Lakers vs. Suns: Kobe Struggles, Dwight Shines in Win

Darius Soriano —  February 12, 2013

The Lakers got back on the winning track, taking down the Suns 91-85 in a game that was memorable for some good and some bad reasons.

The bad, of course, was due to the strange night that Kobe Bryant had. In the first period, Kobe started off distributing the ball just as he has in many of the Lakers’ wins recently. He tallied six assists in those first 12 minutes, moving the ball expertly to open teammates while mostly operating from the top of the floor instead of from the low post. He worked in the P&R, created in isolation, and did well to find the open man in transition. The fact that he’d not yet taken a shot didn’t really matter at this point simply because the offense was flowing so well. Things were all good.

However, as the game went on, Kobe continued to pass and pass even when an opening really wasn’t there. The 2nd quarter saw him get two more assists, but also commit two turnovers. It also saw him not attempt a single field goal — the first time he’d not taken a shot in a half since 2004 vs the Sonics (according to ESPN Stats & Info). In the 3rd period, things really got strange as Kobe started to try to find his own offense, only to miss all 5 of his field goal attempts. When he tried to start passing, things went even more awry as he tallied no assists while committing three turnovers. In the 4th period, Kobe did hit a shot (his only one of the game) and only earned a single assist while committing another turnover. His final line of the night was 4 points on 8 shots (his lowest output on that many field goal attempts since 1998) while committing 8 turnovers to balance against his 9 assists. Like I said before, just a strange, strange night for Mr. Bean.

That said, this game came down to more than what Kobe was doing — which is a good thing, since if this game was only about #24, the Lakers lose handily. Yes, other Lakers stepped up to fill the void that Kobe left.

Chief among them was Dwight Howard. The Lakers’ big man played 41 minutes in this game and scored 19 points while grabbing 18 rebounds. Dwight was active on both ends of the floor and it was that activity that fueled his success. On offense, he was much better about setting good picks and then diving hard to the rim to create passing angles. When he didn’t get direct passes, he drew defenders his way (and drew fouls too) which opened up the floor for his teammates. When Dwight wasn’t involved in the P&R, he remained in motion, cutting into the open gaps of the defense and making himself available to receive passes on the move; passes that he could convert into baskets.

Defensively, Dwight did a good job of helping on penetration and challenging shots in the paint. He wasn’t always where he needed to be, but he was there often enough to disrupt the Suns’ offense when they tried to take the ball inside. He altered and blocked shots (2 on the night) and did a much better job of being active in the screen game ensuring that ball handlers simply couldn’t get to the rim or shooters off the ball couldn’t walk into open jumpers when his man set picks away from the action. All in all, Dwight’s effort and activity were one of the chief reasons the Lakers were up early and able to seize control of the game late.

Also key was Antawn Jamison, whose scoring and work on the glass were huge off the bench. Jamison’s double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds were especially big considering all the hustle plays that went into those stats. His work on the boards weren’t the simple “I’m just going to stand here and grab a loose ball” plays, but were grabbed in crowds with bodies all around him. Four of his rebounds were on the offensive end with key putbacks resulting more than once. He also did a good job of not just settling for his outside jumper to get his points. Even though he hit two 3 pointers (in 4 attempts), he did a lot of slashing and cutting out of the P&R that got him shots on the move; shots you want him taking more often than the deep jumpers he can sometimes rely on too often.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the night that Ron had. His 17 points were big, especially his 9 first quarter points that really got the Lakers off to a good start. Combine his scoring with his 8 rebounds and 4 steals, and his activity on the defensive end can’t be overstated. He worked hard all night to try and contain Luis Scola and Michael Beasley, and while both had good scoring nights it could have been much worse had Ron not disrupted their rhythm with his scrappy defense.

Overall, though, this was a pretty big team win with the entire group finding a way to turn a horrid third quarter into a very good fourth quarter where they took control. Down the stretch the Lakers went away from a Kobe-centric attack and instead relied on Nash and Howard to generate offense in the P&R. This tactic worked very well and with Kobe spotting up on the weak side, the defense was put in a tough position in how they would defend the action. When the weak side wing didn’t dip down, Dwight Howard got an easy dunk. When that defender did go to help, the Lakers moved the ball well and found Kobe open against a closing out defender and he did a good job of hitting Dwight with a key pass for a basket that gave the Lakers control down the stretch.

