When the Lakers had their magnificent summer of acquisitions to form their big four, this was the type of game many envisioned they would have more often. Each player played to their strengths on both sides of the ball, they complimented each other well, and as the game progressed the game became easier and easier as Portland’s defense had few answers for how to contain a such a diverse offensive attack.
Consider the following:
*Dwight Howard brought the type of defensive energy and paint presence on both ends this team sorely needs. All 13 of his shot attempts came in the paint as he dove hard on P&R’s to make himself available for entry passes and worked hard in his post ups to get the type of position that creates easy shots. Defensively, he contested most shots that were taken anywhere near his vicinity, blocking three and altering several others. When you add this work to his activity on the glass (14 total rebounds, 6 offensive), Dwight Howard was the most impactful Laker tonight by a fair margin.
*Steve Nash was the consummate floor general. Though he only made 3 of his 7 field goal attempts (scoring 6 points), he handed out 10 assists and controlled the flow of the game for every minute he was on the floor. Several of his dimes were of the pinpoint variety where only a tiny window existed and perfect timing was needed to make a scoring play and he delivered both. One of his several highlight level passes that stood out was a slick post entry to Kobe who had sealed his man deep on the block along the right lane line. Nash noticed Kobe’s position and angled a skipping bounce pass right beyond the reach of the defender and into Kobe’s hand, leading him into the natural drop step for a finish right at the rim. No other type of pass would have gotten through on that play and Nash made it easily. Nash’s off ball work continued to be excellent as well as he set several good screens to free up teammates and put them in position to score. All in all, his numbers weren’t eye popping, but his impact certainly was.
*Kobe Bryant got to do what he does best: score the ball. His 27 points were a team high and he got them in a variety of ways. Working off the ball and then establishing good position on cuts and post ups, Kobe made all six of his field goal attempts in the restricted area and then sprinkled in some jumpers from wings for good measure. When the defense got out of position, he’d punish them with a quick cut or use their momentum against them to earn trips to the foul line. What also stood out about Kobe’s night, though, was that his decisions with the ball were quick and almost always correct. When the shot was there, he’d take it. But he also moved the ball on to open teammates wonderfully. His four assists weren’t spectacular (though his lob to Darius Morris was highlight worthy) and were mostly the product of him simply hitting the open man on time and on target. Against the Blazers, Kobe was more of a cog in the machine than anything else and the results were him getting his points and the rest of the team getting theirs too. There will be nights he’ll need to take on a bigger burden, but tonight he didn’t have to and he adapted accordingly.
*Pau Gasol is starting to find his game again. His stat line of 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists tell part of the story but not all of it. His points came on a mix of inside and outside play that showed off his flexibility. He knocked down two 3 pointers but also had a couple of nice moves from the post. One play that stood out was a power drive from the right wing in which he drove to the middle, showed the defender the ball ala Hakeem to get him in the air, and then spun back to his right to hit a short shot. Pau’s passing was also sublime as he picked out teammates from the high post like a 7 foot point guard, putting passes on the money so that only his teammate could make the catch while still being in a position to score. Several times he hit Dwight with perfectly tossed lob entries that were either converted for easy baskets or earned him trips to the foul line. Defensively, Pau also did some good things in protecting the rim by tallying 3 blocks. His one on one matchup with Lamarcus Aldridge could have gone better (LMA led Portland with 26 points on 12-17 shooting), but his outburst had a lot to do with him hitting open jumpers out of the pick and pop or when the defense sagged due to dribble penetration. Overall, Pau was solid on D and fantastic on offense and if that continues there’s no reason to think this team would be better without him.
With the Lakers’ big four setting the tone, the rest of the team simply had to fill in the gaps and play to their own strengths. Darius Morris did a good job with his on ball defense of Damian Lillard, helping to hold the rookie to 11 points on only 4-17 shooting. Morris chased him over screens and then adjusted later by going under the picks when Lillard’s jumper wasn’t falling. He also pressured him all over the floor and did a good job of funneling him towards help. Jodie Meeks hit 3 of his 6 three point attempts and played with his typical hustle on both sides of the ball. And speaking of hustle, Jordan Hill had another good night, scoring 8 points and grabbing 8 rebounds while providing good help defense on the back line.
And with the Lakers’ stars playing well and their role players also carrying their weight, one of the best parts of this game was the fact that they were able to rest their starters down the stretch. Portland saving their starters for their game tomorrow night certainly aided in Kobe, Dwight, and Nash not playing a single 4th quarter minute, but that’s besides the point. The Lakers’ starters need to get rest whenever they can and this game provided an opportunity to do so. The fact that it wasn’t wasted was one of the highlights.
All in all, this was a game the Lakers can build on. Portland isn’t a great team by any means, but you can only play the team in front of you and the Lakers did a good job of getting a much needed win and doing so in convincing fashion. Every night won’t be this easy but the Lakers can use this template of energy, defensive attentiveness, and offensive diversity to win games that will be much tighter against teams that are much better than this Blazer one. Hopefully, this type of effort continues.