a minute and before you know it, it’s as if they’d been there the whole time.
For veterans Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff, not to mention rookies, Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter, getting handpicked to join the two-time NBA championship Lakers is pressure enough. Trying to learn the nuances of the triangle offense and then having to execute it come game time is a whole other challenge. In the seventh game of the pre-season, however, the newcomers not only appear ready to start defending the team’s NBA title, they’ve started to play like it.
54 points on 24-36 (4-7 from 3-point land), 20 assists, 11 rebounds, seven steals and five blocks – This is the stat line for the Lakers bench filled with new players, and that was with Lamar Odom, not to mention Sasha Vujacic, both in the starting line-up.
Steve Blake led the bench with 18 points and seven assists and his value to this team cannot be stated enough. In a system that revels in its passers, Blake is a natural fit. A true playmaker for himself and his teammates, he literally sees the court in seemingly 360 degree fashion. Whether it is driving to the hoop and stopping midway to pass to Lamar Odom for an open three, or leading a break and laying it up himself to get the contact and be rewarded, or hitting spot-up three-pointers, Blake does it all
In Blake’s company is Matt Barnes, who can play a myriad of positions and play each of them well. Signed for his known defensive savvy, Barnes is also a shooter, hitting back to back three’s tonight to show for it. He finished with 10 points on 4-7. He comes into the game to replace various players – Bryant at the two, Ron Artest at the three and at times even Lamar Odom at the four, depending on the size of the line-up needed. Versatility – it’s not a bad thing.
The Lakers bench is a deep one this season, from sixth man to 14th man. Luke Walton, back from injury, contributed five points and two steals. Shannon Brown, showing more confidence and consistency in his shot selections, finished with 13 points, five assists (including a lob for a spectacular Devin Ebanks dunk), three rebounds and three steals. And speaking of the young rookie, who was much heralded by Kobe Bryant during a sideline interview with John Ireland, is shaping up to be a real contributor to this team.
Shooting 56% for the game (10-17 from three, 58.8%), the Lakers came back strong from their poor showing two nights ago against Utah when no shots were falling. Derek Fisher and Pau Gasol took on offensive responsibilities early with Kobe Bryant sitting on the sidelines. Fisher had 8 points, 3-4 from the field, making 2-2 from downtown. With a driving lay-up against the younger, quicker Stephen Curry on his tail, Fisher reminds once again that 35 year olds can still play like they’re 25.
Pau Gasol went 8-13 from the field to get his 23 points, and he got them in every which way – baby hooks, face-up jumpers, a pretty up and under move and a perfect 7-7 from the free throw line. If Bryant’s knee requires more time to get back into game shape, and as long as Andrew Bynum is out, Gasol is the best that the Lakers’ offense has to offer.
It was a nice win for the Lakers, and a great showing for the new and improved Bench Mob. The saying goes, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” but if you can make it run faster, jump higher, shoot and defend better, then by all means tinker away. That’s exactly what Mitch Kupchak and the Lakers’ front office spent the summer doing quietly and with little fanfare. Who needs bells and whistles (or one-hour specials) when the playing speaks for itself?
Pre-Game Thoughts: No Kobe and no Phil tonight, but newly engaged Sasha Vujacic and back-from-injury Luke Walton have been activated and Brian Shaw gets to steer the ship.
Half-Time Thoughts: 52-55 – It’s been a fast-paced, quick scoring first half, which is to be expected when you’re playing a run and gun, scoring team like the Golden State Warriors, and especially when neither team is playing much defense.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Last night, it was the Lakers’ offense that lacked. Tonight, it was the Lakers’ defense, as in they barely played any. Sure there were passing lanes interrupted and balls were deflected and fast breaks began, but other than that there wasn’t much resistance from the purple and gold.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: The Laker reserves as a whole were on point tonight, but Steve Blake, second only to Pau Gasol in scoring, had 18 points on 8-10 and led the game with seven assists. If people were still wondering why he was acquired, they will have found out tonight.