When it was all said and done, it was this diversity that fueled the Lakers. No, Kobe didn’t play well and, in fact, had one of his worst statistical outputs in many years. However, the Lakers were able to battle back and find different ways to attack the Suns and still be effective. A game like this isn’t one anybody will want to watch again anytime soon, but it was a nice way for the other Lakers to find their stride and prove that they can impact the game positively and drive the team to a win when Kobe — who’s been carrying this team all year — isn’t able to do so. Whether this can be something that carries over remains to be seen but it sure was nice to see.

Darius Soriano

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18 responses to Lakers vs. Suns: Kobe Struggles, Dwight Shines in Win

  1. Great post game Darius. Echo sentiments: great game from Dwight. I mean, the game he had with his back and shoulder. that’s amazing.
    Jamison also had a great game off the bench. Metta’s first half was brilliant, but man, do I feel every fast break from him is pure comedy gold.
    That pass by Blake in the 2nd quarter was brilliant.
    Wish Nash and Dwight continue to work onthe Pick and roll.
    on to the clips.

  2. I laughed at those saying Kobe sabotaging the game.

    WOW?! really?! after all those years?! REALLY?!

  3. The Lakers always make me nervous whenever they bring the ball up from the backcourt – they always seem to just beat the 8-second count.

    It started out with Fisher a couple of years and then Kobe, but Nash is starting to do it too.

    I know this has been discussed to some extent but I took the liberty of watching some games from our championship years (especially the first three-peat under Phil) and noticed just how different it was from now. A young Fisher or Kobe always had it past halfcourt around the 19 to 20 second mark, giving us valuable seconds to set up the offense and explore other options when we were denied our first or second ones. It really does make a huge difference.

  4. Excellent review Darius,

    We can always count on you for a balanced and even handed analysis, unlike #24…(sorry…couldn’t resist that)

    But seriously, Darius, good to have you around to moderate this site, provide your excellent analysis and keep the rage down to a minimum.

    The key thing for tonight was not that this was an all around perfect game, as it was not, but that Dwight was willing to repeatedly run the PNR..Something obviously clicked in, (or was forced in?) and hopefully provides something to build on, because if that is in place, that should go a long way to turning around this team.

    And it was good to see Dwight smiling, not in a cloying over the top way, but to see he was really enjoying himself.

    Too bad about Utah beating OKC, that was a real bummer. And Houston won, but the side effect is that GSW lost….As I said a few days ago, don’t sleep on the Warriors. their crazy huge lead over the Lakers (which was 9.5 on Jan. 23) is down to 5.5 and we play them twice.

  5. Imagine if Pau and Jordan Hill are healthy. Imagine if Nash and Blake were available at the start of the season. This team could be a top seed team the lowest would be 3rd seed.

    With the emergence of Earl Clark we can solve the problems on the the SF position by sliding him to play the 3 spot. Sigh. If we only have no injuries on our key players.

  6. I really don’t think the over passing from Kobe was a bad thing, I think he is fianlly fully imbracing the Steve Nash (all about patience, faith in the team and focus on the process). I really like this article from a proclaimed Kobe hater… who admits he cannot possibly hate New Kobe:

    http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/8935728/when-hating-kobe-bryant-goes-wrong

  7. Harvey, you might be th.e first to raise an alarm on the OakWarriors. This might not be a bad thing.

  8. @Spartacus

    If Gasol and Hill was healthy, there will be no emergence of Clark I guess?!

  9. Yup Clark would still be in the dog house if not for that simultaneous injury on the Lakers three Bigs.

    Now if we can just make the playoffs and have Pau comeback in shape a few games before the playoffs. This Laker team will be a live underdog.

  10. If anything, this proves Howard can play well despite his “dreadful” injury, possibly the worst injury of all time. Perhaps when Howard decides not to show up some games it is more than just the injury…..hmmm…

  11. Mike D’Antoni on Kobe last night…,

    “He was trying too hard to get everybody else involved. You’ve got to walk the fine line and he went way over the other line and he’s got to get back in the middle where he facilitates and is aggressive.”

