Last night, the Lakers closed out their second three-game road trip of the month with as many wins, defeating Sacramento 106-99. This three-game trip featured three of the top six fastest playing teams, and outside of their Monday night game against Golden State, the Lakers did a fairly good job controlling the pace and limiting scoring. And now, after their first three-game losing streak during Pau Gasol’s tenure, the Lakers are now on a four game winning streak, and the ONLY constant during this winning streak has been Andrew Bynum. During these past four games, Bynum has been averaging a quiet 20 points, 10.25 rebounds, 2 blocks, shooting 63.3% from the field and getting to the line 5.75 times per contest. For me, it’s not surprising that he’s putting up these kind of numbers, because he’s had some absolutely great stretches of play before, but he’s been working harder these last few games than I’ve ever seen from him. He’s finally recognizing that, if his teammates aren’t going to feed him the ball when he wants it, he’s going to have to find other ways to be affective on the court. Last night he grabbed five offensive rebounds, three of which led to dunks for him.
On Tuesday night in Sacramento, Bynum was the beast.
Early in the contest the Lakers pounded the rock inside forcing the Kings to contend with the Altered Beast in his natural habitat – 5 feet from the hoop.
On both ends of the court, Altered Beast Mode was in full effect.
Bynum controlled the boards, defended the hoop and abused any mere mortal in a Kings jersey.
It wasn’t until early in the third quarter that Bynum finally scored on something other than a dunk. His free throw line extended jumper was good for the Beast’s 19th point of the game. Soon after the beast reverted back to man as he stepped aside allowing Pau to put the finishing touches on a 28 and 12 night.
Bynum was a late bloomer and didn’t go through the usual rigors of the amateur circuit as a prep phenom who – even when beaten up or worn down – had to produce for his team to win. He is still learning a lot of basic things, including playing hard at both ends even when you don’t feel that great.
That, coincidentally, was the gist of Fisher’s speech to the team. Pau Gasol summarized Fisher’s words this way: “Let’s just play hard. Let’s give our very best. And that’s how things are going to turn around for us. That’s how we’re going to get our confidence back.”
For Lakers veterans, it was a reminder. For Bynum, it was a revelation.
“I’ve just kind of made a commitment to playing hard on defense, and consequently you get involved in the game,” he said. “I like it a lot. It’s very fun for me, and I’m going to keep it up.”
To paraphrase Bryant’s positive spin about the Lakers being hard to beat if they give the effort they gave in defeat in Orlando: If Bynum plays with this kind of bounce, it’s going to be hard for a team to beat the Lakers four times in a series.
I think last night also showed the value of the same Derek Fisher we’ve all been chastising all season. It’s painfully clear that Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown just don’t get it yet. Farmar and Brown may be more athletic, quicker, shoot better and are younger, they aren’t better for the Lakers than Fish is. During the first six minutes of the second quarter, while Farmar and Brown were on the floor, they were able to collectively amass no points, no rebounds, no assists, one turnover, one illegal defensive call, one foul while allowing Tyreke Evans to run ramped. During those six minutes, Sacramento scored 20 whopping points.
Just check out this second quarter time line from the LA Times Lakers Blog, a post on the Lakers poor bench play from last night:
2nd quarter, 11:19 – 11:09
After receiving a pass from Lakers backup guard Shannon Brown, reserve guard Jordan Farmar immediately launched a contested 26-foot three-pointer over Kings guard Tyreke Evans. After Sacramento forward Jason Thompson grabbed the rebound, Evans ran the break and drove to the rack. He missed the left-handed layup, but Thompson tipped the ball in, reducing the Lakers’ lead to 30-19.
2nd quarter, 10:44 – 10:30
Odom grabbed the rebound off Thompson’s missed 17-footer and pushed the ball up the floor to Brown. On the far end behind the perimeter, Brown dribbled between his legs and then drove left past Kings guard Francisco Garcia. Though Sacramento forward Andres Nocioni and Thompson moved from the weak side to help, Brown went through traffic for an over-the-shoulder layup. The shot hit off the backboard, Nocioni grabbed the board and pushed the ball to Evans. He drove to the rack and drew a foul on Odom, who also was given a technical for arguing the call. Evans converted on all three free throws, reducing the Lakers’ lead to 30-22.
2nd quarter, 10:30 – 10:10
After Evans made the foul shots, Brown manned the point. Drawing pressure from both Garcia and Evans, Brown dribbled behind his back near the timeline before Evans swiped the ball. Brown grabbed the loose ball on the far end of the court after Odom batted it away from Garcia. He then drove to the basket and forced a left-handed layup, despite there being three Kings players in the paint. After Thompson blocked the shot, Evans grabbed the ball and passed to Kings forward Omri Caspi on the other end. He finished the play with a one-handed slam, cutting the Lakers’ lead to 30-24 and capping off Sacramento’s 7-0 run.
When Derek Fisher entered the game for Shannon Brown (Farmar left the game 30 seconds earlier), the pace of the game immediately slowed down, he hit an 18-footer and had a pretty dime to Bynum. More importantly, Sacramento scored only 11 points the rest of the way. Yes, Fish played with more of the starters, but he also plays with more control than Farmar or Brown can at this point. The thing is, with the way the Lakers roster is built, the starting unit has at least two mismatches at all times, four guys who can operate on the post, and have the size to play a very slow game. Neither Farmar or Brown allow the Lakers to take advantage of those mismatches, and play too fast and out of control for the post game to be effective.
