Lakers/Hornets: Rediscovering A Winning Formula

Darius Soriano —  December 29, 2010
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Needless to say, we’ve been waiting for a night like this since last week (though it feels like much longer).  The Lakers played smart, focused basketball and took down the Hornets 103-88 to end their three game slide and regain some of the mojo that’s been lost of late.  This isn’t to say that the Lakers are all the way back, but this was a nice first step towards finding their stride after stumbling along in so recent many games.

When you have a dominating performance like the Lakers had, there’s usually many reasons for it and it’s tough to pinpoint one (or even two) reasons why.  And in pouring over the boxscore, this game would seem to be no different as the Lakers controlled the game statistically in many key areas.  But, for me, it’s easy to find the key to the game and what changed from recent contests: the Lakers went back to last year’s formula of big man dominance.

In a departure from what Phil and the coaches had been saying since his return, Bynum was unexpectedly placed in the starting lineup and his presence immediately paid dividends.  Big ‘Drew clogged the defensive paint, altered shots when involved in screen and rolls, and overall just provided very good activity on the defensive end.  But beyond just being big and active on D, he was effective on offense by providing the Lakers with another primary post up option.  Bynum scored 18 points on a variety of straight post ups and interior finishes after teammate penetration.  Several times he worked hard to get deep position and again showed that there’s little substitute for sheer size as he easily finished over the top of the Hornets after making catches off passes thrown at rim level.

The other benefit of Bynum’s presence was the proper slotting of the other Laker big men.  Playing a lot of PF, Gasol found his groove again on offense.  Able to more freely slide around the court and not have to consistently bang in the post, Pau found creases in the Hornets’ defense to get off a handful of good shots and earn trips to the FT line.  The big Spaniard may have only finished with 11 points, but he did it on just 5 shots from the field and looked as fresh as he has in weeks when he drove to the hoop for his rolling hook or cut from the weak side to receive a pass.

But while Bynum was an anchor with Pau complementing him wonderfully, the star of the front court was Lamar Odom.  In past years, it’s been no secret that when Odom plays well the Lakers become nearly unbeatable.  This year, with Bynum out, that became less true because LO’s contributions as a starter became more of a necessity than a luxury as the Lakers have needed him to perform to be competitive night in and night out.  Tonight, though, LO was able to slide back into his natural role of super sixth man and take over the game from a reserve role.  Odom came off the pine and didn’t miss a beat, leading the Lakers in scoring with 24 points (on only 15 shots) and sporting a +20 in plus/minus for the game.  Odom simply did everything on offense and flashed the brilliance of his all-around game as he knocked down a three, drove for easy finishes, posted up, and gobbled up offensive rebounds for put backs.  He even had the highlight of the night with a fast break play where he went behind his back, finger rolled a ball that back ironed, and then followed his own miss with a tip jam.

Not to be left out, the Lakers guards also played well.  A night after taking on the heavy lifting and firing up a lot of shots, Kobe let the offense come to him scoring a relatively easy 20 points on only 14 attempts from the field.  Several times he drew in the defense only to make a great pass that may not have been an assist, but rather the pass the set up the sequence that led to the basket.  Derek Fisher also played a very controlled game to very good results.  Fish rarely forced a play the entire night and ended the night making 4 of his 6 shots (9 points) and led the team in assists with 8 dimes.  He consistently made the right reads and often times penetrated the D with the expressed purpose of setting up a teammate.

This game wasn’t just about the individual play put forth by key players.  This was a team effort that reminded us of how good the Lakers can be when they get back to doing the little things well on both sides of the ball.  Defensively the Lakers were much more active.  The lack of outside shooting by the Hornets allowed the Laker wings to dig down on the post and better close off driving lanes by helping off their men.  When the ball did rotate back out to the perimeter, the Lakers generally closed out well and contested shots (though they were better contesting mid range jumpers than they were the long ball).  Even though Chris Paul was able to get his numbers (20 points, 7 assists), he never seemed like he was going to take over the game. I thought the Lakers did a pretty good job of making his life hard by battling him for the real estate he wanted to get to and contesting once he got there, limiting his ability to be both a scorer and distributor.  And while David West was bothered by a first half ankle sprain, the Lakers also did a good job of making him work to get his shots and making him shoot contested jumpers while limiting his post chances with the aforementioned dig downs by wings.  So from a team wide perspective, I thought the Lakers executed the defensive game plan very well, and it showed up statistically as they held the Hornets to 41.8% shooting and then cleaned up the glass, limiting the Hornets to 6 offensive rebounds on their 46 missed field goals.

