There was a rare sighting from the Lakers bench today; something that hasn’t been seen in quite a while – smiles. Lamar Odom checked out of the game late in the fourth quarter, sat beside Kobe Bryant and the two shared a chuckle. Sometimes all you need is change – change is good. You need it every once in awhile, especially when you feel trapped in a seemingly inescapable malaise. Based on their last three losses, the Lakers were the perfect candidates for change, and Phil Jackson was happy to help. His decision to insert Andrew Bynum in the starting line-up in place of Lamar Odom may have been a small alteration, but it made a world of difference.
Playing his most of the season, Bynum capitalized on his 30 minutes of floor time by converting a lob from Kobe Bryant early in the first quarter, rebounding his own misses and scoring, working the defensive glass to prevent second chance points, raising an arm or two to alter shot attempts. Bynum played his longest stretch in the first quarter, playing 10 straight minutes before subbing out. He said in his post-game interview that he is still a few practices and a few games away from being at full strength, but even despite playing at less than 100%, he managed to score 18 points on 8-12, collected six rebounds (5 DEF), and hit both of his free throw attempts. To remind us that he is more than just a dunker, he also shot a flat-footed jumper (if it can technically be called that) from about five to six feet to give the Lakers their 103rd points of the game. It cannot be said enough how much Bynum’s mere presence means to the quality of this Lakers team.
Not only does Bynum provide reinforcement inside, but it places all the other Lakers in their rightful positions. Back to his natural place at the four, Pau Gasol seldom has to bang with the beefier centers and, most importantly, his minutes are at a more reasonable count. Tonight Gasol played just under 35 minutes, and though he only attempted five shots and converted three, he still got to the line (5-6) for his 11 points, handed out five assists, and he grabbed 12 rebounds (8 DEF).
Playing off the bench for the first time this season, Lamar Odom subbed in with obvious determination and intention. He hit on a stepback, then received a pass from Derek Fisher on a fastbreak to lay it in then converted on a three-point play. At the end of the third quarter, he casually ran the clock then pulled up for a three-pointer over David West. And in the highlight of the night, Odom ran a fast break, wrapped the ball around his waist, threw it up against the backboard, and then dunked it in. He later said that the first toss was meant to be a shot attempt not a pass to himself, but either way, it was one of those old-school, Magic Johnson type of plays that send fans into a tizzy. It was a fun play, run by a fun player – a quality missing from this Lakers team of late. It’s nice to see it’s making a comeback.
Speaking of comebacks, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher came through for the team tonight after a disappointing game in San Antonio. The Laker captains came alive in New Orleans. Bryant, after an abysmal 8-27 shooting night against the Spurs, scored 20 points on a much more efficient 8-14. He also handed out four assists. The downside of his game was the seven turnovers.
Derek Fisher, sporting a clean shave, scored nine points and handed out eight assists (more than Chris Paul’s seven dimes). Fisher put his stamp all over the game tonight; finding a free Gasol under the basket to open the game, then shoveling a pass to Odom cutting inside. Fisher also had three steals, and his jumper looked precise, one coming from two feet behind the arc for a long three.
The Lakers led by three points after a quarter, then allowed only 18 Hornets points in the second to take an 18-point lead at the half. After three quarters they were up by 23 points (their largest lead was 24), and finally, they won by a respectable 15 points. They shot 59% for the night, handed out 25 assists on 41 made field goals, and outrebounded the Hornets 44-24. Like they sometimes do with proficient point guards, they allowed Chris Paul to be a scorer rather than a playmaker, and it worked to their advantage. Averaging 10 apg, Paul only handed out seven dimes today
The Lakers desperately needed a win, and tonight they got one by playing the way they know how to play – by working to their advantage (size), capitalizing on their inside game, and running their offense. When they play the right way, they win the right way too.
Pre-game Thoughts: Andrew Bynum starting and Lamar Odom goes back to play off the bench. Nice change.
Half-time Thoughts: 59-41 – Where’s THIS team been the last couple of weeks?! Aside from their 12 turnovers (last night they had 16 for the game), the Lakers are looking like their old selves. Outrebounding the Hornets 22-7, out-assisting them 15-7 (despite having one of the best point guards in Chris Paul), leading by as much as 20 points and simply playing THEIR game. Andrew Bynum started and it has made a difference on both ends of the court, with him getting easy baskets and altering New Orleans’ inside attempts. Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom lead the Lakers with 11 points a piece. Here’s hoping the Lakers continue their dominant play into the second half.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: It was a great game the Lakers played, but 21 turnovers?! Nothing more thoughtless than giving possessions away.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Lakers’ big men – Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum switched roles today as starter and reserve, and boy did it do them both great! Odom with 24 points on 10-15 and Bynum looked spry with his 18 points on 8-12. Pau Gasol turned in another double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds, not to mention five assists.