The Lakers walked back to the bench during a time out and the camera cut to a smirking Phil Jackson. Before that quick break, Pau Gasol had blocked David Andersen’s three-point attempt, then Ron Artest followed that by intercepting a pass. That smirk on Phil was probably one of sheer joy that his team remembered what ball movement and defense look like.
The ball movement in this game was signature Lakers and, before we go into, “why can’t they do this all the time?” let’s just be happy they know how to get back to it. It was true team ball being played by the men in purple tonight. Every Laker who got some burn handed out at least one assist, with Kobe Bryant (32 points on 10-22, nine rebounds, five assists, one block) leading the way with five dimes. If there were a stat for the pass before the pass, or even the pass before the pass before the pass, Kobe would be right up there in the ranks. He sees everyone in his 360 and is probably the player best at passing out of a double team, and he did it tonight…often. New Orleans had him cornered every chance they could get and he made them pay for it.
The Lakers had 20 assists on 36 makes; Pau Gasol to Andrew waiting under the hoop for a dunk, Shannon Brown’s backdoor lob to Lamar Odom for a layup, Steve Blake to Kobe Bryant for three, Kobe Bryant to Derek Fisher for three – it was a sharing shindig in the Big Easy. And with so much deliberate passing of the ball, the Lakers didn’t make a lot of mistakes. In fact, they only gathered four turnovers to New Orleans’ ten, their lowest turnover total this season.
Despite the Hornets shooting almost 50%, the Lakers were still very active on the defensive end, and tonight they were led by Ron Artest and Derek Fisher. They had five of the Lakers’ eight steals. Artest also had three blocks. He looked more engaged tonight than we’ve seen him lately, and he also only committed one personal foul. Defending without fouling – wow, what a great secret! And Derek Fisher, for all the criticism he gets for being another year older, also contributed to the Lakers’ defensive efforts. He stripped the ball time again and took charges whenever he could. Artest looked his old, defensive stopper, self.
On the offensive end, Pau Gasol went 13-17 for his 34 points. Other than a pretty reverse layup , Gasol’s jumper tonight never met a hoop it didn’t like. 13-17?! That’s a 76% shooting percentage for the evening. Gasol didn’t look apprehensive or slow today. Whether he demanded the ball or had it just fall into his hands, he made good with it. He was active without the ball, collecting 10 rebounds and handing out three assists.
Kobe Bryant’s 32 points (10-22) were, as they usually are, made up from shots from anywhere. He faded away as the ball kissed the glass then fell into the hoop, he hit 4-5 from three, dribbled out of double-teams and before the Hornets could recover, Bryant was already running back down on defense.
This was a good way to start the long road trip. Up next Memphis, who have already defeated the Lakers twice. If the Lakers play how they did tonight, however, there’s a good chance they’ll avenge those two losses to the Grizzlies. Here’s hoping!
Pre-game Thoughts: Game 1 on the Grammy road trip takes us to New Orleans. The Last time the Lakers were here, they beat the Hornets convincingly. They are without Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor tonight so let’s see if the road team can take advantage of the short-handed home team.
Half-time Thoughts: 54-50 – Other than the 14-point lead that the Lakers lost, they’re playing as well on both ends of the court than could be hoped for. They’re shooting 56% from the field, with New Orleans not doing too badly shooting 53%. Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant have taken on the offensive reins tonight, combining for 37 points on 14-20 from the field. The Lakers are moving the ball well and the defense is active. Hopefully they have enough for the second half.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: The Lakers bench was outscored 39-15.Yes, they’re shorthanded in the regular bench rotation with Matt Barnes out, but Odom/Brown/Blake going 5-17 isn’t good. Brown’s shot hasn’t been the most efficient the last month and Steve Blake has barely been attempting to get any shots up at all. Especially on a long road trip, the reserves will need to contribute more.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: It would be easy to credit Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol for their 66 points, but Ron Artest and Derek Fisher really provided the Lakers with a defensive presence tonight. It was comforting to see.