Defense, team assists, and bench play. The Lakers suddenly have made their weaknesses into strengths. Granted, they couldn’t hit a FT to save their lives on NBATV’s Tuesday Fan Night game at Staples, but they made up for this deficiency through teamwork.
The Lakers finished the 2nd quarter the same way they started the 1st, with a stop. LA held the soon-to-be Pelicans to 32% shooting in the 1st half, allowing only 18 points in the 2nd quarter. The D switched smoothly and rotated efficiently. The ball moved freely on offense as well. Kobe chased another trip-dub, opening with 5 assists, as well as 6 pts and 4 rebs. Pau, publically accepting his 2nd unit role, came off the bench and distributed 6 dimes. The Lakers shot 50% from the field because, as the saying goes, the ball is always faster than the defender.
As the ball leaves the hands of the Lakers, the defense moves from player to player, trying to react. They couldn’t find Dwight quick enough as he sealed and dropped stepped his way to 15 1st half points. When the ball sits in the corner, the defense rests, waiting to spring onto a rebound and run the ball down the Lakers throats. This was the issue with transition defense. The Lakers weren’t purposely lagging back from the offensive side as teams flew down the court. They were out of position. The players were waiting around for the play to happen, watching, instead of in constant motion, ready to react. The offense scored 20 of its baskets on 17 assists, finishing with 34 team assists on 39 made field goals. Conclusion: the shots are in rhythm, and the rotations are in rhythm. When the ball doesn’t find the bottom of the net, the Lakers have an advantage getting back. They are already in motion, so they can hustle back in stride with, instead of behind the competition.
As dominant as they were in the 1st half, the Lakers rolled out the comeback carpet for the road trippin “Pelicans,” away from home due to the Super Bowl. A horrible stretch at the FT line and some sluggish defense in the 3rd let the Pelicans back in, shaving the lead from 18 to 4. So, of course, the bench came to the rescue.
Some improved play by the reserves, including 16 from Antawn Jamison and 13 from Jodie Meeks, and the return of Steve Blake put the Lakers back in the lead, 98-80, with 5:56 to go. But, the bench giveth, and taketh away. The Lakers offense froze and the Hornets charged back on consecutive 3s by former Cal Bear Ryan Anderson. The Pelicans almost completed the comeback following a 21-4 run as Grevious Vasquez hit his 15th point on a floater to cut it to 102-101. But, Earl Clark continued his exponential development by diving in the lane and catching a falling out of bounds 11th assist from a double-teamed Kobe for his 20th point. Earl also added 12 boards on a night when Dwight played target man on O. Clark then found Nash off of a Kobe kick out for a 3 and the dagger. The Lakers concluded their 3-game winning streak with a few more fireworks than necessary, and now look to extend this momentum on the road in Phoenix. Although they have showed an incredible lack of poise on the road, these Lakers need a successful road trip, to galvanize their newfound roles and bond through further successes.
This is the benefit of sharing a common goal. Whether on defense, rotating to a space that a player has left to cover their man, or offense, rotating the ball one extra pass to make sure the shot is wide open and in rhythm, a complete team picks up their game in areas that are lacking.
Nash won 2 league MVPs as a volume facilitator, but now he shines as a jump shooter. He made 4-5 from the field and 3-4 from distance. Pau won 2 O’Brien’s with the Lakers as a starter, but now he anchors the 2nd unit and facilitates for players who cannot create their own shots on a regular basis. Pau ended the game with three of a kind, 7 of each major statistical category. Kobe led league in scoring until recently deciding to challenge for the lead league in assists. His 11 assists allowed again for incredible scoring balance as six Lakers scored in double figures. He got his lucky number 14 in points, but on only 12 shots.
Earl Clark, the 14th pick by the Suns in 2009, an after thought in the Dwight Howard deal, barely touched the court until Pau took a shot to the head. George Karl plucked him off of the bench to make both of Pau’s FTs. Clark chose to become a glue guy, to make plays that keep the team together. Now, instead of facilitating the finances to bring Dwight to LA, he is grabbing defensive boards so Dwight can concentrate on scoring his 24, thieving 5 times, and blocking 4 shots. He is attacking the rim and making threes to spread the floor. He is accepting defensive assignments against LeBron, KD, and other elite players. He is doing what is necessary to help his team win.