Some things never change; there’s still that annoying cowbell at Arco Arena, Kobe’s all-around brilliance, Derek Fisher’s clutch shooting and the Lakers reigning supreme over the Kings. The House that Mitch built continued its early season steamrolling of the league tonight, this time knocking off Sacramento 112-100 to improve to 5-0. Let’s take a look at some of the keys to the game…
* His knee is 100%. Or so he says. If you’re the rest of the NBA, you better hope Kobe is telling the truth, because if this is #24 at only 80 or 90%, it’s going to be darn near impossible to knock off L.A. this season. Bryant decided before the game that it was time to turn the Kings’ franchise into his personal playground, pretty much shooting, passing and rebounding at will while Sacramento’s defenders remained mostly helpless for the 36 minutes he was on the floor. The results: 30 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists for Bryant’s 17th career triple double and first since Jan. 21, 2009. Other than a down stretch in the first half of the fourth quarter, Kobe absolutely dominated this game in every which way.
* Admit it; you breathed a sizable sigh of relief when Odom quickly returned after wincing in pain for several minutes during a key stretch the third quarter — apparently the result of re-injuring his thumb. That is how much a consistent Lamar means to this still short-handed Lakers squad right now. Odom is in full beast mode through five games, playing at a level he has historically reserved more for big game atmospheres. Once again, he had the full arsenal on display, tallying 18 points to go along with eight boards.
* The young Kings remind me a little bit of the Thunder in that they’re a talented, hard-working bunch who have shown a lot of potential in a short period of time. With Tyreke Evans at the helm and some promising players like DeMarcus Cousins, they are starting to build a foundation for what could be a very solid team in maybe two years. Even after going down big in the second half, they refused to concede to a clearly superior Lakers team, fighting all the way back to within seven in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. They actually out-hustled the Lakers on the glass, winning the rebounding battle 49-43, including a 12-7 edge in offensive boards. L.A. quickly reminded the Kings, though, that one of the most important attributes to a winning team is poise. It doesn’t hurt to have Derek Fisher on your side either, who did his best impersonation of his fourth quarter performance during Game 3 of last year’s Finals against Boston.
* L.A. closed out quarters and halves just as championship teams are expected to — decisively. Just when you thought Sacramento was about to embark on a game-changing run, there Odom, Fisher and Co. were, quickly erecting brick walls to counteract the Kings’ offense. It was a balanced attack, too, as perhaps for the first time this season, the bench (only 5-19 shooting tonight) wasn’t a key story in deciding the outcome of the game, while all five starters scoring in double figures.
* Guard penetration remains a problem spot for the Lakers. Evans, who was plagued by foul trouble for much of the night, still managed to charge his way down the lane for 21 points, with Francisco Garcia following closely behind with 17 off the bench. You have to think Bynum’s return will rectify this some, but L.A. will eventually find themselves on the other side of victory if they continue to let the Evans’ of the league bobsled their way uncontested through the heart of their defense.
* All things considered, the Lakers mostly aced their first back-to-back test of the season. The requisite energy was there, even if it led at times to a bit of a track meet with the Kings. Letting the Kings and the Arco crowd back into the game is a no no, but the talent disparity between the two teams made up for the L.A.’s defensive lapses in the fourth quarter. It worked tonight and will probably work against a struggling team like the Raptors this Friday, too. Portland on Sunday is another story, though.
* Lastly, congrats to Kobe for breaking the Lakers franchise record for regular-season minutes played tonight, surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s previous record of 37,492. Another game, another amazing career feat for Bryant.