Without Kobe Bryant for the 5th straight game, the Lakers sought their 4th straight win and got it taking down the Mavs 112-108. The win gave the Lakers a season sweep over Dallas and bumped their lead to 1.5 games in the Pacific Division over the Clippers. The Lakers seem to be finding their stride right now and in doing so, set up Kobe to come back to a primed team that looks like it can make some noise in the playoffs.
This was a great game to watch. It helped that the Lakers won, but just consider these things: the game, as it got going, had some playoff level intensity for two teams that are still battling for positioning in the west; the game went to overtime and had some fantastic shot making from both sides and some big defensive stops down the stretch; there were 17 lead changes in the back and forth affair with neither team really gaining an advantage for the final quarter plus overtime.
From the Lakers side, it’s difficult to come up with a player that didn’t impact the game in some positive way. Steve Blake’s boxscore shows 4 points and 2 assists, but he played hard on D chasing a red hot Jason Terry off shots that, based of how he was playing, likely would have gone in. Josh McRoberts was more productive – in terms of raw stats – than usual, scoring 8 points and grabbing 4 rebounds in his 17 minutes of burn while also bringing his usual energy and aggressiveness. He also had a nifty bounce pass on a high/low entry to Bynum that led to FT’s that was quite memorable for it’s precision. Only players with good feel can make that pass and McRoberts certainly has that.
When looking at the rest of the players that saw action, you could pull any name from the hat and find that he helped secure the victory in a major way…
- Ramon Sessions had 22 and 5 on the night and was huge down the stretch of regulation. He scored 5 points in the final three and a half minutes and without that burst of O, there likely isn’t an overtime and the Lakers lose in regulation.
- Andrew Bynum didn’t have the best shooting night (9-24) in getting his 23 points, but he made 4 of his 7 shots in the 4th quarter and overtime, scoring 10 points along the way. His final basket was his biggest, though, as he knocked down a sweet turnaround jumper from the a step inside the foul line, getting separation from Haywood after a hard shoulder fake that’s become a staple of his growing arsenal. When you add in his 16 boards and the fact that he did all his work with an upper respiratory infection, he deserves his due even though is overall efficiency on O left us wanting.
- Ron Artest had another good scoring night with 18 points, though he needed 20 shots to get them. He did chip in 6 rebounds and 4 assists too. But, it was his 2nd half defense that was a difference maker. In the 1st half, Delonte West had 16 points on 8 for 11 shooting, doing most of his damage in the P&R as his man got caught on picks without recovering. In the 2nd half and overtime, Delonte West had 4 points on 1-4 shooting. What changed? Ron Artest guarded him in that second half, that’s what. Of course the team D was better on West as well, but it started with Ron fighting over screens, using active hands to disrupt passing angles, and basically making it hard for West to even catch the ball.
- Pau Gasol put up 20 and 10 but hit the two biggest shots of the game – back to back three pointers(!), both of which turned one point deficits into two point leads.
- Matt Barnes flirted with a triple double finishing with 11 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists by playing his typical scrappy, heady game. But it was the defensive play he made on the Mavs’ final possession that will be remembered most. With Dallas only trailing by 2, they ran a P&R with Jason Terry finding daylight to the rim with no one in his way. Barnes rotated to him at the last second, made him double clutch, and ultimately bothered the shot enough that Terry missed right at the rim. The game easily could have been tied and headed to a 2nd OT had Barnes not stepped up, but he did.
Of course not everything was perfect in this game and there are still things the Lakers must do better. Their P&R defense still needs a lot of work as Bynum – especially in the 1st half – sat well below the screen and gave up countless mid-range jumpers that were made too often. When you combine Bynum’s hanging back with Sessions going under screens all too often, the result was even more open jumpers. And when guys weren’t going under screens, they were getting caught on them way too easily, often times forcing a switch that left small on big and vice versa. Down the stretch Dirk got several good looks taking jumpers against Sessions because Ramon couldn’t get over the screen and ended up having to stay on Dirk.
The offense also took a fair amount of time to find any sort of rhythm. Early on, the sets were disjointed as the bigs didn’t fight for post position and the ball didn’t move well enough to make a sagging defense pay. The Lakers also looked all too eager to shoot the first shot that seemed open rather than working for a better one, only to later pass up good shots in order to move the ball on to less open teammates (this was especially true with the 2nd unit). Over time this was smoothed out (especially in the 3rd quarter where Ron really got going) but it was a bit concerning to see them struggle with the same defensive scheme they’ve seen from the Mavs all year.
In the end though, this was a great game for the Lakers that shouldn’t be nit picked too much. They played without Kobe and got their 4th straight win (and 3rd straight over a playoff team). If they can continue to fine tune their defense and focus on getting good shots on offense, this team really is dangerous.