Everything back to normal already?! Well, not quite but it’s pretty darn close. They look like the Lakers who started the season 13-2; seamless in all aspects of the game, showing little to no mercy. Pau Gasol looks like an MVP again, Kobe Bryant is shooting over 50% and Lamar Odom…well, he’s been good all season but what a difference when he’s not the only one.
It appears all the Lakers needed to overcome their recent slump was to have Andrew Bynum on the active roster. He still only played 17 minutes and his stat line isn’t the most impressive he’s accumulated, but just knowing that he’s there seems to have breathed life into a Laker team that had grown listless and just plain ol’ tired.
From the onset, there was early indication that it would be a long night for the Indiana Pacers. Phil Jackson mentioned in his post-game interview that the Lakers remembered how they played the night that Indiana beat them at Staples and how the Pacers celebrated in the hallways.
“They never forgot,” Phil said.
The Lakers certainly didn’t forget. They shot 78% in the first quarter and by half-time they were still shooting 61%! The key, as always, is proper and effective ball movement. The Lakers collected 17 assists in the first half alone, and handed out 25 dimes for the game on 42 made field goals.
Pau Gasol certainly couldn’t forget how he played in that loss to Indiana either. He made Roy Hibbert look like an All-Star. Tonight, Gasol gladly returned the favor. He simply couldn’t miss. Gasol scored 14 points in the first 12 minutes en route to his 28 points on 10-17, adding eight rebounds, four assists and two blocks. Everything was working for the forward/fill-in center, especially his jumper. It was, in simplest terms, like butter. That soft release, high arc, nothing but net kind of jumper. Lethal as he is around the rim, he’s just as deadly from as far as 18 feet out. If it does anything for his defenders, it keeps them on their toes and tonight, Hibbert might as well have been tip-toing around the Spaniard because Gasol was a force. Other than his scoring, Gasol did what he likes second best – constantly finding open or cutting teammates like Ron Artest, who received a one-handed pass for an uncontested layup. Gasol just looks energized out there, playing about 36 minutes. Coming from a slew of 40+ minute games, this is certainly a welcome relief.
Speaking of Ron Artest – he gets the credit for setting the defensive tone early. Gasol may have been shooting the roof off of Conseco Field House, but it was Artest who was active when the Pacers had the ball on their side. The Pacers’ very first possession ended in a turnover because Artest poked the ball away from Danny Granger. On another possession, Artest and Lamar Odom doubled, Artest snatched the ball and the former Pacer scored again. Artest managed 13 points on 6-8, three rebounds, two assists and two steals. He hasn’t looked this good game-wise since Game 7 of the finals last June! He finished with a game high +20.
Not to be outdone by his teammates was Kobe Bryant. He had just six points and six assists going into the second half and then he went…all Kobe on everyone, scoring 17 points in the third quarter alone. He scored the Lakers’ first 10 points of the second half, then hit back-to-back threes late in the fourth. He finished with 31 points on 11-18, 4-8 from 3PT, six assists and three rebounds. And those three free throws he missed last night? He made up for them by hitting the three free throws he was rewarded with tonight.
It’s not a re-cap without a Lamar Odom accolade so here goes – what about 13-points on 5-9, 17 rebounds and three assists? The man is playing like he’s never played before. In his three previous games, he averaged 67% from the field!
The Killer B’s (which includes Bynum for now, which is appropriate) plus Luke Walton contributed 21 points, with Steve Blake leading the way with seven. The Lakers shot 51% for the night, and 8-17 from behind the arc. They out-rebounded the Pacers 51-29 and just about beat the home team in every category.
The Lakers look good…really good. To think this is with Andrew Bynum still getting into game shape.
Pre-game Thoughts: Payback time!
Half-time Thoughts: 59-37 – The Lakers haven’t had a half like this…in forever! They shot 78% in the first quarter and 61% for the half. Pau Gasol is money out there, already with 21 points on 9-11. How’s THAT for efficient scoring? A 22-point lead and Kobe Bryant has only scored six points on just four attempts. He’s also got six assists. The Pacers can’t get anything to go their way on either end of the floor. They’re shooting just 36% and gave up almost 60 points. Hopefully this is a lead the Lakers can maintain for another 24 minutes.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: There isn’t much to complain about on the Lakers’ side. The seven missed free throws, maybe? Or that they gave up a 32-point third quarter to the Pacers? Other than that, I got nothing.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Let’s see…Pau Gasol for his 21 first half points? Kobe Bryant for his 17-point third quarter? ANOTHER Lamar Odom double-double? As well as the Big Three played tonight, this night’s honor goes to Ron Artest who really set the tone defensively for this team tonight and for finally finding his way through the offense. Great game for Artest for sure.