This win was, for lack of a better term, a professional effort by the Lakers. Based off record, the Lakers came into this game the better team. The Kings may have more young talent on their roster, but the Lakers have more talent that is properly harnessed. Tonight, that difference showed and, though there were some stretches where it looked as if the Kings might overcome, the Lakers were able to hold on and win 100-86. The win is the third straight for the Lakers and brings their record to an even 7-7 through 14 games.
Offensively, there was a lot to like in this game. As it was on Friday, the Lakers played through Pau Gasol for the majority of the minutes he was on the floor and he responded with a 20 point, 10 rebound effort. Pau worked well in the post against Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins while also hitting his jumper at a good enough rate to be a threat regardless of where he caught the ball. Pau wasn’t his normal self as a passer (he only tallied a single assist), but he consistently made the right shot/pass decisions, often kicking the ball out to the same side wing and attempting to re-post to set up his own offense. I’m not quite ready to say that this is the Pau we can look forward to on most nights, but I am ready to say that the respiratory infection that Pau was dealing with earlier in the year probably hampered him more than most were willing to acknowledge. Pau has more stamina and more life in his legs for longer stretches now and that bodes well for him moving forward.
As I mentioned in the preview for this one, having a bench player (or more) step up and have a good night is almost a necessity for the Lakers to win and tonight was no exception. Xavier Henry, quiet in recent games, broke out in a big way by scoring a team high 21 points on only 11 shots. Henry was active in transition and moved well off the ball in the half court, all of which aided him in finding the gaps in the Kings D that allowed him to get makable looks. Henry brought his usual aggression off the bounce and that allowed him to get to the FT line 6 times (making 5), but it also allowed him the space he needed to shoot his jumper.
Like it was against the Warriors, though, this game wasn’t so much won on offense but rather on the defensive side of the ball. The Lakers held the Kings to 41.7% shooting on the night and did a good job on nearly every King not named Greivis Vasquez. Because while the Kings’ starting PG had a good night scoring the ball (20 points on 9-18 shooting), the rest of his teammates had issues getting clean looks for most of the contest, often settling for contested jumpers or shots in the paint that always seemed to have either Pau or Jordan Hill lunging to try and alter the look.
The Lakers didn’t exactly force the Kings into a lot of mistakes, but what they did do was play fundamentally good D on most possessions, rotating well when the ball was swung and contesting shots when the Kings fired away. If there was one area the Lakers could have been better in it was playing the P&R a bit higher so to not allow the ball handler to get back to the middle after coming off the pick (Vasquez did this repeatedly most of the night and it was key to him scoring as well as he did), but for that was the only real issue I saw defensively. On most other actions the Lakers played things well and that led to the Kings taking the types of shots the Lakers could live with them taking.
Overall, I really can’t say enough about the way this team is starting to forge an identity for themselves and play a style that is not only sustainable, but one that can be successful long term. This isn’t to say they can be one of the better teams in the league — they still don’t have enough talent to make that claim — but by playing smart and hard every night, they’re positioning themselves to be in nearly every game with a chance to win. Without Kobe (and, to a lesser extent, without a healthy Nash) that’s really all you can ask for. So the fact that this team is .500 through 14 games with a chance to actually eclipse last season’s record through 15 games with a win on Tuesday is worth praising.
Where this team ends up will still be greatly influenced by Kobe, but where they are now is solely on the players on the court and the coaches pulling the strings. Both have been doing more right than wrong and have been entertaining us along the way. For that, I’m appreciative.