A beatdown so thorough, AK had 12/5, and I had four blocks
Okay, maybe none of those things actually happened, but given how completely the Lakers dominated the Jazz in their 123-109 win Friday night at Staples (it wasn't nearly that close), it's not hard to stretch the imagination far enough to accommodate any of the aforementioned scenarios. (Maybe not the part where I block four shots, since that's my yearly quota in pickup ball, but seriously, folks...) Before getting a touch loose in the final 12 minutes, The Lakers laid the wood down on Utah like I used to punish Soda Popinski in Punch Out! on my Nintendo. Up by 15 after one quarter, 27 at the half, 32 after three, all part of a smorgasbord of purple and gold contributions. Six players in double figures. 34 assists to go along with 43 field goals. 54.4% from the floor against a fourth-quarter-boosted 45.6% for Utah. All of these numbers would have been more lopsided had garbage time not started so early.
I should have known something like this was coming, given that it was carne asada night in the media room. Good, delicious karma.
Click below for the breakdown:
The Good, With a Disclaimer: There were too many things that went well to mention all of them at length. We're talking about one of the best games the Lakers have played in years, so if I leave something out, don't get worked up. With that in mind...
- Sharing is Caring: Putting aside for a moment that it's easier to rack up assists playing at home, the level to which the Lakers moved the ball, especially early, was stunning. They scraped off cuts, moved off screens, and got the rock moving faster than Utah could react. Kobe notched six in the first quarter, L.O. four as L.A. piled up 13 dimes on 15 buckets. In the second, the purple and gold had eight helps on 11 field goals. In the third, nine on 12, including four more from D-Fish. Of course, to make passes effective, guys have to be moving, and the Lakers did a great job staying active, cutting, and making themselves available.
- Bringing the Ball to the Hoop: L.A. was able to build their lead because the offense was constantly moving towards the Utah basket. Lamar Odom set an early tone, pushing the ball at the rack, and the Lakers established Andrew Bynum down low with a few of what are now becoming patented lobs around the rim. But beyond the fact that the penetration, whether in the post or from the perimeter via L.O., Kobe, or Trevor Ariza, gave the Lakers outstanding spacing on the floor, and set them up for easy looks all over the floor. Inside, outside, from the McDonald's stand in the lower concourse. Everywhere. That helps explain why they were shooting nearly 60% before garbage time officially began to start the fourth.
- Defense: You don't win friends with salad (points to those who pick up that reference) and you don't build a 32 point lead after three without playing some D. And through the first 36 minutes, at least, L.A. showed plenty of it. The Lakers held Utah to 40% from the floor and blocked eight shots (with five different players registering swats). They never let Utah get on the sort of run that would bring them back into the game.
- Individual Performances: It's hard to single out one guy, so here's a rundown of what I liked: Kobe Bryant (31/4/7, 11-18 from the floor in only 29:26 of play). Dude was flat out dominant while on the floor, finishing his night with a +20. He distributed early, recording six dimes in the first quarter while drilling three of four from downtown. It was the sort of game where everything came so easily, you could almost miss how well he played until you took a look at the box. Almost. Lamar Odom (17/8/7, two blocks, and a team high +26 in 29:51). L.O. was a big part of the team's strong start, as he was extremely aggressive coming out of the blocks. He ran the break well, got the ball inside, and influenced the game in all the ways he's capable of doing. Trevor Ariza (12/5/4, two steals, one block): PJ joked after the game that he told Luke he could be "Wally Pipped," and while it's too early to declare Ariza perma-starter (it really depends on how Jackson wants to construct his lineup), it's not to early to see the effect he can have on this team going forward. He provides a defensive energy and athleticism that the Lakers previously lacked, and is certainly a capable finisher around the rim. There are moments where he seems like he's all over the court. Kwame Brown (7/5, two blocks in 17:16). Given how long he was on the shelf, I thought Kwame made some very positive contributions to the game. He was active defensively, seemed able to move well, and on the other end, while he wasn't exactly looking for his shot- he admitted after the game he was probably getting rid of the ball during offensive sets too quickly- Kwame stayed involved. Having him back will be a very positive influence on the team. Beyond the depth Kwame provides at center, his presence lets Ronny play more PF, where he's much better off (eight points, three blocks, four boards in almost 11 minutes), and down the road will provide flexibility for Jackson in terms of where he deploys L.O, how he uses Ariza, Walton, etc. Depth and options are very good things.
