What really needs to be said about this game? Going in to this contest, I don’t think there was any doubt that the Lakers would win the game and do so handily. The only question was, would the Lakers play just hard enough for just long enough that the game was close but never in question or would they outclass the Wiz and deliver a beat down that left no doubt about the outcome? It turns out that we got both of those games all in one. The Lakers are generous that way. They really want to give fans their money’s worth, I think.
Because as it turns out, the Lakers would only need to play twenty four engaged minutes to dispatch the Wizards 99-92 this evening. A half of good basketball is all it would take. After starting the game kind of slowly and only jumping out to a six point first quarter lead, the Lakers would turn it on in the second quarter and turn this game into a route by halftime. And it was all fueled by Kobe in that second frame. Mr. Bean would outscore the Wiz 20-15 all by himself in the second period and do so on an array of jumpers that reminded me of some of Kobe’s vintage performances of years past. A triple head fake then turn around baseline jumper was followed by a pull up three pointer in transition. Those shots were then followed by another pull up three over the top of Washinton’s zone defense. And then another pull up three over the zone from the top of the key (after a couple of between the leg dribbles and a hesitation move to his left). Then, just to show that those other long jumpers weren’t some sort of fluke, Kobe would hit another three off high handoff that served as a P&R when Kobe brushed off Pau’s shoulder, faded left, and then buried the J. After Kobe’s barrage of long balls, the Lakers would close the second quarter on 13-0 run and lead by 26 at the half.
But Kobe wasn’t the only Laker playing well. Gasol had quite a nice game himself too. A tidy stat line of 28 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, and a block by Gasol. Maybe he was inspired by the fact that “Los Lakers” were wearing their “Noche Latina” inspired jerseys. Or maybe his success was brought on by the fact that the Wiz couldn’t defend Pau without fouling and the big Spaniard would be money from the foul line by going 12-14. Whatever the case, Pau was feeling his game and it showed when he was in the half court executing post ups and in the open court when he got out and ran the floor beautifully for easy finishes on the break. This is the third very good game in a row for Pau and I think we can all pretty much agree that he’s now recovered from the slump that plagued him for a couple of weeks. Sure, the opponents that he’s done this against aren’t the strongest, but the other side of that coin is the fact that Pau is a damned good player that is going to give almost every player he goes up against problems. I mean, when Pau’s game is on he’s a load to handle by even the best defenders because his skill level is so high and is treasure trove of offensive moves is so divers. So, it’s just nice to see Pau playing with a renewed confidence and that all facets of his versatile offensive game seem to be back.
However, as I mentioned, this game wouldn’t be the complete demolition that the first half performance set up. As has been the norm for a lot of games this season, the Lakers’ large lead was proceeded by a level of play that looked like they were disinterested. This then allowed the Wizards to slowly chip away at the lead. The Lakers were (seemingly) just content to trade baskets or give up two baskets while only getting back one for the remainder of the game. Simply put, the Lakers played with the same amount of energy that the fans at Staples and at home had while watching the second half of this game. I can’t say I blame them though. This game, despite how close it got, was never in doubt. Whenever Washington would make a mini-run, the Lakers would respond with another three point shot or an easy bucket in the half court that would force Flip Saunders to call another timeout.
But in the end, the Lakers questionable ability to hold a lead against a team like the Wizards really doesn’t matter. What matters is that the Lakers got through another game against a poor opponent with another win and set themselves up with some momentum going into their road trip. Games like this matter only for what column they end up in and with this one falling squarely on the “W” side, that is enough for me. A few other notes on this game:
*With Bynum out, it’s important that we get some good scoring contributions from other guys. Sixteen points from Ron Artest and thirteen from Shannon Brown are a good place to start. Artest, especially, seemed to find his groove on offense against the Wiz. While I’m not sure if we can count on Ron consistently making step back jumpers, it was nice to see him take shots with confidence and without the hesitation that he’s shown on offense recently.
*In his first start since Kobe was out injured, Odom had a nice, well rounded game. While he only had four points, LO had 13 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals, and 3 blocks. He again showed that a player can have a big impact on a game without putting points on the board. LO was in full distributor mode and was intent on setting up his mates while playing strong defense. While there will be games in the future where we need more scoring from Odom, tonight all we needed was what he gave us.
*9-17; 52.9%. That was what the Lakers did from behind the three point line against the Wiz. Performances like that are few and far between from the Lakers so it deserves some recognition. Powered by Kobe’s 4-7 and Shannon’s 3-4, the Lakers were hot from behind the arc. And even though the Lakers won’t shoot this well consistently, it was really nice to see the long ball falling (even when some of the shots were forced or heat checks from our two shooting guards).