Lakers/Bucks: Kobe and Dwight Set the Tone

Darius Soriano —  January 15, 2013

The Lakers were able to hold off and then run away from a solid Bucks team, ultimately earning a convincing win 104-88. The win gave the Lakers their first back to back wins since their Christmas Day win over the Knicks and established a bit of momentum as they head into a Thursday game against the Heat.

Ultimately, this victory was the product of the Lakers two best players not only playing like it, but also proving to be the two best players on the floor. Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant both scored 31 points and did so very efficiently by only taking a combined 37 shots from the field. And with Dwight adding 16 rebounds and 4 blocks while Kobe chipped in 6 assists and a couple of boards of his own, the duo made an impact in ways that went beyond their ability score the ball.

Their impact was especially present on the defensive side of the ball.

Kobe again set the tone by guarding the opposing PG, helping to hold Brandon Jennings to 12 points on 14 shots by harassing him all over the floor. Kobe picked up Jennings full court on many possessions, denying him the ball entirely or at least making him use up precious seconds on the shot clock before initiating the Milwaukee offense. When the Bucks did get into their sets, Kobe hounded Jennings around picks and muscled him off the ball to make every catch difficult and every move contested. By the time Jennings got up a lot of his shots, Kobe was right there to challenge it or had moved him into a position where a make was less likely. Just a tremendous job by Bean all night.

And Dwight was just as good on the back end of the D. Besides a few goaltending calls where Dwight was just a hair late in swatting the ball away, his rim protection was nearly flawless. I already mentioned his 4 blocks, but it was the shots he changed and deterred that really made the difference. Guys simply never felt that comfortable trying to finish in the paint while Dwight was in the game. He stepped up early and made the Bucks think about whether they should shoot or pass and that split second of hesitation often caused a shot to go awry or it gave the Lakers’ wings time to recover to shooters around the arc.

Of course, not everything was clean and precise about the Lakers’ D in this one. With Dwight roaming to block shots, perimeter defenders scrambling to rotate to shooters, and Steve Nash strategically placed on a bigger man, the team’s work on the defensive glass was pretty bad (and that might be understating it). The Bucks grabbed 21 offensive rebounds in this game, and while some of them were simply the product of them missing a bunch of shots (they clanked 61 of their 95 field goals) and some bounces just going their way, many of the ORebs were due to them outworking the Lakers and beating them to spots while the defense was shifting around.

Overall, however, the Lakers’ offense was more than good enough to make up for their lapses on the glass and the occasional missed rotation. As mentioned, Dwight and Kobe were tremendous in setting the tone on offense, hitting the shots that were available to them at a tremendous rate. But one of the reasons that both could be so efficient was because the team as a whole moved the ball extraordinarily well, consistently hitting the open man with the quick extra pass. The Lakers totaled 30 assists on their 42 made baskets, but were even better than that early in the game when they tallied 21 dimes on 23 makes.

Steve Nash was in the middle of it all with his 11 assists, consistently probing the defense to draw defenders and then picking out the open man or simply making a quick read early in a possession and picking out the scoring threat with a pinpoint pass. Besides Nash, though, Earl Clark (4), Jamison (3), and Ron (3) also chipped in with heady plays, making the right read and the moving the ball onto a teammate who was in position to do something with it.

If there was a downside to this game it came late in the 1st period as Mike D’Antoni put in a lineup without any of the Lakers big 3. The Lakers had built up a solid lead to start the game, but once the all reserve unit came in the team struggled to score (only putting up 4 points over the last 3 minutes of the period) and saw that early cushion evaporate. That Bucks push (along with their relentlessness on the O-glass) kept them in the game the rest of the half and drew out the tension in this game. However, later in the game, D’Antoni didn’t take the same risks with his lineup and made sure that at least on of the Kobe/Dwight/Nash trio was on the floor the entire second half. And besides a sluggish end to the 3rd quarter, these units did the job and were able to keep the Bucks at bay before a run through the first part of the 4th quarter broke the game open.