Reactions from the Lakers/Kings game
– From the Los Angeles Times Lakers Blog: The Lakers walked out of Arco Arena Tuesday with a 106-99 victory over the Sacramento Kings, marking the team’s third consecutive road win after going through a frustrating four road-game losing streak. But more importantly, the Lakers likely left most fans feeling better than when they squeaked out a three-point victory Monday over the Golden State Warriors. That performance prompt valid questions on whether the Lakers would ever consistently develop enough before the playoffs begin. The Lakers didn’t quite answer that question either against the Kings. After all, the Lakers shot 18 of 28 from the free throw line, including Kobe Bryant’s eight of 14 clip from the stripe. Sacramento (23-45) ranks nowhere near among the Western Conference elite. And of course, this is just one game. The Lakers had shown positive signs before, what with their physical presence against Denver, their team balance against Indiana and their improved effort against Phoenix and Orlando. But all of those games were wedged between poor games, which featured both wins (Philadelphia, Toronto, Golden State) and losses (Miami, Charlotte,).
– From The Lakers Nation: In all, the Lakers had only nine turnovers, with Kobe Bryant collecting the most with just three, a third of what he collected last night. Instead of throwing the ball around carelessly against one of the youngest and most energetic teams in the league, the Lakers threw crisp passes to each other, handing out 23 assists on 42 made field goals, a few on very impressive lobs. Pau Gasol had one of his most efficient games in a long while, with 28 points on 12-14 from the field, and it seems the spring in his step has resurfaced. This was apparent on one fast break sequence that implored a running Pau to send a no-look pass to a sprinting Shannon Brown, who finished with an emphatic one-handed dunk that sent the crowd, Lakers and Kings fans alike, into a frenzy. Kobe Bryant led all scores with 30 points, collected nine rebounds and handed out seven assists. He shot 10-26, which is just under 40%, but he appeared lighter on his feet than in recent games, he’s more active on defense and his greatest contribution of all? Directing the offense before him. If there were stats kept on the assists before the assists, Kobe would probably be one of the leaders.
– From Lakers Edge: Despite a few lean years since they were contenders, the Sacramento Kings still put up a fight before succumbing to the Los Angeles Lakers 106-99 at Arco Arena. Long gone are the Doug Christie/Rick Fox confrontations, the Mike Bibby/Chris Webber/Peja Stojakovich-led offensive might, yet the fervor and the hatred for the Lakers remain. An amused Phil Jackson seemed more enthralled with the raucous Laker fans in attendance than with the squad the Kings had assembled on the floor. One must admit, they were an anonymous group, even for the dreaded Queens. It’s hard to hate someone when you don’t even recognize them. Sure, the uniforms are the same, the noise and volume are insane, but you almost feel sorry for the franchise that came within a Robert Horry three-pointer of reaching the NBA Finals. As the Kings prepare for the lottery and the Lakers try to retool themselves for a deep run into the post season, the contest was still spirited and chippy. Kobe Bryant led all scorers with 30 points and added 9 rebounds to go along with 7 assists.
– From Lakers of Fire: The topic of Kobe shooting too much has been a lively debate pretty much all season long in Laker Land, but it wasn’t until yesterday that I saw the most interesting statistic about the Mamba’s itchy trigger finger: Some background for your next heated Lakers argument: They’re 3-5 when Kobe takes 30 shots or more, 25-9 when he takes 20 to 29 shots and 20-4 when he takes fewer than 20, including the five games Kobe missed. Those appear to be some pretty hard figures to argue against, but I wasn’t voted Most Argumentative in high school (totally true, by the way) for nothing, so kindly allow me the opportunity to make a rebuttal. Let’s start with the most glaring issue, the 3-5 record when Kobe takes 30+ shots. Even I am willing to admit that 30 shots is quite a lot and runs a great risk of ruining the offensive flow for the Lakers, but was that really the case in those eight games and did it cause the five aforementioned losses? In the three wins, Kobe shot a lot, but he was also highly accurate, shooting 50% or higher from the field. Conversely, in the five losses, he shot 40% or lower. Not a good start. But the real killer wasn’t just Kobe’s bad shooting, it was the toll it took on the Laker offense. Only twice in those eight games did they have an Offensive Efficiency rating higher than 106, their rating for the season. And only one of those games was a Laker win, which seems to suggest that they did so more in spite of Kobe’s voluminous shot attempts.
– From the Los Angeles Daily News: The Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets have loomed large in the Lakers’ rearview mirror recently. The Mavericks and Nuggets each trailed the Lakers by four games in the Western Conference going into Tuesday’s play. It remains to be seen whether the Lakers finish atop the West for the third consecutive season. No question, it should be their top priority judging by what Lakers coach Phil Jackson had to say. Jackson actually couldn’t say for certain how the Lakers might fare in the playoffs if they fail to hold on to the No. 1 spot in the West and secure homecourt advantage for at least the first three rounds of the postseason.” I don’t know,” he said. “I really don’t. We haven’t played great on the road this year. The last two years we had really good road records. We want to have home-court advantage. We feel we can sustain it if we can continue on the pace we’re going. “We look over at the other conference and see who’s two and three. Orlando is sitting a couple of games behind us (actually, 2 1/2 games). Those are all important things when your goal is to win a championship and to repeat.”
(Update: NBA Playbook takes an in-depth look at Ron Artest guarding Tyreke Evans. Go check it out, Sebastian Pruiti does an absolutely phenomenal job at breaking these things down.)
The Lakers don’t play again until Friday when they’ll be home to Minnesota. They’ll have one more home game on Sunday after their Timberwolves game before going on their third three-game road trip this month.