Like a few of their games of late, the Lakers had some spectacular moments Friday night, along with a few dead spots and stretches of ineffective defense. But they did enough things well -- some very, very well -- to win over the visiting Trail Blazers, particularly on a night where the script didn't play out as it typically does for the purple and gold.
Here are five takeaways...
1. Andrew Bynum was aggressive.
Bynum scored L.A.'s first four points, both coming on slick lobs from Pau Gasol -- two of four Gasol-to-Bynum dunk sequences the Lakers pulled off in the opening frame. In the second quarter, his efficiency went down -- he had company (see below) -- but Bynum consistently called for the ball and tried to work mismatches. Pitted against J.J. Hickson early in the second quarter, on three consecutive possessions Bynum stood on the weakside block signaling actively for the ball to switch sides of the floor. All three times it did, to very good effect. On the first, Bynum held the ball high, and Portland PG Nolan Smith came on the double, leaping up to swipe the ball. In a moment of big brother-little brother playground cruelty, Drew raised the ball a few inches higher, let Smith fly by, then rolled back to his left and scored with a jump hook. Next he passed out of the double to Steve Blake, setting up points as Blake drove the lane and Portland was hit with a goaltending call. On the third, he spun away from the double, missed the turnaround, but had the play cleaned up by Matt Barnes.
The plays showed first how much Bynum wants the ball, particularly when he thinks there's a matchup to exploit, and second, that his teammates recognize it, too. Friday, the ball movement was good enough to make it happen.
In the fourth, Bynum again was a catalyst, scoring with deep position on the block, finishing an alley-oop from Josh McRoberts, and again with a baby hook on LaMarcus Aldridge (kudos to Barnes for a great entry). He made a few nice passes out of double teams, and continued to be aggressive while on the floor. With both Kobe Bryant and Gasol going cold, Bynum was the most efficient weapon the Lakers had among their Big Three, and seemed very comfortable with the responsibility.
Final line: 28 points on 12-for-20 shooting, nine rebounds, three assists.
2. After a quick opening, the Lakers stalled out.
Early on, the Lakers were on fire. Great ball movement, precision cutting, perfect finishes. Kobe was red-hot, whether from his sweet spot at the elbow or isolated on the perimeter against shorter Portland defenders. At the end of the first quarter, the Lakers had 30 points on 61.9 percent shooting, and 10 assists on 13 field goals. It was the closest thing to Showtime the home crowd had seen since the last time the Blazers were in town -- then, the Lakers also blew the doors off early. Unfortunately, the tide turned offensively as Friday's game went on. Portland coach Kaleb Canales went heavy on zone defense, and (perhaps predictably) the Lakers suffered, scoring only 41 points in the second and third quarters. The movement dried up, and L.A. grew impatient. It didn't help either to see the turnovers rise, as the Lakers gave away the ball 10 times in the middle two frames.
Meanwhile, Bryant and Gasol had trouble putting the brown thing in the round thing. By the end of the third, Bryant was 5-of-16 (after a 5-of-6 start... that's 10 straight misses to you and me) and Gasol was only 4-of-12. The Lakers perked up in the fourth, scoring 32 points as Ramon Sessions went off and Bynum did the aforementioned damage inside. On the night, they generated 33 assists on 40 field goals, so sharing wasn't a problem, even if execution periodically was. Still, two quarters of miscues combined with empty trips, less-than-timely defensive breakdowns, and some solid play from Portland made the game closer than it needed to be.
3. Sessions looked mortal, though only briefly.
OK, implying he's some sort of basketball diety is a little strong, but after four games it reflects the excitement he has generated around town. His fifth game was his first start with the Lakers, and like the rest of his teammates Sessions came out of the gate hot, hitting three of his first four hoists, including a nice jumper from 20 feet. From there, he missed three of four, and while the assist totals crept up, also turned the ball over on consecutive possessions in the third, and nearly had a couple more.
In the fourth, though, Sessions was huge. Dominant, even.
He delivered a nice pass to Barnes for 3-pointer, drew a foul inside for a pair of free throws, went glass for another bucket, then assisted on consecutive baskets by Bynum and Barnes before draining his second triple of the game and dropping three more dimes, first to Barnes on a cut through the paint, then to Metta World Peace for a 3-pointer, and finally to Gasol in the paint.
Nothing about those final 12 minutes will dampen local enthusiasm for the new guy, that's for sure.
Final line: 20 points, 11 assists, and six rebounds.
4. All hail the "other guys."
Bryant missed every shot he took after the first quarter, and Gasol wasn't a whole lot better, struggling most of the night with his shot and attempting to put a lid on Aldridge. (On the positive side, Pau pitched in with six assists and 16 rebounds, plus two blocks.) The two of them were the team's third and fifth leading scorers, respectively. Normally, that's a recipe for a loss. Not so on Friday.
I mentioned Bynum and Sessions already, but World Peace was very effective offensively, hitting shots inside and out en route to a 14-point night, on 6-of-8 shooting. Barnes continued his post-Sessions run of good play with a very active game, including nine points, three offensive rebounds, a steal, five assists, and three blocks. Dude was all over the floor. McRoberts, playing 22 minutes, only had two points but did all that McRoberts stuff. Six rebounds (three offensive), two assists, and a bunch of tipped balls and nice contests inside.
Lakers 53, Portland 29, including only six on the offensive glass for the Blazers. L.A., on the other hand, generated a very impressive 17 ORBs on only 45 misses from the floor, good for 18 second-chance points.