Ultimately, this game was won the way the Lakers will need to win games from now through the end of the year. They picked up their defensive intensity and then shared the ball offensively. Dwight and Kobe set the tone early and carried that intensity and energy through the rest of the contest whenever they were on the floor. This game offers the blueprint moving forward. Surely they’ll still have their bad games and there will be mistakes along the way, but for the first time all year this game actually feels like the foundation the team can build on. There were some things to clean up for sure, but the effort and teamwork on both sides was there and with the talent this team has that will be enough on most nights.

Darius Soriano

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26 responses to Lakers/Bucks: Kobe and Dwight Set the Tone

  1. Now we need the next one… we’ll see if we have reason to be happy then.

  2. I just hope they sit Pau Gasol against the Heat. Let’s see if we can beat a good team like Miami without Gasol. If it happens, we either trade Gasol, or bring him off the bench. Clearly Dwight plays better next to the younger, active, more athletic Clark than next to Gasol. Let Gasol come off the bench and anchor that 2nd unit. He can get somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes just off of Dwight. Get him 5 minutes with Dwight here and there and he’s sitting on 25. The lakers could still make a run and win 50 games. I’d rather play 25 minutes on a 50 win team than 35 minutes on a 40 win lottery team. If Gasol’s a competitor, he’ll feel the same way.

  3. Finally a win you can actually feel really good about. No fluke shooting (Nash would usually shoot a lot better) and the D looks solid.

    I loved to see Dwight play a good game, but I still don’t think he looks nearly as athletic as the old Dwight. I kind of doubt that we will see that Superman guy who just covers everything inside the three point line and switches onto guards on PNRs, only to recover and block the roll man at the rim… at least this year.

    Maybe Dwight needs to watch a lot of tape on Duncan, and start planning for a future, where real estate is more important that air space.

    I am already anxious about the next game… that will be the real test.

  4. Can you do a blog post breaking down the offense? It seemed like they did a mix of pick and roll along with playing 4 out 1 in and they just swung the ball along the perimeter until they had the right angle to make an easy entry pass to Dwight for a dunk or layup.

  5. Isn’t it also that “old Dwight” had no flaws because he played for the other team, but now that he does play for ours, we get to mercilessly scrutinize him and ask him to be what he is not?

    I liked the tone of the game. It had a sense that even though the Bucks did everything they could that we weren’t in danger of losing the game. Its also nice to see our stars work hard coz it gives us the feeling that they are the cause of their own demise early on. If there is anything good we can pick out from these 2 wins its the fact that we can actually win games, as opposed to the darkness in the previous 6 where it seemed like scoring 2 points when needed was such a painful process.

    Earl Clark… my new poster boy in LA. He just gives off that energy that has become contagious to his teammates. Work hard and do not stop working… fight for your life and treat it like its your last game on Earth! Contrary to the pouting, overthinking and overanalytical Pau that wanted the coach to be tailored to his skills which brings off negative energy. The game now just has a feel like that off Bernie where the team wasn’t really expected to win and they just bust out winning big.

    We need more desperate players. We need more guys that can buy into this system and can give off what we need. We need more urgency and desperation, and we need it from the people that can offer it.

    If anything, Pau’s frustrating stint can be attributed to his health. He wasn’t necessarily Wilt Chamberlain during the Olympics but he had the motivation to win. Right now he’s just a happy camper accommodating his teammates. Seems to me like he’s the lowest of all stars we have. Remember, you’re only as good as your last game so Pau has to be playing like its him that earns Clark’s contract.

  6. earl-sanity!
    seriously though, I think Chuckaz has a very good point, couldn’t have said it better myself.
    helps the second unit, and you can’t argue with W’s…

  7. Lets see how we do against the Heat on Thursday. We don’t necessarily need to win, but we need to make it a compeittive game from start to finish, to at least have a chance to win. How many times have we seen this Laker team this season look like they are starting to roll, and then they go out there and lose the next couple games? I am hopeful, but can’t really believe this is a turning point in the season yet.

  8. I think the lakers match up well with the heat and the way the heat have been struggling, this could be a chance to get a confidence & momentum building victory. Lets hope the lakers pull it out.

    And I hope we trade Pau.

