Itâ€™s just two games in November, but it is still two games in a row where the Lakers looked like a team that was playing up to its potential. This level of play will not last 79+ more games â€” there will be bumps in the road â€” but right now the team is showing what is possible. And that gives Lakers fans hope.
Kobe led the way, with 33 points, a +13 and he shot an incredible 71% (eFG%). But it was Andrew Bynum â€” against one of the best front lines in the league â€” who shot 85% and was a +14, while Jordan Farmar was +11 and shot 68.8%.
Those three stood out in the key stretch in the fourth when the Lakers pulled away, so letâ€™s break down those five minutes or so. We pick the game up with 8:46 left, the Jazz pulled within three on a sick Carlos Boozer 12-foot turnaround fade away off the glass (followed by an empty possession for both teams).
Lakers 90-87: Kobe brings the ball up after the outlet pass from Bynum (who had a team high 9 boards), realizes that Harpring is trying to cover him in transition and takes that as an invitation to drive the lane (good recognition and taking advantage of a mismatch). Kobe goes around Harpring, so both Boozer and Millsap jump in to help and the later fouls Kobe in the act. Kobe sinks both free throws.
Lakers 92-87: After a failed play where Millsap wisely passes on the 16-footer, the Jazz kick it back out top to Williams plays pick and roll with AK-47, gets Kobe on the switch then burns #24 with a sweet crossover, drives the lane and hits a little floater over Radman who rotated. Pretty move, pretty shot.
Lakers 92-89: Kobe brings the ball up, nobody comes out on him, so he pulls up and hits the 22-footer. Not the defense Jerry Sloan had planned, Iâ€™m guessing.
Lakers 94-89: After a foul by Bynum the Jazz get the ball out on the side and work it around inside to Okur in great position in the middle of the paint. But this is what Bynum has done so well this year with his stronger body â€” he held his ground defensively, and when Okur was forced to the fade-away Bynumâ€™s length bothered the shot. Turiaf rebounds.
The Lakers worked it around, and with just 11 left on the shot clock Kobe tries to drive on AK-47, Williams sags off Farmar to double Kobe, so Kobe kicks it to Farmar, who gives a head fake and Williams whizzes by on the fly-by, but rather than shoot he gets the ball to a cutting Turiaf, who tried a tight-quarters pass to Bynum that he didnâ€™t expect. The result was the ball rolling on the floor, but as he had been all night Farmar was hustling, picked it up and hit the 15-footer.
Lakers 96-89: The Lakers play good defense for the first 18 seconds of the Jazz possession, including rotating well on Williams when he drives to his right, so he kicks it out toe Kiralenko, who gives Kobe a head fake, and the charging Kobe flies by, and he hits a 21-footer. Yes the Jazz scored, but it was a possession that showed what the Lakers had done all night, taking away much of the paint and the lay-ups off back-door cutsâ€” if AK-47 hits 21-footers to beat you, so be it.
Lakers 96-91: The Lakers run the offense and eventually Farmar gets the ball to Turiaf in the low post (about 7 feet out) and he turns and faces up Boozer, who does nothing much, so Turiaf hits the jumper over him. Turiaf is very confident right now.
Lakers 98-91: After a questionable Kobe reaching foul on Giricek, Williams runs off a Boozer screen then rewards the screener with a nice pass at the top of the key. Boozer thinks he has an open path to the basket but Turiaf recovered from his showing out on Williams, got back and took the charge on Boozer in the paint.
At the other end, Kobe mimics Williams by going around a Walton screen then sliding the ball back to Luke, who looks like he is setting up his fade away in the paint, then instead kicks it out to Farmar for a three. The onrushing Williams gets a piece of Farmarâ€™s shot, but like he did all night Farmar didnâ€™t give up on the play and got the loose ball. He kicked it out to Walton, but AK-47 strips him from behind.
AK-47 tries to take the steal coast-to-coast, but Kobe blocks his two-handed dunk in spectacular fashion. (If you havenâ€™t seen this you have to watch it.) The ball caromed to an open Williams, who missed the three and Bynum grabs the board. He outlets to Kobe, who gets the frustration reaching foul from Kiralenko.
The crowd is still buzzing from the block, the Lakers work it around and Bynum gets the ball on the low block. Kobe rubs off Bynum on the baseline and gets the ball, abuses Brewer, goes up for the 12-footer but when Okur rotates Kobe makes a great pass inside to Bynum, who is hacked going up. He hits both free throws.
Lakers 100-91 (5:26 left): The Jazz need a basket so they go to a bread and butter play â€” get it to Boozer on the low block. Bynum is on him and plays it well, but Boozer faces up then hits the high-arcing 8-foot jumper over him.
Lakers 100-93: After working it around for a bit the Lakers go to the Kobe/Walton two-man game on the left wing, again both defenders go to Kobe (with reason) and he hits Walton with a pass and a wide-open look. But Bynum never stops moving, cuts to the basket and Walton hits him with a perfect pass â€” bucket and one.
Lakers 103-93: Williams takes things into his own hands, blows past Farmar down the right side, Bynum is late arriving and fouls him. Williams hits one of two, and for half a second I thought Turiaf and Bynum were going to come to blows over who was going to get that rebound.
Lakers 103-94: Fisher dribbles to the wing then passes to Kobe at the three-point line straight away, and Kobe goes right at Brewer. He gets to the free throw elbow and pulls up for the jumper. He hit it, of course.
Lakers 105-94: The Lakers are aggressive and gambling on defense, clearly smelling blood now, but Okur slides out to the three point line and Bynum doesnâ€™t follow, so he gets a clean look â€” and misses. But AK-47 got position inside and has the put back.
Lakers 105-96: The Lakers work it around but like last possession the ball ends up with Kobe at the top of the key. Again he goes at Brewer and gets past him, but this time he tries to go to the hoop, the Jazz rotateâ€¦ and it doesnâ€™t matter. Pretty finger roll bucket.
Lakers 107-96: After a few other passes Williams gets the ball on the wing and makes the low-block entry to Boozer. He faces up but sees Okur cutting to the basket â€” but again (as he is so often) Turiaf hustles and disrupts what should have been a lay-up. The shot rolls out and Turiaf grabs the board.
Kobe pushes it up and when nothing is there gives it to Turiaf at the top of the key, but Ronny suddenly decides this is in his range and just goes up with it. It misses, but Bynum and his length outwork Boozer and Okur, Andrew grabs the offensive board and goes back up for two.
After that the Jazz were down 13 and called a time out. There was a late Jazz mini-run, but the game was never really in doubt.
UPDATE: The latest from Roland Lazenby, comparing Phil’s handling of the Kobe trade request and that of Pippen in 1998.