You know those wild swings of play we’ve been talking about? Well, tonight we saw an example of the good kind. In a 122-103 victory over the Nuggets, the Lakers once again looked like world beaters that we last saw in Dallas.
Here are some takeaways from the game:
The bench played huge. When the Lakers signed Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks, I’m sure games like this were imagined, but never really considered possible. Jamison was on fire all night, hitting 12 of his 19 shots for a team high (yes, team high) 33 points off the bench. The last time a player came off the bench to score 30 or more points was in 1998 when Shaq came off the pine to drop in 33 points. Jamison canned 5 of his 9 three pointers, but also worked the interior with smart cuts and quick finishes off spoon-fed passes from penetrating guards. To say he was in a groove would be an understatement.
Jodie Meeks was also on fire, hitting 7 of his 9 shots with all of his makes coming from behind the arc for 21 points. Meeks started out hitting catch and shoot threes, but that evolved into him coming off screens as the ball handler and hitting pull up triples and even some heat check threes in transition. The purity of his jumper was on full display and with each make you could see his confidence increase.
Chris Duhon also played pretty well off the pine. His 2-6 shooting is nothing to write home about, but he had 8 assists on the night while tacking on 3 steals. He was a team high +27 and while that wasn’t necessarily because of his play alone, he didn’t take anything off the table tonight and did a good job orchestrating the offense when he initiated sets and seemed to be in the right place on both sides of the ball all night.
Dwight Howard is pretty good. A lot has been made of Dwight’s up and down start to the season, especially his recent play where he’s not gotten a lot of opportunities on offense. That changed tonight as he was the foundation this win was built on. In the first quarter he had 16 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocked shots. He dominated the game from the opening tip and put the Nuggets on their heels from the outset. He worked the low post with a nifty running hook, provided major effort on the offensive glass, and simply owned the Lakers’ defensive paint.
There wasn’t a dribble drive into the key or a shot taken at the rim that Howard wasn’t challenging and that effort set the tone. Before the game Dave McMenamin tweeted that assistant coach Dan D’Antoni wrote a message on the Lakers’ white board for Dwight to “win the damn game” and he came out and did just that. Tonight, he looked like Dwight Howard; he looked like the player the Lakers traded for. He was as dominant as his 28 point, 20 rebound statline would indicate. Oh, and right before the final buzzer, he also looked like Ray Allen.
When the Lakers are making shots, they’re really difficult to beat. Tonight the Lakers were 17-33 behind the arc. Early in the game when Dwight got going the defense adjusted by clogging the middle and surrendering open jumpers. The Lakers, to their credit, knocked them down. And once they started to hit them, the defense really had no answers for how to slow down L.A.’s offense. If they let Howard roll unimpeded he’d have scored 40 points. Instead, they let the outside shooters find their groove and they let the Lakers go for 51 from behind the arc. The more the shots went down the more the Nuggets looked unsure of how to play defense. And, before you knew it, the Lakers were up double digits with a lead that was pretty much safe the rest of the night. The Lakers won’t shoot this well often, but when they even come close to percentages like these while getting Dwight going inside, they are a terror.
Kobe and Pau weren’t at their best and the Lakers still rolled. This may be the biggest takeaway from the night. Kobe was great as a distributor (8 assists) and towards the end of the 1st half he put on a mini show with some made jumpers that extended the Lakers lead. But as the game went on, his shot betrayed him as he seemed to go for the knockout blow with three pointers early in the shot clock, only to miss them. Again, he was fantastic as a set up man, but his 5-15 shooting for 14 points isn’t the type of performance we’ve come to expect from Kobe this year.
As for Pau, he clearly doesn’t have his legs under him and it’s showing in nearly every facet of his game. He has little lift on his rebounds, his defensive stance is too upright, and he’s depending on his arms too much when shooting from anywhere on the floor. Like Kobe, his playmaking was tremendous tonight as he made great pass after great pass to set up wide open looks for his teammates. His 8 assists don’t even tell the entire story for how well he moved the ball and how easy the shots were that came off his passes. And the fact that he chipped in with 7 rebounds (4 offensive) was also positive. But he’s getting by right now on smarts and know how rather than any sort of physical ability. It’d be nice to continue to find times to rest him like D’Antoni did tonight.
The thing is, I say all this about Kobe and Pau and the Lakers still won by nearly 20. I can’t remember the last time those two could combine for 20 points on 22 shots and the Lakers won, much less blew out their opponent.
The defense still needs work. During the game Mike D’Antoni mentioned in his sideline interview and in the huddle that his team seemed to be caught up in how easy they were scoring and it was leading to suspect defensive effort. The Lakers wings seemed to allow penetration almost purposefully to let their bigs clean up behind them and it led to multiple defensive breakdowns on the back end. Too many times the bigs would rotate to help only to find that no one was helping them. This led to the Nuggets getting countless easy baskets right at the rim as the bigs challenged the ball only to see a drop pass off to their man lurking on the baseline. Secondary rotations were also slow back to the perimeter on drive and kicks that led to several open jumpers. Early in the 3rd quarter the Nuggets were still shooting well over 50% and it was not so much because they were hot, but because the Lakers’ D was not doing it’s job on plays with multiple passes. This game could of been over much earlier had the team defended with more urgency.