The Lakers won only their 2nd game of the season (in 11 tries) last night, taking out the Hawks in Atlanta. The game itself offered a glimpse at what anyone who was (even somewhat) optimistic about the Lakers being better than advertised envisioned they could be. Kobe was the focal point of the team’s attack and handled himself efficiently in the process, but in support of his effort came strong play from multiple other players on the roster. Carlos Boozer was efficient offensively and contributed a very good scoring output. Jeremy Lin was both a solid scorer and a good set-up man for his teammates. Ed Davis and Jordan Hill provided very good interior play, working the glass well and scoring enough to keep defenses honest. And Nick Young came off the bench to provide an offensive spark, but also an injection of fun and enthusiasm that helped propel the team. All in all it was a real team effort and the best the Lakers have looked all season.
Normally, this would be the part of the story where I would typically point to all the factors that make this not sustainable and why you shouldn’t get your hopes up. I mean, good for the Lakers and all that, but the Hawks aren’t exactly one of the league’s better outfits and why fool ourselves. Not today, though. Today, I tell you simply enjoy the win. The Lakers are still a bad team. They still project to win 20 some odd games and while there will be other nights like the one against the Hawks throughout the year, they won’t be here often. And while all that makes for a depressing turn, this is why you should enjoy games like the one against that one even more. The Lakers won’t always look this good and they certainly won’t win a lot of road games against projected playoff teams (not even eastern conference ones). So why not live it up and enjoy yourself some? That’s what I’m doing.
One last note on last night’s game. Kobe Bryant became only the 4th player in NBA history to reach 32,000 points in his career with a turnaround jumper last night. He joins Kareem, Karl Malone, and Jordan on this list. Kobe’s taken a lot of heat this year for how he’s played, mostly from analysts who are doing their best to use statistics and analytics to portray Kobe’s play as a blight the Lakers are suffering from. Some of this is rooted in truth, some of it overblown, but most of it is a simplification of one player’s role within the very complex nature of a group of players operating within a team sport against other professionals.
I say all this not to discredit anyone’s thoughts on Kobe — we’re all entitled to our opinions and to use whatever “facts” we feel are on our side to spread our own gospel — but to instead bring the focus back to the fact that Kobe, for all intents and purposes probably shouldn’t even be playing basketball. After rupturing his achilles tendon, many thought his career could be over. When he returned only to break a bone in his knee after playing six games last season, many probably thought his career should be over. But, here Kobe is, achieving milestones. He’s not the most efficient player and some of the tendencies he displays on the court will continue to rub some the wrong way. But, through it all, one of the greatest players ever is still out here making amazing shots and hearing fans chant his name in the opposition’s arena. If only all of us could be that washed up.
As for tonight’s game against the Rockets, the Lakers will be hard pressed to replicate the performance they had last night. For one, playing a second game in as many days is hard. Further, the Rockets are a much better team than the Hawks, boast the league’s stingiest defense, still have a couple of all-NBA level players on their side, and are playing at home. These are ingredients that make for a difficult night for any opponent, but for the 2-9 Lakers this is especially so.
If there are three keys to the Lakers remaining competitive in this game, however, they are simple and straight forward:
- Get Dwight in foul trouble. Regardless of your view of Dwight (and I know some of you Lakers’ fans view him rather unflatteringly), he is still the Rockets’ best big man and a premier two way player in this league. Less of him on the floor is a good thing for the Lakers chances. It will be on Jordan Hill and Ed Davis to make him work defensively and to be crafty and smart enough to put him in positions where he commits silly fouls.
- Keep James Harden off the FT line. Harden (37.2%) shoots a lower percentage from the field than Kobe (38.9%), but makes up for those misses by going to the line a ton. Harden has shot 110 free throws through 11 games, or a tidy 10 per contest. Harden’s ability to bait defenders into reaching in and then getting the line (where he hits 90% of his shots) props up his efficiency. Make him shoot contested jumpers and keep him from making up the difference at the line and the Lakers will be in business.
- Make shots from behind the arc. On opening night the Lakers were outscored from behind the arc by 27 points in a game they lost by 18. I’m no mathematician, but I think that latter number was influenced by the former. The Lakers have upped their three point FGA’s as the season has progressed and Nick Young’s return will help even more. But the Rockets will bomb away tonight and the Lakers will have a better shot of keeping the game close if they can keep up somewhat. I’m not saying the Lakers need to shoot 25 threes, but shooting 18 or 20 would be nice. Making eight or more would be really nice.
Again, I don’t see the Lakers pulling this game out. But, unless you’re Philly, you can’t lose all your games.
Where you can watch: 6:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet and ESPN nationally. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.