- Carne Asada. Did I mention how tasty it was? Kudos, too, for the choice of two salsas, plus the guac.
- The Refs: Good lord, they were bad. Fortunately, it didn't matter.
- The Fourth Quarter: Honestly, this doesn't bother me all that much. There's a reason it's called "garbage time." Generally, the quality of play just isn't all that good. Sometimes, that means the reserves look great, sometimes it means they look terrible. Tonight, it was the latter. The Lakers were outscored 35-17, shot 35.7%, turned the ball over seven times (three from Jordan Farmar) and were generally crushed in any meaningful comparison to their Jazz counterparts. But, as I said, when you enter the fourth up by 32, sometimes this sort of thing will happen.
- Vlad Radmanovic: Am I the only one who thinks his early season momentum has officially slipped away? Even tossing out his wretched fourth quarter (remember, I don't put too much stock in garbage time) he was a complete non-factor over the other nine minutes he spent on the court, a trend growing increasingly more common these days. Our favorite Martian seems to have returned to orbit.
- Sasha Vujacic: More specifically, Sasha Vujacic's left ankle. He turned it early in the fourth, and will be evaluated tomorrow. He told AK after the game that it didn't feel all that great.
Audio: Not surprisingly, there was much talk of Sunday's game against Boston. Good stuff from Jackson, Kwame, and Kobe, particularly 24 talking about team D, and Ariza.
- Phil Jackson: Download phil_jackson_12.28 postUTAH.mp3
- Kwame Brown: Download kwame_brown_12.28 postUTAH.mp3
- Lamar Odom: Download lamar_odom_12.28 postUTAH.mp3
- Kobe Bryant: Download kobe_bryant_12.28 postUTAH.mp3
There's some audio with Kwame above, but I stuck around a few minutes longer and got some extra thoughts. Like BK, I thought #54's return was pretty good, especially considering he hadn't played since November 18th. He moved very well, both in terms of quickness and fluidity, and his timing was much better than I expected. When I shared that sentiment with Kwame, I got the impression the performance might have been smoother than he anticipated as well. In the meantime, his ankle is sporting the biggest brace on God's green. Upon first glance, you'd think he was wearing an ankle monitor. But if it keeps that fragile foot-to-shin connector in place, I'm all for Kwame sporting the "house arrest" look. His return adds some seriously needed frontcourt depth (and options, especially when it comes to Ronny Turiaf's usage in the rotation).
Kwame, on the game against the Celtics tomorrow
"It's gonna be a tough game, but it's a very winnable game, if we just come out and play the way we're supposed to play. Limit our turnovers and just play hard. Make it a dog fight. They have three great scorers, but there's only one ball. If we go out and do what we're supposed to do, we match up pretty well with them in size. We should be okay.
On the team being better defensively this season
"It starts with the leadership. Instead of one guy being a vocal leader, now we have two or three guys. We got Derek Fisher, who's been great at the point guard spot. At his age, the things that he's still capable of doing are amazing. And the point guard we had last year in Smush (Parker), no knock on him but he didn't talk much. Now we got a vocal leader at the point guard spot and that's where it starts. He's given some feedback on what he'd like in the screen and roll defense and where he wants you to be and how he can help you if you get switched off and that goes a long way. If you were playing at the park, guys talk at the park, guys talk at the park all the time. And then sometimes when we come out here, we don't like to talk."
(I noted later to Kwame the irony of a playground/park legend like Smush being so quiet on the court. He just smiled and shrugged, like "Yeah, what are you gonna do?")
On how the game ended up such a blowout
"It started with our defense. We've been scoring enough points to beat everybody, but when we play defense the way we played, getting our hands on balls. Myself, Fish, everybody being active, we're going to be a tough team to beat."
On how he evaluates the night after such a long absence. Does he go by his rhythm out there, how his body felt
"I'm looking to not have any slippage on defense. Whether I'm coming off the bench or whether (Phil Jackson) decides to start me, to be the anchor. Get your hands on balls. Clog up the lane. Just run the floor. Offense will come. Like I said, I'm not even 100% and it was very simple to get those little tip backs.
On how it felt simpler stepping back after a long injury absence this season than the same situation last year
"It's simpler, because Kobe's in such a mode that he trusts all of his teammates right now and guys have been proving all year long that they're gonna catch and finish the ball. So he's giving guys opportunities to catch and finish the ball. And he wants to give you the ball. He wants you to get going because it all looks good. He's gonna get his points, regardless.