Pau Gasol drove in but fell short on his fingerroll. Offensive rebound – Ron Artest. With a new shot clock, the Lakers had another chance to score, but Gasol missed the jumper…and Artest grabbed another offensive board.
Those were the only two rebounds that Ron Artest had in this game, but it’s not so much the quantity but the quality of these boards that made all the difference for the Lakers. The loss in Dallas was a senseless one, especially since they knew they had the struggling Mavericks on their heels after they’d taken a double-digit lead. But the Lakers lost their focus, and it cost them the game. That was not the case tonight and Artest’s alertness in grabbing those two offensive boards was a tell-tale sign.
In the first half, it looked like Arron Afflalo would be the Lakers’ killer for the game. They have one in every game it seems. With Ron Artest providing some solid defense on Carmelo Anthony, and neither Chauncey Billups, Nene nor the Denver bench putting up much of a challenge, it was the UCLA product putting up the points. Afflalo, despite having to chase Kobe Bryant around, still had the energy and wiles to put up 16 first-half points, taking 4-5 from behind the arc all thanks to some slow Laker defense. But then came the second half, and unlike the game against Dallas, the Lakers actually regained their focus and execution on both ends if the floor, rather than letting it slide.
Kobe Bryant, whose field goal efficiency has grown over the last month, went off in the third. Rather than force his shot against Afflalo or the rest of Denver’s “defense,” Bryant simply let his fancy footwork and his passing do the heavy lifting. He dribbled baseline, passing right under the hoop, then quickly turned around, faster than Afflalo could react, to score on a stepback fall-away. Later on, he rebounded his own miss, then finished that possession with a drive and pass to Lamar Odom for an easy bucket. He shot over J.R. Smith like he wasn’t even there. Bryant scored 14 points in the third alone, en route to his 18 points on 8-15, adding seven assists and six rebounds to his stat line. He’s a different player when he’s not forcing his offense; or rather when he’s not feeling forced to force his offense. Bryant has been distributing the ball early in the game, making it a point to make sure his teammates are involved first before he makes his mark and it’s apparent in the balance of point totals.
The Laker bigs played much bigger than their Denver adversaries. Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom each had a double-double, and together with Andrew Bynum, contributed 54 points on 24-39, 30 rebounds and six assists. It was nice to see Gasol so aggressive all around; at one point stealing the ball then taking it all the way to the other end to dish to Ron Artest for a layup. He tossed floaters against the glass, put back missed shots and just looked engaged and determined.
Andrew Bynum, despite the presence of official Leon “Are You Serious” Wood on the floor, played all the way to his fourth foul, scoring 17 points on 7-11, grabbing seven rebounds, and blocking two shots. He converted a lob from Bryant, put back a missed Shannon Brown attempt, and even hit a turnaround flat-footed “jumper” over Carmelo Anthony. Wearing a thick sleeve over his hyper-extended right elbow, Bynum produced more than just offense – he was keen on defense as well, refusing to be intimidated by Denver’s Nene.
Lamar Odom…was just being Lamar Odom. The guy is the epitome of efficiency this season and tonight was no different. He scored on mid-range jumpers, converted a lob from Shannon Brown, jump-hooked and was always at the right place to receive passes from his teammates. He also grabbed 10 rebounds and finished the evening with zero turnovers.
The real difference-maker in this game for the Lakers, however, was Ron Artest. Assigned to ‘Melo watch since he arrived in L.A., Artest has made Anthony work for every point he’s scored. Tonight Anthony got his 23 points, but it took him 24 shot attempts to get there. And you’d think that guarding Anthony all evening would omit his offense, but Artest chipped in 19 points on 8-12. His defense has been more aggressive and attentive, and his offense is finally starting to flow.
Tonight was a good win for the Lakers. Their offensive attack was balanced (five players in double figures, 24 assists on 47 makes, and 53.4% shooting), their effort was consistent (out-rebounding Denver 47-27), and their defense was concerted and focused (keeping Denver below their 107.1 ppg, 1st in the NBA).
If the Lakers play with this type of focused intensity and effort, they won’t lose…to anyone. Fortunately for them, unlike the Denver Nuggets, there is only one mission in mind this season – win another title.
Pre-game Thoughts: Let’s see how distracted Denver really is. If there’s a team in the league who is ALWAYS ready when the Lakers are in town, it’s the Nuggets.
Half-time Thoughts: 52-49 – Phil Jackson’s been taking timeouts after defensive lapses lately. He took 2-3 timeouts in just the first half tonight. The Lakers continue to leave shooters wide open and Arron Afflalo is one benefactor of these defensive deficiencies. He’s already got 16 points, 4-5 from 3PT. Carmelo Anthony is just 4-13 from the field for his 11 points, thanks to his shadow, Ron Artest. The Laker bench leads the Denver reserves 19-8 – a bright spot! If the Lakers don’t want to start another losing streak, they absolutely have to close in on those shooters. As evident in the Dallas game, the threeball can make all the difference for a team.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Shannon Brown and Steve Blake – The Lakers’ two back-up guards MUST regain their game from the start of the season. Yes, it’s good to dictate the offense and yes, it’s good to put forth effort on defense, but with Matt Barnes out, the reserves have to get more production beyond Lamar Odom.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Ron, Ron, Ron – The things you do to Carmelo Anthony’s game. As if the man wasn’t distracted enough already.