Coming into this game, we all knew that the outcome didn’t count towards anything and that it may affect the intensity level of the players. So, in a game that felt like a scrimmage, it’s only appropriate that two of the Lakers back up players stepped up their games. Pau Gasol may have paced the Lakers in this victory, but it was Shannon Brown and Sasha Vujacic that were the secondary key contributors that drove home the win, 106-100 in the Lakers’ favor.
Stepping in for the injured/resting Kobe Bryant, Shannon did his best Bean impersonation by pouring in 24 points on a team high 19 shots and 61.7% true shooting. But it wasn’t just the points, it was the way that he got them. Shannon brought back some of the WOW plays that gets every fan out of their seat with two tremendous dunks and an “and 1” finish on a fast break where he elevated, took the hit, and then switched hands for a sweet lefty finish. And in the half court, he was also very efficient on his mid range jumper – knocking down several good, in rhythm outside shots that reminds us as to why the coaches show such patience with him. And then there was Sasha. Finally out of the doghouse, the Machine made a reappearance with some heady play and a solid all around performance. Sasha scored a season high 13 points on 5 of 9 from the field. He also grabbed 6 rebounds (4 offensive – including two great put backs), 2 assists, and a steal in his 26 minutes. This wasn’t necessarily an other worldly performance by Sasha, but it was very good to see him get extended minutes and play under control. This is the type of performance that supporters of Vujacic think he’s capable of so it was nice to see him deliver when given the chance.
But even though Sasha and Shannon stole the show, the headlining act was still Pau Gasol. We’re now at the point where it’s easy to say that Pau is playing his best ball of the season – and it couldn’t be coming at a better time as the playoffs approach. Another strong offensive night with 28 points on 12 for 15 from the field for Gasol. And while he had a relatively quiet night on the glass (only 8 rebounds tonight), he did have 3 assists, a block, and many other shots altered as he controlled the paint on both ends of the court against an undersized Kings front court. Pau just continues to show his overall skill level and it really is a great thing to see him start to raise his game as the regular season closes. I think that after missing those regular season games and then having Kobe sit out recently that Pau is finally finding his stride on offense as his timing seems to be getting better and all facets of his offensive game are coming together.
But not everything was all good for the Lakers tonight. Jordan Farmar left the game in the 2nd quarter with a tweaked hamstring and did not return. And even though it’s now being reported that Farmar has a chance of playing in tomorrow’s season finale against the Clippers, it’s never a good thing to have a questionable hammy as the Lakers will need him for an extended playoff run. And there was the shooting performance of Ron Artest. It hasn’t been talked about much recently, but Ron is really struggling with his offensive game lately – especially his three point shooting. He’s now down to 36% from downtown this season and has fallen behind both Farmar and Vujacic as the Lakers’ most accurate shooter of the long ball. His percentage from deep has been falling since the beginning of March and with another 0-3 night from behind the arc against the Kings, this is now getting a bit worrisome. Granted, Ron is still doing a lot of other things well – his defense is still top notch, his rebounding is steady, and his assist numbers are solid – so overall he’s still a positive player for the team (as evidenced by his team high +14 on the night). But in the post season it would be very nice if he could find his comfort level on offense.
As for the Kings, there isn’t much to say besides the fact that they fought hard all the way to the end of this game. With only a couple of minutes left in the contest they were still making shots and at one point cut the Lakers’ lead down to 4 points. But, they just didn’t have enough to break through. Especially since they didn’t have their best player, due to prized rookie Tyreke Evans getting tossed out of the game arguing a non-call on a made lay up. Rookies are rarely players that have earned the right to show up or shout at the officials and in this case Evans was no different than any other first year player (regardless of his status as one of the leagues better talents). So in game #82 for the Kings, Evans hit the showers early and watched from the locker room as his team fell short for the tenth time in eleven games.
In the end, this was a game that had little meaning but still one that can be used as a stepping stone for many of our players. I already mentioned Sasha and Shannon having some much needed success in extended minutes. But there was also the performance of Luke Walton who logged 24 minutes (his most minutes all season) and did a very good job of initiating our sets and keeping the offense moving when he was on the floor. At one point, Luke shared the floor with Farmar, Morrison, LO, and DJ and played a key role in getting everyone involved and organized on offense. And speaking of Congo Cash, Mbenga also had another good game and made his case for being the 4th big man when the playoffs start. All in all, this was a good night that yielded a positive result with the Lakers earning their 57th win of the season. And while everything wasn’t perfect, I can’t complain about that.