Apparently unwilling to give in to prosperity, the Lakers turned nearly three quarters of solid work into 15 minutes of nail-biting for the sold out Staples crowd. In the end, everything worked out, but with a game tomorrow night against the Clippers and a long road trip to follow, at the very least the Lakers missed out on a chance to earn fourth quarter rest for their starters.
Here's how it broke down...
Most of the high points came in the first half, which sent the Lakers into the locker room with a 13 point lead, or into the third, when they led by as much as 19. The final 24 minutes were an entirely different story (though save plays off turnovers, the Lakers did generally keep the Wizards out of the lane).
Keep that in mind when reading the following.
1. Kobe Bryant- From the moment he dropped a 17 footer at the 11:21 mark of the first quarter, it was clear he had "that look." The one allowing him to move aggressively, get inside position, put the ball on the floor, and generally get any look he'd like. He hit four of his seven shots in the first 12 minutes, then five of seven in the second. Along the way, Bryant broke out some of the footwork making his mid-post game so much fun to watch, with a variety of spins and step throughs you figure have to be travels until watching the replay. What helped make it all so effective, though, was how he got his shots. 14 might seem like too much for one half, but the vast majority came off quality movement for the Lakers.
Kobe was very effective off the ball, coming off screens and slicing through the lane. Instead of being the start and finish of the Lakers offense, he accepted the ball in good position after it cycled around multiple pairs of hands. I've always said it's about touches, not shot totals. Tonight showed why. Bryant was a little quieter in the second half (though the footwork was just as good, evidenced by a fourth quarter spin/pump/spin/step-through he stuck on Nick Young at the free throw line), scoring "only" 14 more points at a less efficient clip, but overall it was an effective night for 24, and at least early on was representative of a blueprint the Lakers and Kobe should use more often.
2. Lamar Odom- 13 points on five-for-six shooting, four boards, an assist, and a block. Not an ineffective line for your average NBA'er over the course of a game. Odom put it together in the first quarter. Like Kobe, much of Odom's effectiveness came because he was moving well in space, aggressively filling the space left open by Washington's zone defense. Like his teammates, Odom wasn't quite as effective in the second half as he was in the first- the Lakers had 69 points by halftime, and finished with 115- and was part of the collective breakdowns helping keep the Wizards close down the stretch, but it's hard to argue with the overall production, particularly early production.
He loses points, though, for taking a horrible shot with about 20 seconds left in the fourth, when the Lakers had a chance to either drain some clock or force Washington to foul, Odom bailed out the Wizards with a bad jumper from the wing. No surprise he got an earful from Phil Jackson during the ensuing timeout.
3. Pau Gasol- It's not every day a guy can miss seven of his first 10 shots, and still land in this category, but such was the case with Gasol, who assisted on three of the team's first four buckets, and five of fifteen in the first quarter. The Lakers effectively used Gasol as a pivot point against the zone, and he responded by hitting cutters or making effective skip passes over the defense helping great penetration later in the trip. By halftime, Gasol had, in poker terms, a set of eights. Eight points, eight boards, eight assists, and finished with 21/14/8, plus five blocked shots.
Perhaps his most significant play with 32 seconds left. With the Lakers nursing a four point lead, Kobe missed a jumper from the left wing. Derek Fisher slapped the rebound to the floor, and Gasol hit the deck to force a jump ball. Odom's wayward J meant the Lakers had to work harder than they should have to finish off the game, but Gasol's play still earned L.A. possession and burned valuable time.
When large dudes hit the floor like that, they deserve some kudos.
1. The Reserves- Like the starters, the bench got off to a hot start in the first half. Shannon Brown re-discovered his jumper, nailing a pair of threes from the wing, while Steve Blake buried a pair of triples from the left corner. But at the 3:27 mark of the third quarter, Brown, Blake, and Matt Barnes entered the game with the Lakers up 16 following a Gilbert Arenas free throw. By the end of the quarter- Derrick Caracter entering the fray with 2:19 to play- Washonton had cut the lead to three. The Lakers had trouble defending on one end, and even more getting points at the other, scoring one point over those final three-plus minutes. Caracter was particularly problematic, missing three straight shots and playing black hole in the paint. Ball went in, but never came out.
What could have been a laugher turned into a dogfight down the stretch. Shouldn't happen against a team without a win on the road this season.
2. Second Half Offense- Over the first 24 minutes, the Lakers had a fully dominant performance in the paint, scoring on 20 of 30 shots and racking up 40 points, plus nine trips to the line. More than two-thirds of their first half field goals came from the paint, many set up off the 22 assists they amassed before the break. In the second, those numbers dropped off precipitously. They'd finish with only 12 more field goals, four more assists, and only 18 more points in the paint. I'm not saying a line can be drawn automatically from one number to the next... but I don't have a lot of other ways to end that sentence.
Despite missing more, they weren't as effective on the offensive glass, either. 14 ORB's in the first half, only eight in the second. As a result, there were fewer second chance points.
3. Caracter- Not to pick on the kid, but he was a minus-12 in five minutes or so of burn. I realize plus-minus can be a misleading statistic, but it's not that misleading. In the great argument between more burn for D.C./rest for Gasol vs. treasuring the stability Gasol provides, this was exhibit A for the latter. Things can turn quickly in the NBA, even against bad teams. Had Gasol finished the third, would the Lakers have kept the lead in the fourth and actually earned him more rest?