Some games, regardless of the outcome aren’t that much fun to watch. Whether the Lakers win or lose matters, of course, but there are games where how they get there doesn’t really excite or get the blood flowing. Friday’s game against the Nets just happened to be one such game for me. A combination of the slow pace (87 possessions are 5 fewer than the Lakers normally play) and the fact that neither team seemed to be able to make shots consistently just left me drowsy watching both last night (admittedly, in a flu-enduced haze) and this morning (when I’m feeling much better, thank you very much). But, a win is a win and I’ll suffer through a 100-88 game that bores anytime if it means that a W is at the end of it all.
The game began like so many others of late, with Ron Artest making a jumper. This hasn’t been discussed much, but Ron-Ron has really started to find a good rhythm on offense and against the Nets, the trend continued. Looking confident and comfortable with his shot all night, Ron moved into open space and fired away with little hesitation and it led to 14 points on only 7 shots. He made 2 of his 3 attempts from long range while also making his only 2 FT attempts. Just another very good effort from Artest on offense. And when you combine his shot making with his activity on defense (2 steals, tireless hounding of ball handlers) it’s fair to say that he’s really starting to play better basketball and is becoming a much more consistent contributor to Laker wins.
But Ron wasn’t alone in doing damage from the wing. Kobe continued his strong play from the Warriors game right into Friday’s effort against the Nets. Flashing his textbook footwork from both triple threat and post up positions, Kobe had defenders guessing all night. Whether showing off his jumper or attacking the basket, Kobe was finishing at an expert level and had a couple of plays (including a fantastic reverse lay in) that will surely live on beyond last night in highlight reels and top play countdowns. Without Kobe’s and Ron’s efforts, it’s not a stretch to say that the Lakers would have had a difficult time keeping pace with New Jersey in the first half.
Mostly because when it came to interior play, the roles were reversed as the Nets controlled the offensive paint and the Lakers mostly struggled in the first half. The Lakers trio of big men just couldn’t get their act together as they stumbled into halftime with a combined 8 points on 2-15 shooting. Whether it was Bynum picking up fouls trying to guard Brook Lopez (limiting him to 11 first half minutes) or Gasol and Odom missing shots that they normally knock down, the Laker bigs had a forgettable half.
Meanwhile, Brook Lopez was determined to show that he could compete with some of the best bigs the league has to offer. Lopez showed off a variety of post moves, a solid mid-range jumper, and even some explosive finishing all night. He ended the game with 35 points on only 19 shots and was the Nets main offensive threat, keeping them in the game the entire night. Every time the Nets needed a basket, it seemed like Lopez was able to provide it either by getting a shot for himself or being enough of an interior presence to occupy defenders and help create openings for his mates.
But despite Lopez’s great offensive output, the game would slowly start to tilt in the Lakers’ favor. In the 2nd half, the Laker bigs started to come alive as both Gasol and Odom were able to finally knock down the looks that they’d missed earlier in the game. Both players worked the interior with solid post ups (Gasol) and slashing/finishing (Odom) and the mid-range area by knocking down rhythm jumpers. And with their improved offense, their D also picked up. And while neither was really able to slow down Lopez, they did do a very good job against every other Net that came into the paint and that effort certainly contributed to the Nets’ struggles to score.
And in the end, it was enough to get the win. For most of the night it was ugly and there were plenty of stretches where it looked like the Lakers weren’t as hustling as much as they could have been, but I’ll forgive the team since it resulted in a W. With Jersey playing hard, the Farmar/Sasha factor (both played well, by the way), and Lopez having one of his best games all year, I’ll cut the team some slack and just be happy with the fact that victory #7 in a row was claimed.