  9. Was glad to see that the Lakers applied for the injury exception afforded them by the Jordan Hill situation. Moving forward, I hope the FO uses it to add another piece. With Blake’s return uncertain, Pau’s shaky play even when healthy and no real backup 3, the Lakers still have issues. Hill’s rebounding will be sorely missed as evidenced last night. Pau can really bring something to the table by focusing on the boards when he returns.

  10. Again if Pau returns, I would love to see MDA giving a Nash-Dwight combo while Kobe-Pau rest and vice versa. In that case we will have a facilitator and a go to guy the whole 48 min. I dont want to see the hockey substitutions again.
    And if Pau plays he can start with Dwight but take him out early and let him come back for Dwight. It doesnt mean that if he s going to anchor the bench he must come off the bench. He can always start and lead the second unit when the other starters are resting.

  11. Lakers looked & played like a team last night (as opposed to five individuals doing their iso thing), passing inside & around the court effectively. If I remember correctly they had 12 assist on their 1st 12 baskets…sweet. Glad to see they didn’t overlook the Bucks for the Heat. A nice step in the right direction.

  12. it´s a tragedy that this team´s record is as bad as it is, because its just takes away the attention from the incredible season that kobe is having at his age. leading the league in points and shutting down two of the quickest guards in the entire nba is freaking amazing. it is a real shame that the lakers wont have a good enough record to get kobe another mvp (not that he cares, but man does he deserve to get another one considering the things he does at his age).

  13. Spartacus,
    You make too much sense to be commenting on Pau here. There are ways to shake up the combinations without completely ‘messing’ with the head of a player who has been one of our anchors for a number of years. The club may not ‘owe’ Pau, but it is common sense not to treat a key player like a ‘used tire’. That attitude ‘leaks’ over to Dwight Howard when he decides what he wants to do next summer and there is no need to handle an organization that way. See Donald Sterling for an example – it will be a couple of years of ‘hands off’, before the Clippers can live down their owner.

  14. Chukaz & Chris H,

    D’Antoni has recently stated that when Pau returns, he will be returning as a starter.

    Props to Kobe for stepping up on the defensive end over the last 2 gms and playing a major part in locking up Uncle Drew & B. Jennings. Two ‘Scoring’ Point Guards. Hopefully, he can have the same amount of success on TNT Thursday Night against D. Wade.

  15. Honestly, I have a lot if respect for Gasol and what he’s done for the lakers but he has to be traded. He doesnt really fit with the pieces they’ve assembled and while I think he is still an all star callibar player, he just doesnt look happy in LA and he doeant hit that midrange jumper consistently enough to be counted on. In my opinion, the lakers need a real bucket getter off the bench (combo guard),like a louis williams…because even when blake comea back hes not consistent. They need a player off the bench that can give them 14 points a night and create looks for shooters like jodie while kobe and nash rest…If they beat miami without gasol…I hope the lajers will realize that gasol is not needed

  16. Tonight I’m a Clev, Miami, OKC and Dallas fan. And I am a big Pau fan too, saying the opposite about him is frowned upon here.

  17. KOOOOOOOO can you work the FO and let them know that Gasol needs to come off da bench. :)

  18. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody put that much pressure on a point guard full court for a whole game,” Jennings said. “It was probably the best defense somebody’s ever played on me since I’ve been in the league ”

    That is sick stuff. This is why KB is still getting the Defensive Awards. He can still get it done.

    Lesha: He probably won’t get MVP (although yes – he is right there), but he will probably get another top 5, which is Kareem like in how often he has done that.

    In a word: Wow – In two words: He rules

  19. Lakers seem to have found a way to win games. The effort and ball movement have spearheaded the turnaround. Along with Kobe’s defense and Dwight getting serious about dominating. Thursday is a game that could lift confidence and give this team life. Let’s see how this game plan fares against a team with equal talent.

  20. if kobe still has the desire to play defense, why hasn’t he done it before? jennings is tiny. kobe cannot muscle other pg as easily, but it really begs the question. I’m not surprised he prefers the offensive side of the game. But that type of effort was needed weeks ago.

    Can kobe do that on both ends every night? For that to happen, you’d really have to monitor his minutes.

    Pau’s been a real professional dealing with the craziness of the last two years, but I can’t believe the knee and foot issues weren’t around last year. And the way he played over the summer, it’s obvious the mental part of the game devours him.