Offensively, the Lakers were also much more crisp than they’ve been in long while.  The ball moved freely from one side of the court to the other.  The better ball movement meant that post ups were more easily set up as the Hornets were caught in the paint showing help on the strong side, only to have a ball reversal give the Laker’ big men easy inside position as they pinned their men.  There was no better example of this than on a play where Kobe had the ball on the right wing and after drawing the defense in while backing his man down, he skipped the ball to D-Fish on the other side of the court who then touch passed the ball to Bynum, who was 4 feet from the hoop getting rebounding position on Kobe’s original set up for a shot.  This entire sequence of the ball switching sides and Bynum getting a lay-in took all of 3-4 seconds and exemplified the greater commitment to ball and player movement that’s been lacking.  There’s a reason that the Lakers shot 58.6% from the floor even though they only made 5 of their 17 three pointers (29.4%).  They got the ball inside by being (mostly) patient, playing together, and working the offense.

This game wasn’t all positives, though.  The Lakers, at times, were pretty careless with the ball and committed 20 turnovers on the night.  Kobe alone had 7 miscues, mostly of the ball handling and offensive foul variety.  Matt Barnes had a late game ejection after he pushed a Hornet to the ground after committing a turnover of his own.  In the end though, these were relatively minor transgressions when looking at the big picture.  When you win by double digits and control the game from the opening tip to the closing whistle, it’s always a good night.  And when that type of performance comes on the heels of several consecutive stinkers, it’s even better.  I’m in no way ready to say that this game has the Lakers back to where they need to be, but it’s a great first step and that’s really all I was looking for before this game started.  Now, the work of building on this performance begins.

Darius Soriano

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27 responses to Lakers/Hornets: Rediscovering A Winning Formula

  1. How much is Kobe’s hand affecting him? He’ll never admit it, but I’m feeling that it’s nearing what Bird’s hands were like, and unfortunately also approaching it in level of gravity, making me almost think that it’s going to be his shooting hand, not his knees that will force him to call quits.

  2. Did Bynum look as good as his stat line indicates?

  3. Harold, that was a point I made in an older thread. It’s obvious to me that Kobe’s limited by his finger injury. He’s so good that he can still play at a very high level on many nights, but very good defenders give him problems, and now we’re seeing guys like Dejuan Blair (and the scrub who stole the ball from Kobe from a seated position in a game last week) poking the ball away from him with ease. In addition, he’s getting called for carrying the ball every game now as his ballhandling is just not as smooth as it used to be.

  4. @4. Isn’t it odd that superstars have off nights? I thought they were supermen, not mere humans. I guess those five rings cloud our thinking sometimes.

  5. Is it not odd that we laker fans are the most spoiled NBA fans? In the past thirty years or so how many time did the Lakers miss the playoffs? In the past 14 seasons that Kobe played with the lakers how many times have he helped us play for the championship? And in those times that he played for the championship how many times did he bring home the trophy for us fans? Is it not odd that at the start of the season when the lakers are winning (remember the game vs the wolves) we were still complaining? And when the team started losing we fans started to whine about how kobe takes too many shots, how soft Pau is, how Lamar is playing inconsistent, how Artest is lost in the offense and Fisher is old and should retire? Well the team has won one game in a convincing fashion and maybe it is time for us Laker fans and laker media to ride along with our team in high time or low time. To criticize is one thing but to bash our players is another.

  6. #5,

    I wouldn’t waste your time with Kobe haters. They are an irrational bunch and don’t respond nicely to reasoned analysis.

  7. It was nice to see the team play a little bit better, but as you mentioned, still sloppy. Also, the Hornets team shouldnt be considered a top flight team. They’ve been struggling mightily as of late. I’m quite happy to be off the losing streak and it’s nice again to see glimpses of our potential. But what does it take to bring it consistently? I liked seeing Big Drew back in the starting lineup. To be championship caliber i think we need him playing well, not just as a body. Let’s improve on this. A championship comes through our towers.

  8. @4.

    So by your logic, what would a night where Kobe Bryant shoots 6-24 result in? How about a fifth ring.

    Isn’t that odd?

  9. Darius,

    Let me agree with you in a slighly different way. Most important to me, this was a recognizable Laker team playing good basketball. They were consistent, starters and renegades both playing their roles as expected.

    The notable event that seemed to restore normality to the Lakers was long awaited: the first game this season that Andrew started–and he looked like a starter.

    On an individual level, using a five star rating system, I’d give Andrew a 4–which is really remarkable considering the few games he has played this season. Lamar, back on the Renegades, seemed right at home, and had one of his more frequent 5 star games this year–showing that he might well deserve all star status at the break.

    I’d rate everyone else 3 stars or below: Pau, Artest, Fisher, Blake, Shannon, Barnes all earning solid 3’s.

    That leaves Kobe with just two stars.

