With just under a minute left in the game, Kobe Bryant walked towards the bench, a round of cheers and applause filled the arena. This was not the Arco Arena of old, with crowds jeering, cow bells ringing and Vlade Divac flopping. The heyday of the Lakers-Kings rivalry has passed and now, instead of yelling profanities at Bryant, MVP chants greet him at the free throw line.
On a night where he passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most minutes played in Lakers history, Bryant also put up his 17th career triple double, which deserved every cheer and chant, even on the road. And for the rest of his team, it was just another productive day at the office, showing all the young and hungry interns how and what they can and should aspire to be – the cream of the crop.
Riding a four-game winning streak, the Lakers arrived at the state capital on the tail end of election night, getting ready for their first back-to-back of the season against the young 3-1 Sacramento Kings.
The Lakers’ offense was seamless in the first quarter. They took an early 13-4 lead with Derek Fisher’s three-pointer, their third in the game at that point. Bryant was an active distributor, handing out 12 of the team’s 24 assists. He set up a beautiful backdoor lob for Pau Gasol (22 points on 7-15 and 11 rebounds, two assists). Then, to end the first half, Bryant rebounded a Kings’ miss and threw a long pass to Matt Barnes (nine points on 4-9, six rebounds, two assists) who laid it in at the buzzer to give the Lakers a 62-53 lead at the break.
Walking the wire of his triple double, Bryant got his 10th assist on a Lamar Odom (18 points on 8-12, eight rebounds, two assists) three, and then, an ode to Showtime, getting his 11th assist on a no-look pass to Odom, again, for a hoop. After a bomb from downtown from Ron Artest (17 points on 7-11, 3-4 from three, four assists), the Lakers had increased their lead to 20, 82-62.
Unfortunately, 20-point leads are difficult to maintain in this league, and the Kings proved it, going on a small 8-0 run in the third quarter, though it was eventually squashed with another three-pointer from Odom. In the fourth, however, last season’s Rookie of the Year, Tyreke Evans, finally found some game, driving to the hoop to get the Kings to within seven points.
Fortunately for the Lakers, Derek Fisher is on their side. Quiet for most of the game, Fisher had hit one field goal from downtown back in the first quarter and stayed out of the spotlight for the next two and a half. With his team up just 99-92, Fisher came alive, again, at the most opportune time of the contest. First he hit a corner three. Then he poked the ball from Carl Landry and sped the other way, replaying his dramatic layup and-1 from Game 3 against the Celtics. As he’d done time and again, Fisher singlehandedly brought the Lakers some breathing room. Between the 3:35 and 3:14 mark in the fourth quarter, the team bulldog scored six straight points and took back their double-digit lead.
It was a clean game for the Lakers, who only committed six turnovers after racking up 20 and then 19 in their last two games. The three-ball has been falling as well, 11-21 for the night. Aside from the bench’s lack of production, other than Barnes who filled in effectively with Artest in early foul trouble, the Laker defense could use some work. Frankly, it could use some USE. Though they lead the league in points scored, they stand at 17th for points allowed, unacceptable for a team going for a third championship. They were also outrebounded tonight, 49-43, a stat that they usually dominate. Thankfully, there is still time to develop their defensive chemistry. In the meantime, a perfect 5-0 to start the season will do.
Pre-game Thoughts: The Lakers have enjoyed dealing blowouts the last couple of games, but the Sacramento Kings should pose a more formidable challenge.
Half-time Thoughts: 62-53 – It’s been a competitive game so far. The Lakers are shooting well, 56%, while Sacramento is shooting just 41%. Kobe Bryant leads all scores with 21 points on 6-10 and has already handed out eight assists. A triple double is on the horizon.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Shannon Brown and Steve Blake were a combined -22 on +/- column, going for a collective 1-5 for the night. It’s a good thing the starters were well-rested from last night’s rout of the Grizzlies.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Kobe Bean Bryant, on the night he surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most minutes played as a Laker, got his 17th career triple double with 30 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists and a single turnover.