    He’s worn down by dealing with the pressure of being on the lakers and dealing with kobe. Put him in a smaller market, (obviously with a team that suits his skills) and he’ll put up better numbers.

    And since that’s not gonna happen, he really should play with the second unit and slowly work him back into the starting unit. If Odom could float back and forth between the first and second unit, Pau should be ok with it.

  21. IMO the 2 following statements Darius made in his recap say it all:
    “this victory was the product of the Lakers two best players not only playing like it, but also proving to be the two best players on the floor. Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant.´´
    & “Their impact was especially present on the defensive side of the ball.´
    I strongly believe the Heat game tomorrow must be of great importance to the players; a barometer of sorts as to how our `new season´ is gonna fare & to our on court `chemistry´ right now – Keep it up Lakers! Keep it up!!
    @Chukaz – excellent post, totally agree

  22. Great…. Miami is playing the GSW tonight, so LBJ and company will be on the 2nd night of a back to back when they take on the Lake Show on Thursday.

    Some thoughts on last night…..

    Dwight was really finishing well last night. I haven’t seen the baskets at Staples shake like that since Shaq was patrolling the paint,

    Eazy Earl may not have scored much last night, but he still had a positive effect on the game. He rebounded (9) and defended well. His pass to Metta on the break was a perfectly timed thing of beauty.

    Jamison played well. He needs to keep that up.

    Stevie Wonder didn’t seem to have his legs on the 3′s that he missed. Hoping that will come as he rounds into better shape.

    Kobe had just a brilliant all around game. He has responded to the criticism concerning his defense in the best possible way.

    As Warren Wee Lim stated above, this is how the Lakers have to bring it every night. The time for half-steppin’ is over. Pau needs to take note and join the party when he returns.

  23. @Lesha…

    Great post about Kobe. So true!

  24. The last few games have been the first in which I felt the team played a majority of the time as a unit. I don’t think it is a coincidence that these are the games in which Kobe has been asked to pressure the primary ball handler. The nice thing about this team, in Steve Nash they have another top-end ball handler who can also take on some of the scoring load. This means Kobe’s effort on the defensive end doesn’t have to come at the expense of the team’s offense.

    Between Sacre and Jamison, we saw 37 minutes go to players, the majority of which, can be taken up by Pau when he returns. Let Pau absorb some of Dwight’s minutes and he’ll have starters minutes but I think letting him come off the bench might be what we see by the time our rotations tighten for the last PO push. The Lakers need to try and match the effort and athleticism of opposing teams to start games. With all of Pau’s positive qualities, I think he is best serving a team by anchoring it down low. Let him anchor the second unit. The less minutes he spends slowing down the primary unit the better.

    As for the Heat, who do you hide Steve Nash on? It’s one thing to take Luc Richard. Scoring is not in his comfort zone, or anything the Bucks scheme to create. He’ll finish garbage plays and maybe pop a shot here and there. On the Heat, both Chalmers and Cole are very quick. Obviously Wade would abuse Nash and there is no way Nash stands next to LBJ long enough to be made into a poster. Kobe can still be in doberman mode. I’m just curious who he’ll be set on.

    Whatever happens, and obviously I still have some hope that the best will happen, but whatever it is… if the Lakers play with effort and as a unit I will be happy to watch every game left to them. It’s a fun style of play and the individual talent available is entertaining. I love seeing a real point guard put the ball where only his team could benefit. Dwight’s and MWP’s defensive intelligence are beautiful to observe. Kobe is an all time great that will fight for the last drop of sweat and down to the last breath. If Earl keeps this effort up, he will only grow into a nice all-round talent. There are just enough shot makers in the assortment of bench players to keep the court open and let the offense breath. If Pau can be made comfortable here, this team will start winning big but either way, the effort and unity is the key.

  25. It goes without saying that Nash will guard Lebron tomorrow. Everybody knows it worked for Dallas in the 2011 Finals with J Kidd and JJ Barrea..

  26. Nash… Guarding lebron?… 8) that had to have been a Mistype

    Lets make it 3 in a row fellas. 8th seed here we come!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!