If blowing out bad teams has a strong correlation to post-season success, the Lakers just took one more step in the right direction in achieving their end of season goal by man handling the Pistons 103-90 on Wednesday night. Because, make no mistake, the Pistons are a bad basketball team and despite a final margin of 13 points this game wasn’t really that close.
The Lakers just had all the answers on a night where the Pistons showed that they could be a game opponent, but didn’t have the staying power to compete for a full contest. They had some spark, but not enough flame to really keep up with a Lakers team that burned white hot for the entire contest – save garbage time when the game was already decided.
The Lakers trio of Kobe, Pau, and Lamar were once again the difference as they scored, passed, and rebounded with ease the entire night. We’ll first discuss Kobe who had an intensity to his game from the opening tip. When the game started he immediately attacked long time nemesis Rip Hamilton and drew a reach in foul when he bodied Rip up. As the whistle blew, Kobe then extended his arm into Hamilton’s chest to seemingly signal that tonight was going to be a real battle. Over the next 3 minutes, Kobe poured in 8 of the Lakers first 11 points, including two three pointers on secondary breaks that showed how into the game he really was. And it would pretty much continue this way the rest of the night for Kobe. He’d attack to get a shot he wanted and walk away with a bucket or a trip to the foul line for his effort, ending up with 33 points on only 20 shots while going a perfect 8 for 8 from the FT line (with 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals for good measure). The only difference between that initial Kobe run and how he reached his final stat line was that it wasn’t Hamilton that was guarding him for his final 25 points. Halfway through the first quarter Rip got inexplicably tossed after getting two quick technicals for arguing a touch foul on a Kobe baseline fade away jumper. Based off how Kobe had it going, I doubt it would have made a difference in either Kobe’s performance or the final outcome had Rip not been excused to the showers, but nevertheless it was a shame to see Hamilton ejected at such an early stage.
Say for a second though, that Hamilton does stay in the game and he expertly defended Kobe the entire night. I’d likely still be writing this same recap because the advantage that Pau and Lamar had over their front court counterparts was gulf like. Both Lakers’ big men went wherever they wanted on the court and got practice quality looks against players that either couldn’t be bothered to defend hard or just didn’t have the skill level to do so effectively. Pau especially looked dominant for long stretches as he displayed his full arsenal of jumphooks (with both hands), turn around jumpers, and face up jumpers from all over court. He expertly sealed fronting defenders and got easy lay ins when the Lakers went to their high low game off of the high post flash by the weak side big. All in all, Pau finished with another double-double, tallying 25 points (on 17 shots) 12 rebounds (2 offensive) and one assist, steal, block, turnover, and personal foul.
And then there was Lamar who is showing little affect of the bone bruise on his foot that he was diagnosed with on Monday. LO too had double digit points and rebounds (15 and 14 respectively) while also dishing out 4 assists on the night. He looked good in the open court and in creating off the dribble and did a good job of initiating the sets when paired with both the starters and the 2nd unit. A good all around game from LO.
Where the Lakers fell short was with their bench production. While Barnes and Caracter did well on the glass throughout the night, the Lakers reserves did struggle to hit shots for most of the evening. Blake, Barnes and Brown combined to go 3 for 13 from the field and if it wasn’t for Caracter’s 3-5 effort from the field, no Lakers’ bench player would have shot over 35% from the field. And while every non-Machine nicknamed player did a good job of running the offense and generating decent shots for themselves and each other, the shots just didn’t fall tonight. (On a side note, Sasha had about as bad a 6 minute stint to close the game that I can recall him playing in recent seasons. Always the gunner, Sasha was seemingly beyond just aggressive and actually came off a bit selfish after he checked into the game. Just a bad night for the Machine.)
In the end though, the bench’s performance wasn’t so poor that it cost the Lakers any points from their lead (at least until those final few minutes in garbage time) and for the most part their professionalism and willingness to do what was needed to keep the game well out of reach is exactly what you want from the reserves in a game like this. Ultimately, the Lakers outclassed the Pistons and while this result could be somewhat predicted, it’s still nice for it to actually happen and for the Lakers’ starters to be able to have ice on their knees while they sit for most of the final frame. If I was mapping out this game beforehand, the result we saw tonight would be exactly what was drawn up and for that I’m quite happy. Now, it’s on to Minnesota for Friday night’s game with the T-Wolves.