The Lakers got off the schneid for the 2013 calendar year, beating the Cavs 113-93. The win not only gave the Lakers their first of the year, but also stopped their 6 game slide that represented their low point of the season (even though they played very good teams in that stretch). But enough about the past, the Lakers won!
The Lakers set the tone early in this one, jumping out to a 37-20 lead after the first quarter and never looking back. Kobe Bryant was especially potent in the first frame, racking up 12 points on 4-6 shooting, including the return of the touch on his deep jumper by canning both of his 3 pointers. It wasn’t just Kobe’s scoring that set the tone, however. He also racked up 5 of his 6 total assists in the period, picking out teammates for good looks that they converted.
Two of those Kobe assists went to Dwight Howard, who was activated right before the game after sitting out 3 contests due to his bum shoulder. Kobe picked out Dwight right under the rim for two relatively easy finishes, plays that not only helped set the tone for how the Lakers wanted to attack a soft Cavalier interior but also to get Howard going in his return to action. Dwight, for what it’s worth, returned looking better than he has in some of the recent games he did play in. Playing with a spring in his step and a bounce in his legs, Dwight was making plays on both sides of the ball that we can only hope become more prevalent as the season wears on.
Howard wasn’t perfect by any means (his 7 turnovers are a prime example), but he was active in the paint and set the tone for how the Lakers would play inside. He attacked the ball both when it left a Cavalier’s hand and when it caromed off the rim as his 14 rebounds (4 offensive) reflect. When operating in the P&R, he rolled to the rim with good authority, snagging lobs from Nash that he was able to convert for easy baskets or pass back out to shooters. Overall, it was good to see Dwight back on the floor and play more like himself — though there’s still room for him to improve physically and continue to find his game.
Beyond Kobe and Dwight, the Lakers’ role players also stepped up tonight. Antawn Jamison had a good shooting night, making 5 of his 7 shots (4-5 from three point range) to score 16 points. Darius Morris also shot the ball well, scoring 14 points on only 9 shots (2-4 from three). Morris also played well on defense, playing tight on Kyrie Irving when they were matched up, chasing him around picks and pestering him around the perimeter. Irving still had some good plays, but his 15 points came on 15 shots and the Lakers were able to keep him out of the paint for most of the night and off the foul line entirely.
Earl Clark also had his second really good game in the last three contests. Using his athleticism to slide into open spaces and nice balance on his jumper, Clark finished well all over the floor to the tune of 13 points on 9 shots. Clark also contributed well on the glass, grabbing 9 rebounds while also continuing to flash good defensive instincts by blocking 3 shots. And while I’m preaching a tempered approach to Clark’s recent string of good play, what’s abundantly clear is that he has an athletic quality that this Laker team doesn’t have a lot of and by playing hard he’s able to make the plays in front of him.
In the end, the Lakers still have a ways to go, with their 22 turnovers and some open jumpers that were surrendered but went unconverted by Cleveland a couple of the black marks in this one. But, as we’ve been saying all year, a win is a win and beggars can’t be choosers at this point. They’ll get a chance to turn this win into a streak on Tuesday against the Bucks.