Why, after getting behind by just six points at the half, did the Lakers return to the floor like they were down 30, Chris McGee asked Lamar Odom after the game.
“Because we knew we could’ve played better,” Odom said.
If there’s one thing that signals the home stretch of the long regular season, it’s the Lakers’ recognizing some accountability. They can no longer fall back on the “it’s a long season” mentality when their play appears sluggish or disinterested. There are 14 games left before the post-season, and they know that teams are breathing down their backs for a favorable spot in the West. They know that teams bulked up in the middle on both coasts to compete with their size. And they know that no matter what their competitors do, that championship in June is as good as gone if they don’t prepare the one area in their quest that they can actually control – themselves.
Phil Jackson said that during the All-Star break, Andrew Bynum approached the coaching staff, stating that he didn’t feel like he was being as active of a player on the floor as he should be. The result? A challenge posed for Bynum to be a game changer, not by scoring in dozens, but by owning the glass and intimidating the opponent to question their decision when they meet him in the paint. Tonight, Bynum was matched up against Dwight Howard, whom the young center described this weekend as the best center in the league. Howard may have gotten his 22 points on an efficient 8-14 from the field, and he may have collected 15 rebounds, but this Lakers team, especially Bynum, made him work hard for all of it. Bynum finished the evening with 10 points on just 3-10, but he grabbed 18 rebounds to tie his career high, blocked four shots and had zero turnovers (Howard had 9 of the Magic’s 18 turnovers). In the last six games, Bynum has averaged 15.8 rpg. Phil predicts that Bynum could be taking over Pau Gasol’s spot on that NBA rebounding list some time this season.
Pau Gasol, especially on the defensive end, can be slow or careless to react. He collected just five rebounds in almost 35 minutes of play, and when Bynum had to sit down for a breather, the Orlando Magic took advantage when Gasol was at center. He did finish, however, with 23 points on 8-17, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and he too, had zero turnovers for the night. Gasol’s armory of skill sets were on display today; face-up jumpers, lay-ins and that oh-so-nifty running hook. The Magic had no one to bring Gasol down. Ryan Anderson? Orlando has him for one thing and it’s not defense.
For all the talk of Derek Fisher’s lack of contribution to games, he came up big tonight. Fisher had 16 points on 6-9, 2 assists, and 2 steals; clearly the bright spot in the Lakers’ first-half offensive struggles. Most commendable, however, was how he defended Orlando point guard, Jameer Nelson, as did Steve Blake.
Steve Blake and the Laker reserves, in fact, had an excellent game tonight, outscoring the Magic bench 27-13. The Killer B’s are back, and with the help of Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol, pushed the tempo and the intensity on both sides of the floor. In a highlight play, Matt Barnes intercepted a pass, sent the ball to a sprinting Shannon Brown who scored on a layup and 1 which pushed the Lakers’ lead to their largest at 16. Lamar Odom chipped in 16 points on 7-12, 7 rebounds and 3 assists. He even converted on a couple of threes. The one blemish of the bench’s performance was Brown and the two shot-clock violations he committed from over-dribbling. He went just 2-10 from the field and lacked the ability to make decisions with the ball in his hands. Too much dribbling leads to turnovers. Lucky for the Lakers, Brown’s missteps still kept their turnover total to five for the game.
Kobe Bryant, with his sprained ankle, played in tonight’s game and put in 16 points but went just 7-19. But it wasn’t so much his offense that helped the team. It was his defense; drawing a charge on Jameer Nelson, then forcing Jason Richardson to lose the ball off the sidelines. For the night, he also had five rebounds, four assists, and a steal.
The Lakers’ second half defense has become a thing of beauty to watch since the All-Star break. With the exception of the Portland game that went into overtime, the Lakers have kept their opponents under 100 points and an average of 87.8 ppg. After allowing Orlando to shoot just 47% in the first half as it was, the Lakers kept the visitors to 38 points in the second half. Trailing as the second quarter began, the home team won every quarter thereafter.
The Lakers have gone 10-1 since the break and look like a confident bunch as they continue to dominate their opponents. That Miami game would have been a great win, to keep the Lakers’ record at 11-0 since the All-Star Game, but that doesn’t matter now. There are teams other than Miami who require the Lakers’ attention and up next are those pesky Minnesota Timberwolves.
Pre-game Thoughts: He’s been playing like the big, bad man that he is, but Andrew Bynum’s got yet another big test tonight against two-time defensive player of the year, Dwight Howard. As if he wasn’t enough of a handful, the Lakers as a team have to defend Orlando’s prowess behind the arc. And, Kobe Bryant shouldn’t play tonight due to his sprained ankle, but who are we kidding?
Half-time Thoughts: 46-41 – 35%; that’s the shooting percentage for defending champs in the first 24 minutes. They’re dominating on the offensive glass, and the Magic have 10 turnovers already to the Lakers’ three, but the home team had just one assist in the first quarter. No ball movement = no easy hoops. The bright spot for the Lakers is most definitely Andrew Bynum, who’s got just six points, but has collected 12 rebounds and four blocks. Bynum has also picked up three fouls so he needs to be careful in the second half. His defensive efforts on Dwight Howard will surely be missed if he has to head to the bench because of foul trouble.
Most Thoughtless Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Lakers’ first half offense – as in there was none. The only reason the deficit at half-time was a mere six points, was that Orlando had committed 10 turnovers. Just eight assists in 24 minutes of play for the Lakers.
Most Thought-filled Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Andrew Bynum was, as he’s been since the All-Star break, a real sight to see, but the Laker reserves deserve some credit for showing up their opponents tonight. It’s great having the Killer B’s together again alongside sixth man, Lamar Odom. And the energy and change of pace they bring to the game isn’t just obvious on the offensive end. It’s noticeable on the defensive end as well, and that made all the difference tonight.