A 29-point win. It’s no 55-point rout but the Lakers will take it, especially over a quality team like the Utah Jazz (recent slump notwithstanding, they’re still 27-18). The three-day lay-off did the “aging” Lakers some good, apparently, because they looked fresher and more energized than they have in awhile. There was a spring in their step, an extra gear in their defense and the ball movement was, simply put, beautiful to watch.
During the Lakers’ practice before tonight’s game, Kobe Bryant said that they’d played the Utah Jazz so much, that the two teams could switch jerseys and run each other’s offense. If that’s the case, then Utah needs new playbooks because the Lakers have them absolutely memorized.
The Jazz are a slow-starting team, often giving away the first quarter then eventually recovering in the final three. After experiencing this “recovery” first-hand in the loss in Utah, the Lakers were keen enough to lay the smackdown early…then kept on smacking. Tonight, the home team led by 15 after the first 12 minutes, 28 after the second and third quarters, and, before the final 29-point victory, toyed with 30+ point leads. Utah shot just 33% in the first half, and eventually finished with a 42% field goal percentage. When the opponent shoots 62% as the Lakers did, adding insult to injury with some lockdown defense, there wasn’t much that Utah could do.
Again, the Lakers’ big men showed off their might. Combining for 56 points, 26 rebounds and 10 assists, when Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom are clicking the way that they have been since Bynum’s return, the defending champs are hard to defeat.
Gasol had 20 points, needing only 13 shots and two free throw makes to get there, adding seven rebounds and five assists for a well-balanced evening. Paul Millsap is no defensive stopper, especially against someone as skilled as Gasol. Gasol merely shoots over him or passes past him with very little to no problem. Al Jefferson, who has had his share of big games against the Lakers forward, did not fare well tonight (just 10 points on 5-11). Gasol definitely had the upper hand…
…especially because his running mate is another 7-footer. Andrew Bynum, 19 points on 6-9, 11 rebounds and three blocks, was another opponent that Jefferson and the Jazz could not compete with. As if his offensive abilities were not enough, Bynum had to go and be this rim keeper, shot blocker/changer too. The young center may have only three blocks recorded in the box score, but he altered many Jazz attempts at scoring. This has been the most impressive part of Bynum’s season so far – his defense. Whether due to the newly-tweaked system or just the fact that he’s playing with more confidence, his game is more than just hook-shots and dunks now. Whether he’s protecting the paint or happens to be on the opposing guard after a defensive rotation, his awareness is much sharper, out-jumping players to a rebound (10 of his 11 boards were defensive) or merely contesting their shot. Either way, he’s become an enforcer, and the Lakers could use one of those.
Lamar Odom – are there any words left to gush over this man’s season? Odom had 17 points on 7-8, eight rebounds and four assists – a stat line that has become a Lakers staple. He hit two from downtown, converted a lob from Steve Blake, and then tossed in a left-handed over the back of the backboard trick shot as he was getting pushed/fouled out of bounds…and then he hit the free throw to complete the three-point play. It is absolutely unfair to have the amount of skill that Odom has.
Kobe Bryant, choosing lately to wear his facilitator hat more often, had 21 points on 7-11, adding six assists in the process. THIS is the Kobe that helps his teammates find their offensive flow before he starts to find his. THIS is the Kobe that reminds everyone that he is more than just a scorer. THIS is the Kobe that wins championships. I like this Kobe. I hope he’s got about 60 more games in him.
Rounding off the help were the Lakers reserves. Trying in the last month to regain their former, productive selves, the bench tonight outscored Utah’s bench 45-37. Even despite his two missed dunk attempts, Shannon Brown was in good spirits, scoring nine points and handing out five assists. Steve Blake had an efficient evening as well, with five points, four assists and three steals. He also won a jump ball against the taller Andrei Kirilenko. Luke Walton, able to get some floor time until Matt Barnes’ return, went four of four from the field for his nine points, adding three assists. If this version off the bench could travel, the Lakers would be an even more difficult team to overcome.
The defense tonight was active and consistent (keeping the Jazz at 42% shooting). The offense flowed to the tune of 34 assists on 44 made baskets. Other than the 18 turnovers, the Lakers played a nearly flawless game, and with the schedule getting still more difficult, now’s a good a time as any to solidify these excellent habits.
It’s not about getting old. It’s not about getting tired. It’s about getting through a long regular season. These Lakers are no novices to the NBA grind. It’s all about their experience. Give them some credit.
Pre-game Thoughts: The last time the Lakers met Utah, they let an 18-point lead get away from them. The Jazz are on a 4-game losing streak so there’s no mistaking how badly this team is yearning for a win. Keep the ball out of Deron Williams’ hands and make Al Jefferson work for every shot. These teams have played each other so many times, there shouldn’t be any surprises to be unprepared for.
Half-time Thoughts: 38-66 – Other than the 4 turnovers and 3 missed free throws, there’s not much to criticize about the Lakers’ excellent play in the first half…except maybe that they have to do it again for the second half. Kobe Bryant leads the way with 15 points, but the point distribution is even all around. The defense has been active and alert, and the ball movement has been deliberate and precise.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Utah Jazz – who were as unrecognizable as we’ve ever seen them. They had no flow on either end of the court, and looked absolutely disjointed.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: There were so many candidates tonight, but just for hitting that trick, left-handed, sideways while going out of bounds, and over the back board shot, it’s got to be Lamar Odom.