    Unlike the night before, Kobe made a good percentage of a limited number of shots. Even Phil would have probably passed him the ball. Unfortunately Kobe remains a turnover machine who almost singlehandedly kept the Hornets in the game in the first half.

    Somehow, Kobe needs to realize that these other players don’t need a superhero to save them–they need a teammate.

  10. ironic dwade & lebron ain’t never bitchin’over non-calls.I ll take a wild guess,refs never miss the calls it seems 🙂

  11. Too sloppy for my taste. Too many turnovers. Naulins was over matched. We should have beat them by 30.

    Kobe is not getting calls. Period. He carried over the second time but CP3 did it all game. Lamar doesn’t get calls but he has learned to take it in stride. Kobe take a lesson.

    Trevor should never have left the Lakers. I feel sorry for him, he has regressed to his pre-Laker form. N.O. is too small to be considered a contender. Miami is small but atheletic. N.O. is just small.

    I loved it when PJ benched ShanWow for not running the offense and taking quick shots in the fourth quarter. He brought Kobe back in but that would have been a perfect time for Sasha. Oh wait, we traded him. Where was Luke?

    I thought we traded Sasha for Joe Smith. Where is he? In the DLeague with Ebanks?

  12. It was nice to see the Lakers score 100 points. If they can get their defense back into form and average 105ppg the rest of the season they should be able to reel off a lot of wins.

  13. The Dude,
    The Spurs announcers made a similar comment the other night, when discussing Ginobili’s defense on Kobe. I think that the league is catching on.

  14. I’m thinking the same, Kobe’s handle definitely has suffered. I think Darius wrote it here, Kobe’s willingness to play off the ball will be key. That’s not to say that he isn’t good enough anymore to create on his own, but rather for him to trust the offense, use ball movement to shift the defense and produce an opportunity from which to attack, rather than creating one from scratch with his direct defender in front of him and help defense set up. Kobe just by his presence (and reputation) will force defenses to always pay attention and allow more space for others, especially when passing and cutting.

    What I’m a little bit concerned about as well is Kobe’s defense on the ball, particularly in pick-and-rolls. Maybe someone with access to Synergy can prove or disprove me, but to my eye it seems that he has almost given up on fighting through screens (couldn’t see the Hornets game, I’m basing this on the few games before the most recent). Part of it may be concern for his hand, or regular season effort as compared to play-off effort, where he’d probably fight harder.

    Since Kobe is also not the fastest to recover, it forces the bigs to hedge longer and further down, the help-side sinking in to the paint to help on the roll man, leading to all kinds of switches or open shots on the weak side. I’m complaining on a high level here considerig all the good stuff Kobe does for the Lakers, but as a leader his lack on effort in this department combined with him dominating the offense too much at times might lead to some frustration and consequent lack of effort in other players.

  15. People bashing Kobe on here make me sick, you have been spoiled by seeing Kobe play for all these years that now you expect perfection from him instead of understand that players have off games and go through tough stretches where they make mistakes. If Lebron James has 7 turnovers do people say “He’s over the hill” or “He needs to play within the offense” or this or that? NO, they accept it is a part of being the primary initiator on the offensive end and give him the ball the very next game and let him do his thing. OH btw did you know Lebron averages close to one more turnover than Kobe does? Kobe is responsible for creating so much of the offense of this team, either in the triangle or not that he will make mistakes but it is so asinine for any of us to bash him when the past two years he led this team to a title. Yes he shot poorly against the Spurs the other night but he typically makes those shots, and he even said it that he needs to just make shots. Kobe is 3rd in the league in being responsible for his team’s points by either creating for others or scoring on his own, I can’t remember who number 1 was but Lebron was number 2. Seriously people take a deep breath and look at some statistics and look at the season as a whole, a poor shooting night one night and a few turnovers above your average another night doesn’t mean this guy isn’t still the best shooting guard in the league.

    14. No offense I think the Spurs announcers were horrible (I’m looking at you Sean Elliot) he ranks up there with Matt Harpring for me doing Jazz Games. They bash Kobe more than most announcers do because they don’t like the fact that Kobe destroyed them during their own playing careers, a little too partial to announce games.

  16. Oh Kobe bashing. This same kind of bashing happened last April when the Lakers were struggling, and then the playoffs happened and Kobe went into fifth gear. Give the guy a break all, I don’t exactly see what everyone gets out of bashing one player or the other. Is it because you feel inferior as a human being and need to manufacture hate to keep your life interesting. Let’s talk basketball and stop worrying about end of legacies.

  17. As for Kobe’s hand problems…he should just try to get it fixed after this season–get surgery and rehab, betting that the lockout will buy him several extra months in the off-season. That may help to prolong his career in the long run.

