They don’t like to make it easy on themselves, do they? The Lakers, after losing in Chicago and coming into Newark to face the lowly 7-game losing streak New Jersey Nets, could’ve played with a lot more conviction than they have been lately. Maybe being these were the New Jersey Nets, however, they figured they could come in, play with just enough energy and flair, and walk out with a win. The Lakers have done that often this season and it hasn’t turned in their favor. They got lucky today.
They got lucky because Pau Gasol played almost 42 minutes but could only muster up 15 points on 6-19 – 32%! When was the last time Gasol shot 32%?! Mr. Consistency has been anything but lately. Yes, he’s overworked and he, in simple terms, is tired. Gasol is tired from filling in for Andrew Bynum. That explanation has gotten so cliché the last month that pity for Gasol is waning. Lamar Odom hasn’t stopped playing since the Lakers began their 2008-2009 season and he’s playing as great as he’s ever played before. Wasn’t the point of Gasol’s summer off to rest his body in order to prepare for this season? Have the benefits of that “rest” reached their quota?
The Lakers have only played 24 games and if fatigue is an issue at this point in the season, what will it be a month or two or three from now? Gasol’s only positive of the evening were his five blocks. Other than that, Robin Lopez was all over him in defense, and outmuscled the Spaniard on offense (25 points on 9-21). Lopez got just about anything he wanted at rim, no thanks to Gasol’s inability to provide much of a battle for the young center. Suddenly Gasol’s gone from MVP to MIA.
Lamar Odom played another steady game this afternoon (22 points on 9-13, seven rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal). Odom remains a mystery for opposing teams to defend. Let him grab an defensive rebound, and he’ll beat you to the other side, hitting a layup, dunk or fingeroll to remind the opposing team that he’s indefensible. Leave him on the perimeter, and he’ll bury the three as he did today to extend the Lakers’ lead to eight with just over 42 seconds remaining in the game. Get in his way on a fast break or double team him and he’ll easily throw it to the open teammate. With Gasol’s up and down play of late, the Lakers are fortunate to have Odom…so very fortunate.
After losing large lead after large lead, Kobe Bryant grabbed the reins of this game and guided the team home. He scored 25 of his 32 points on 9-19 in the second half. He also handed out six assists and maneuvered play after play. In the fourth, he threw a pass from the corner to Steve Blake at the top of the key, who passed inside to Odom standing on the left shoulder, who passed it to Gasol for a dunk. Late in the game, with the Nets continuing their efforts to gain the lead, Bryant drove in, got tripled, and passed it to Gasol who laid the ball in. In a possession after that, Bryant drove in again, got triple-teamed again, and quickly passed to Odom for a dunk.
In his post-game interview, John Ireland asked Bryant what helped them win this game. Bryant’s response was the Lakers, Odom and Gasol especially, had to move without the ball in order to set themselves up for such opportunities, like passes that lead to open dunks and layups. Bryant said he noticed that sometimes Odom and Gasol seem to just be watching where the ball and the action is, rather than moving themselves without the rock. Lucky for the Lakers Bryant is more than just player.
No buzzer-beating heroics were necessary today, but heroism took shape anyway in the form of a veteran leader who understands what his team is capable of and figures out a way to utilize it for the team’s benefit.
There is still a long way to go this season and there will surely be more lessons to learn for the defending champs. If they’re lucky to have anything, it’s time…time to improve.
Pre-game Thoughts: The Nets are on a seven game losing streak. It’d be a shame to be the team to break that.
Half-time Thoughts: 52-42 – The Lakers let the Nets go off for a bit in the beginning…and then suddenly they took a 10-point lead. They slacked off again…and then get the lead back. One thing’s for sure – the vistors aren’t making it easy on themselves and this game appears destined to carry out the same way in the next 24 minutes.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: What is up with Ron Artest this season? He played well in the pre-season but something’s not right. An aching back? Reduced playing time maybe? Whatever it is produced just 2 points on 1-7. His high point today – four assists.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Kobe Bryant – for using his Black Mamba-ness to carry his team to a win by getting them involved rather than taking over and trying to win it himself.