As I said after the Wizards game and again after the Sixers game: any win the Lakers can get right now is a good one. So, in that sense, the Lakers should feel good about being ahead when the final buzzer sounded. Every win means something to a team that dug themselves a big hole in the standings and in winning their 3rd straight game, the Lakers are starting to inch closer to being .500 and turning a corner.
That said, this game also showed there’s a lot to work on.
Defensively the Lakers weren’t rewarded for an early solid effort as the Bobcats found ways to hit contested jumpers. At the start of the game it was Byron Mullens hitting nearly everything he through up and later in the first period he was joined by Kemba Walker. The Lakers were in position to contest these shots but they just happened to fall anyway.
As the game progressed, however, the Lakers’ defensive intensity fell off and the Bobcats took full advantage by hitting the shots that weren’t guarded. In the 2nd quarter the Bobcats scored 33 points, mostly on the type of open looks that any professional basketball player would be poised to hit. Players who are not necessarily known for their jumpers — Gerald Henderson and Ramon Sessions, for example — got free and hit shots. Bismack Biyombo got open under the rim and converted his shots. Kemba Walker continued his early effectiveness by getting into the paint and hitting floaters, blowing by defenders in the process.
Simply put, after the Lakers dug in defensively to end the 1st quarter with a lead, complacency set in. They seemed to believe they’d win this game simply by being on the court. The Bobcats responded by showing that wouldn’t be the case by pushing the ball at them in the open court and moving the ball around the floor to find the open man. Into the 3rd period the Lakers still seemed to think they’d be okay by only defending half heartedly and the Bobcats’ lead swelled to 18 points. Boos rained down and frustration set in. The Lakers looked like they were going to give the Bobcats their first win in 12 games.
Until, of course, the Lakers decided they’d play hard and execute on both sides of the ball again. What was an 18 point deficit turned into an 8 point Laker lead after a 30-4 run. The Lakers clamped down on defense, made smart decisions on offense, and showed they were a class above. Multiple players were key to this run but I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up Darius Morris and his defense on both Ramon Sessions and Kemba Walker. Single game plus/minus isn’t always the best tool but Morris’ +20 in comparison to Duhon’s -21 do tell a story of who was more effective tonight, especially on defense.
Down the stretch of the game, however, the Bobcats continued to scrap and stay in it. What was an 8 point lead would be tied with only a minute and thirty seconds left in the game. In those last 90 seconds, however, the Lakers were able to pull out the win. Kobe hit a driving lay up to give the Lakers a two point lead. A pull up jumper on the Lakers next possession would push the lead to four. However, on the Bobcats next possession a Ramon Sessions drive turned into a three point play as Dwight Howard goaltended the shot after the whistle blew calling a foul on the Lakers. On the ensuing Laker possession Kobe would miss a forced jumper off the pick and roll and the ‘Cats would have one last chance.
On that final defensive possession the Lakers did many things wrong but not as many as the snake-bitten Bobcats. As you can see in the video below, the Bobcats got multiple good looks at the basket only to miss them all. Most heart breaking for them was Gerald Henderson’s missed lay in that inexplicably rolled out.
In the end, the Lakers dodged a bullet. They’ll take the win, but must also understand that they will need to play better if they want to keep getting the W’s.
Some additional notes:
*Pau’s first game back was a mixed bag in terms of his own offense as he only went 3-10 from the field. Basically, he looked like a guy who hadn’t played in a couple of weeks. That said, he looked good physically. On one sequence he had back to back blocked shots and then hit a turnaround jumper on the ensuing offensive possession. He also showed that despite the layoff he hadn’t lost his feel for passing as he handed out several nice assists, including a lob to Dwight on a fast break where they passed the ball back and forth with Pau delivering the final one to a soaring Howard.
*Ron began this game on the bench and it looks like that will remain the case moving forward, playing power forward almost exclusively. Ron still played 36 minutes and closed the game ahead of Gasol so it’s not like his minutes suffered tonight. Ron also had a high volume shooting night (18 FGA’s in all) so his new role didn’t lead to any offensive passivity. What this shift did do, however, is remove Jamison from the rotation for the night (and for the foreseeable future, it seems) as Ron and Pau got all the PF minutes.
*Ebanks started the game, but Meeks started the 2nd half. D’Antoni continues to search for a capable lineup that can play both ends well enough and Meeks seems to be a key to that. With Ebanks struggling from the floor in the 1st half, Jodie got the call in the 2nd half and delivered relatively well on offense and defense. Moving forward, with Ron on the bench, I would not be surprised to see Meeks start games with Kobe sliding up to SF.
*Don’t look now but Dwight Howard is making his free throws. After going 6-8 against the ‘Cats, he’s made 36 of his last 56 FT’s (64.3%). If he can hover around that 60% mark from the line, he’s a much more dangerous offensive player. Oh, and he also 16 points and 18 rebounds (9 offensive) on the night. Turnovers remain an issue for Dwight (and that goaltend made the game closer than it needed to be) but he’s progressing in some of the areas the team needs him to.
*Kobe scored 30 points for the 7 straight game, the only player over 34 years old to ever achieve the feat. Which also means the Lakers have now won 3 straight games in which he scored over 30 after starting the season 1-10 in those games.