  18. The Lakers have a way of making entry passes into the post and from those initial passes initiating quick, crisp ball movement that usually results in high percentage shots. Last night, they were able to do this. The haters on the blog have been saying that, during the losing streak, the Laker guards were not feeding the post and were not running the offense. This assumes that the Heat and the Spurs allowed them that choice. Good teams are figuring out how to clog passing lanes to the post and are getting the Lakers out of their offense early in the shot clock. Even when they were able to feed the post, Gasol was pushed out of ideal low post position and was left to dribble around for 10 seconds somewhere in no man’s land somewhere between the high and low post. My question is do the Lakers’ have a scheme in place when teams give them this defensive look? Seems like that is Jackson’s job.

  19. oldie,
    Kobe’s finger problems are no longer fixable. He now has arthritis in the shooting finger and it won’t go away.

  20. #15. Kaifa,
    I looked up Kobe’s numbers via Synergy. When guarding the ball handler on P&R’s he’s allowing .68 points per play, good for 23rd in the league. Mind you, these numbers only track when the ball handler shoots the ball, so these numbers are likely skewed in Kobe’s favor since they don’t take into account times that he doesn’t defend the play well but the ball handler elects to pass rather than shoot (likely because another Laker had to help and thus an open teammate is now available). However, all in all, that’s a great number even though Synergy says that he’s only been involved in 57 such plays (again, where the ball handler actually shot the ball).

    On a side note, Kobe also still shows high level defense in isolation situations (.69 points per play/37th in the league) and when guarding players coming off screens (1.13 points per play/59th in the league). Where Kobe is still quite poor on defense is when he’s guarding “spot up” plays. In those situations he’s giving up 1.16 points per play, ranking 229th in the league. This matches up with what we see nightly where Kobe loves to help off his man (even if that guy is a good shooter), often leaving him open to shoot spot up jumpers. For comparison’s sake, Ron Artest is only giving up .86 points per play in spot up situations which is good for 60th in the league. (On another side note, Artest has greatly picked up his defense of late as his Synergy numbers now say that he’s once again one of the best defenders in the league. Overall he’s only giving up .77 points per play which is good for 45th in the league. Considering the talent he faces nightly, that’s a pretty good number.)

  21. lakers884,
    If the Lakers are going to get to the level they are capable of, and be serious contenders for a title, they need to look at all areas that need improvement, and do what they can to address them. That includes Kobe. There has been plenty of criticism of the other players, too.

  22. ekhelodrvr, Has there been? I’m pretty sure you along with many others have been Kobe bashing since the Spurs game. So quit beating on the drum and talk about other players if you really think other players have issues too.

  23. lakers8884,
    Go back and read the posts. You will see plenty of them that are critical of Gasol, Artest, Odom, Fisher, Blake, and Jackson, as well as Kobe.

    When a team is struggling, the first steps that should be taken are the easy, obvious ones. In the Lakers case, it has been very noticeable that they are not playing within their systems. Kobe is one of the biggest culprits there; his leadership position demands that he be setting the example in that regard. And that’s a low-hanging fruit – it doesn’t require any personnel changes, rotation changes, etc. So that should be the first change made. And he should lead the way.

  24. I used to question people when they criticized Lakers fans for being way too protective of Kobe, but judging by the responses here it’s hard to say they are wrong. Why can’t we just admit when Kobe isn’t playing well? Honestly, we can point to him and/or Pau being the main reason we’ve lost at least half of the games we’ve lost so far.

    Yes he’s the great Kobe Bryant and I love watching him play, but lets be honest, he isn’t playing at an elite level right now. No excuses.

  25. It isn’t bashing when the change in his game is so noticeable from the way he was playing in December 2009. He was playing heads and shoulders above everyone else before Farmar’s wonderful lead pass, which he continued to make throughout the rest of the season. I sometimes wonder if those crappy passes that continued to endanger Kobe’s fingers were another reason the team let him walk. It’s pretty simple: Kobe needs to let the offense come to him more, now that his handle doesn’t let him beat guys in isolation the way he could a year ago. In my opinion, his knees are fine, and his athleticism hasn’t dropped off as much as the national commentators say. The fingers on his right hand are the culprit, especially the index.

  26. I strongly believe Kobe was having considerable pain in his mangled fingers these past few games, especially when he lost his composure and committed notable turnovers. I know he handles pain extremely well but he’s still human and people tend to become overly sensitive to stimulus when suffering. His whining with the refs is equivalent to children becoming fussy when sick.

  27. Kobe has always tended to carp at officials – bad habit, but not new.

    Kobe’s finger is noticeably bothering him and he will have to adjust his game to manage this. We are just used to him making up a shot in practice and then using it that night in a game – see Devon George comment – so we don’t really understand why he doesn’t make his adjustments immediately.