All preseason Mike D’Antoni had been telling media that for the Lakers to play their best, Kobe Bryant would have to sacrifice some shots and look for his teammates early and look for his own shot within the flow of the offense — and that’s exactly what he did on the Lakers season opening win over the Utah Jazz. Bryant would finish the game with 14 points, eight rebounds and 14 assists on seven-for-10 shooting in what would be a very balanced scoring night for the Lakers, who are starting the season for the fourth time this year.
The beneficiaries of Bryant’s willingness to give were the whole team as he was the fifth leading scorer with four guys scoring at least 15 points. One of those guys were Dwight Howard, who got rolling early. Within the first four minutes of the game Dwight had already recorded eight points and six assist, with six of those points coming from dunks, two off them alley-oops. Howard would finish with 17 points and 13 rebounds on eight-for-12 shooting and only one turnover. Howard looked a bit more spry on the evening than he had in recent games moving great laterally on defensive rotations and jumping through the roof to contend shots at the rim.
Pau Gasol also had a decent game off the bench with 15 points on seven-of-eight shooting. Gasol also added seven rebounds and three assists, with a couple of them coming on 4-5 pick and rolls with Howard. The offense seemed improved on the night with both Gasol and Howard on the floor together as there were multiple buckets with the Lakers going to their Horns sets and getting the ball in Pau’s hands and allowing him to make decisions — which resulted in Gasol playing one of his most decisive games of the season. We saw him take the ball to the rack a few times, hit Howard on the roll or the oop, and hit the jumper with a decent regularity.
Gasol’s improved game opened things up for both Ron Artest (17 points) and Steve Nash (15 points). Nash didn’t record an assist in the first half of the game, but he was aggressive looking for his shot early, filling the void Bryant left on the perimeter while Artest was great from behind the perimeter, shooting five-for-11 from the three-point line.
Most importantly, however, the defense was fantastic for the whole night. Perimeter defenders fought hard to fight through screens, but when they were beat back side defenders rotated well and contested shots around the rim. The only gave up 37 points at the half and were able to keep both Al Jefferson and Paul Milsap — both guys who have had huge games against the Lakers — at bay for much of the night. A lot of the production from both Jefferson and Millsap came from backside rebounds and put backs after either Pau or Howard slid over to help out on penetrating guards.
Perimeter defenders did a great job hedging down onto the Jazz’s post players and getting back out to run shooters off the three point line after kick-outs. Utah only shot three-for-14 from the three point line — making two fewer than what Artest made all game.
While it feels great to get a win, the celebration cannot continue past tonight as they’ll still have a lot of work to do with Oklahoma City coming to town and the Grammy Trip looming. Regardless, it’s great to see the Lakers get their season started off on the right foot. Not too many complaints from this one, hopefully the trend can continue.