    That’s all some of us were trying to say last night on the game thread. Certainly, Kobe is entitled to a sub-par game. But the critiques I made last night were specific and were related to last night’s effort by the Bean,

  12. I mentioned a little while ago that the warriors were ripe for the picking. Nobody has mentioned that we are 1/2 game behind 9th place to get to the 8 spot we have to be in 9th place first. In my opinion Kobe was triying to get his teammates going anyone remember the ” irritated” quote after the Miami game? He was the only one carryin the team on Sunday, last night was the consequence of that but i believe he over did it and he had no rithym when he was agressive and looking for his shot. Anyways we won, we need to beat the Clips on Thursday, we need Dwight to play like last night and we need Kobe being Kobe, like JVG said, if Nash, Kobe and Dwight get on the same page they can beat anyone at any place at anytime. We beat the Clips we would be officially on a roll. Praying we dont get a single additional injury.

  13. Kenny,

    Many of the “critiques” last night were calling for Kobe to be pulled, benched, questioned for his heart, etc. There was fanatical mind reading reading taking place last night. It is what it is. I skip a lot more comments than I used to, *grumble* *grumble*.

  14. Welcome to the new era in sports media culture where players can go into one night to being “elite”, to this next night being a scrub, to the following week bring “top 5″, the following not having heart, to the next week bring considered “G.O.A.T” lol. There are too many games in the NBA to be dissecting and over analyzing player performances everyday (ESPN)

  15. Weird game from Kobe, but of course, it’s silly to say he was “sabotaging” it. I agree with Darius that things started off well and then went awry when his shots didn’t fall in the 3rd. Kobe so often does a great job of combining his scoring and playmaking skills throughout the game to help the team create a balanced offensive attack, and last night it just didn’t work out for him. Even Kobe himself admitted on Twitter that he played a “shitty” game. He’s not in denial (and neither are we), but this type of game from him is definitely a rarity and I’m not worried about it happening again.

    Despite all the weirdness, I actually felt pretty good about the team at the end of the game. Sure, the Suns aren’t good, but we collapsed on them and blew what should have been an easy win not too long ago. I’ll take a solid fourth quarter finish leading to a fairly comfortable win (especially after being down after our terrible 3rd quarter stretch) any day.

    Also, it seems like every time I start feeling TOO critical of Dwight, he reminds me of all the ways he can be so valuable. While certain aspects of his attitude still bug me, I credit him for fighting through his injuries and being the man for us for 40 minutes last night. It was great to see him involved in some nice P&R action with Nash, too, which I think we all want to see more of. They looked to be making a real effort to communicate and figure things out.

    And Antawn, man. Came up so big in the fourth quarter. Was almost always in the right place and made so many key plays. Made me a happy fan. Let’s beat those Clips and have a nice rest over the break!

  16. I don’t believe Kobe was trying to “make a statement.” To believe such a thing I would have to start from a premise of imputing bad intentions on Kobe and I would have to be able to read his mind. The belief that Kobe would sabotage the game is ridiculous and more fitting for a Bill Simmons article (like his analysis of the 2007 playoffs) than this blog. If there is anything we know about Kobe is that he has an insatiable desire to win.

    A much simpler and plausible explanation for Kobe’s too frequent passing is that he was trying too hard to be a facilitator. As Mike D’Antoni said he needs to find a balance between facilitating and attacking. I agree with Fern’s analysis that Kobe was trying too hard to pass (which became predictable for the Suns defenders resulting in easy steals) and then when Kobe decided to shoot, he had no rhythm.

    Stu Lantz was criticizing Kobe for passing too often. He did not say or even imply that Kobe was “sending a message” or sabotaging the game.

  17. Kareeme…

    I was only trying to explain MY point of view. I thought Kobe overpassed on several occasions last night and said so. I thought he tried to force passes when they weren’t there and said so. That’s all.

  18. Sorry guys. Kobe was sending a message. Either to the team, Dwight, Mike, the FO or the fans. There was no talk of injury. And if you think Kobe’s new life will be scoring 6 points a fame and being out scored daily by Jamison, Metta etc.

    Only time will tell if it worked or what the message was. But Kobe is a very smart guy. Probably make a good poker player.