What could have been another ho-hum night against a go-nowhere Eastern Conference opponent missing its most exciting young player took on a whole lot more interest Tuesday night as the Los Angeles Lakers took the floor against the Washington Wizards with Andrew Bynum back in the lineup for the first time this season.
A welcome addition to the lineup on the night they said a somewhat protracted goodbye to Sasha Vujacic, who was traded -- along with a first rounder in 2012 -- for well-traveled (to say the least) veteran (ditto) forward Joe Smith. But because Smith, thanks to league rules on offseason free-agent signees, can't be traded until tomorrow afternoon, Vujacic experienced a sort of dead-man-walking night on the Lakers' bench. There ... but not really.Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
"Dude, I am SO happy to see you..."
In the end, the Lakers did what they should with the Wizards, who were missing both John Wall and Andray Blatche, hurting them on the perimeter and interior alike. They kept Washington at arm's length for most of the first half, then used a big third-quarter push to put the game away. Here's how it broke down ...
1. Sharing: No matter how the Wizards decided to defend the Lakers, man or zone, the Lakers were consistently effective moving the ball and themselves, generating great looks and easy points. Pau Gasol was particularly good in this regard, operating out of the high and mid-post with patience and vision. Because he never prematurely commits his dribble, Gasol is able to reward teammates who move. He racked up five first-half assists -- four in the second quarter -- and seven overall. As a team, the Lakers finished with 23 assists on 34 field goals, despite a raggedy garbage-time fourth quarter in which the Lakers scored 11 points.
"I thought the passing was good, and the interior game," Phil Jackson said. And the interior passing game, for that matter.
Gasol wasn't the only guy moving the ball. Kobe Bryant had four assists, effectively moving the ball out of double teams, many coming as he backed down whichever unfortunate Wizard happened to pick him up. The Wizards are a bad defensive team and were missing key players (already down important bodies, Yi Jianlian left the game five minutes into the first quarter and didn't return), but this sort of thing hasn't necessarily prevented the Lakers from shooting themselves in the foot.
A solid, movement-filled balanced attack is a welcome sight, no matter the opponent.
2. Kobe Bryant: 24 minutes, 24 points for No. 24. How's that for symmetry? All this with a very tidy 13 shots, and with the aforementioned four assists, five rebounds and a steal. Relatively quiet in the first half, Kobe blew up for 16 in the third quarter, including 12 straight (three triples and three freebies). For much of the night, he was quietly effective, recognizing he didn't need to do too much for the Lakers to be effective ... before blowing up and laying waste to the Wizards in a barrage effectively sealing the game for the Lakers.
3. Lamar Odom: He made six of his eight field-goal attempts, along with six of seven free throws for an uber-efficient 18 points, along with 10 rebounds. Odom, who remained in the starting lineup despite Bynum's return, was quiet in the first quarter but dominated the second, scoring 10 points working effectively off the ball, making himself available for feeds from teammates. He finished a +23.
Anyone worried about his performance falling off with Drew's return can, for one night at least, rest easy.
Honorable Mentions: Ron Artest made half his shots (4-of-8), managed to get into the post a few times, ran off the ball well and played some quality defense. Good stuff. Shannon Brown made some early 3-pointers, and finished with 16 points to lead a fairly productive Lakers bench. Best of all, on the front end of a back-to-back, the Lakers saw short minutes for Artest (24), Gasol (31) and Kobe (24).
As for Three Down? Meh. They gave away some points to start the fourth, briefly giving the Wizards at least a semblance of hope ... but not really. Defensively, they held Washington to just less than 41 percent shooting. "We kept the grips on it," Odom said. The Lakers didn't turn the ball over, they didn't give up cheap points off the glass or in transition. Why stretch to find points to nag about? It was a good game. Instead, let's take a look at the big man's return.
ONE PRETTY ENCOURAGING:
1. Andrew Bynum: The final line wasn't anything spectacular. Seven points on 1-for-5 shooting, plus four rebounds, an assist and two blocks. But Bynum looked healthy, moved pretty well and it's clear how he'll impact the team going forward. Don't draw a straight line between his presence and a great defensive showing from the Lakers, or the fact Washington struggled to get near the lane. The Wizards didn't have much up front and were missing their best penetrating guard.
But he made a difference and should continue to do so going forward.
"I feel pretty good," Bynum told KCAL's John Ireland after the game. "I'm going to get a couple more practices in, and we have a game tomorrow, which I'm going to suit up for, and hopefully do a bit better."
He was encouraged by what he was able to accomplish on the floor, saying he felt no physical limitations. "I just have to get my timing back. A couple more practices, and a couple more strength-training days, and I'll be all right," he said.
"I came out and got a little bit winded, but that's to be expected."
Jackson said Bynum will be back on the floor tomorrow in Indiana. “I’ll try to work him somewhat similar to what we did tonight. Short minutes, relief minutes. See how he goes in the game. I was ready to put him back in the game if we needed to tonight, but that was a game we didn’t need to push down at the end.”