Kobe Bryant drove baseline and hammered it in over Sasha Vujacic. Minutes later, he blew past Jordan Farmar and scored on a one-handed reverse layup. Welcome back to L.A., fellas.
A chance to extend their winning streak to a seventh game, the Lakers came into tonight’s contest knowing they’d be warring with a pair of familiar faces, and knowing that this New Jersey Nets team sits on the opposite end of the victory spectrum. Though they may say differently, tonight’s was a game that the home team knew they should and would win – and they did.
With a true center in Brook Lopez, the Lakers’ Andrew Bynum had a unique opportunity to test his skills against another big man with similar skill and abilities. Unfortunately, Bynum was called for his second foul with just over eight minutes left in the first quarter and then his third with just over five minutes left in the second. Suffice it to say, it was Lopez testing his skills against the less defensively-formidable Pau Gasol, and he passed with flying colors, getting his 35 points on 13-19, six rebounds, four assists and a block. Bynum, even with just over 22 minutes of playing time, managed just two points on 1-5, five rebounds, and two blocks.
Pau Gasol, getting more time at the five with Bynum in foul trouble, was slow to start, not getting his first points until the first quarter was over halfway done. It wasn’t Gasol’s most efficient evenings, shooting just 6-15 for his 20 points, but he added nine rebounds, three assists and four swats, including one that prevented Devin Harris from scoring in the final seconds of the third quarter.
Pitching in to lend a hand were Ron Artest and the Laker reserves. Artest has really been finding his way through the game in this winning streak. He’s shooting much more efficiently, always available to receive passes for corner threes. Tonight he got 14 points on 5-7.
In Matt Barnes’ absence, the Laker reserves have filled in admirably. Lamar Odom, other than his atrocious performance from the free throw line (5-11!), poured in just over 40 minutes of playing time and put forth another productive night with his 14 points on 4-8, 11 rebounds and four steals. Shannon Brown, 12 points on 6-10, reminded everyone tonight that he can still dunk, faking a three, driving baseline, then double-pumping before dunking. Luke Walton contributed his five points and two assists.
In his post-game conference, Phil Jackson was asked if he was concerned with Steve Blake’s lack of offensive production. From Jackson’s perspective, however, Blake has done a good job keeping the offense flowing and not trying to go away from it in order to find his own shot. Blake led the Lakers tonight with five dimes.
With Bynum in foul trouble and the rest of his teammates unable to find their rhythm early in the game, Kobe Bryant worked to jumpstart his team by taking on some scoring responsibility sooner than later. Bryant’s forte of late has been his work in the paint and it’s paying off with some consistency. Rather than settling for contested jumpers, Bryant is working closer to the hoop, often faking a perimeter attempt to trick his opponent into anticipating and reacting, then sliding under and taking the often uncontested layup. With 27 points on 10-19, four assists and four rebounds, Bryant’s most impressive stat was zero, as in turnovers.
The Lakers did take better care of the ball tonight than in recent memory, giving it away just nine times and forcing New Jersey to commit 12 of their own. After the first half, they were only shooting 39%, but after the break, the offense started to flow and they finished with a more acceptable 49%. The former Lakers? They did just fine against their old teammates. Farmar and Vujacic combined for 29 points and six assists.
This was one of those games where the Lakers played just hard enough to win. Face it, we all knew they weren’t going to go down to the New Jersey Nets. But Sunday’s contest against the Clippers, should be a good one.
41 games down – we’re already half-way through the season.
Pre-game Thoughts: Every game against a sub-.500 team is a trap game and tonight against the young New Jersey Nets is no different. Former Lakers, Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic are in town, which should make for a fun game against their former team.
Half-time Thoughts: 40-45 – Laker bigs not doing much tonight. Bynum/Gasol/Odom are a combined 8 points on 2-15. Not nearly enough to help win this game. With Bynum in foul trouble, Gasol and Odom need to do more. Kobe Bryant leads all scores with 15 points on 6-11.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: Andrew Bynum – Two points, five rebounds and five fouls. The kid couldn’t stay on the floor long enough to do much of anything. Lucky he’s surrounded by some pretty good teammates.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Kobe Bryant had another one of those nights. Sensing early on that his big guys weren’t feeling the game, he stepped in with his own brand of proficiency – 27 points on 10-19.