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Armageddon Avoided

March 30, 2008 | 10:50 pm

It didn't come quick.  It didn't come easy.  And it didn't come without a boatload of three balls getting hoisted and drained by both sides (interesting nugget of trivia to come later). But when the dust finally settled on the five minutes of extra hoops required to create an outcome, the Lakers were sitting on top of a 126-120 win over the Wizards.  Seven Lakers notched double figure tallies (the five starters, plus Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton off the bench) and the Lakers bested their opponents in the rebounding (44-43), diming (35-29) and blocking battles (9-5).  Kobe Bryant's team-leading 26 points came off a tough 7-24 shooting clip, but he kept a constant eye out for his teammates, helping set up 13 baskets while only turning the ball over once.

Finaly, the trivia.  As mentioned, both squads were scorching from downtown, the Lakers hitting 14-27 (52%) and the Wiz knocking down 17-30 (57%).  Overall, the home team was 50% from the field and the visitors 47%.  Thus, tonight marked the first time where two teams sported a better three-point percentage (with a minimum of 27 attempts per side) than straight up field goal percentage since the addition of the arc itself.  Should any member of the blogosphere end up on Jeopardy! and this answers the Daily Double, the K Brothers expect a cut of the winnings.

The Breakdown is below (courtesy of BK)


The Good:

  • Three Point Shooting, Properly Done: The Lakers were huge in the first half from downtown (11-15, 73%), and while it's more than a little ironic that they had success there given Friday's three point chuckfest, the difference in the two games was striking.  Lots of penetration and post ups, with the ball generally working from the interior to the perimeter.  In the Lakers didn't quite gun at a the prodigious clip of the first 24, but still finished with a 52% mark for the game.  More importantly, they got the ball inside from the get go, and didn't stop trying to go low or penetrate until the game was over.  They got to the line 32 times, double the output from Friday night.  Until their post players get back, this is a team that's going to shoot a lot of outside shots, so how they set them up will be very important.  Sunday night, shot selection helped limit Washington to seven fast break points. 
  • Bench Play: Big minutes from the reserves tonight.  20 points from Sasha, who provided a spark early (nine points in the second quarter) and late (six in the third), and made a big stop on Nick Young in OT that helped seal the deal.  DJ Mbenga contributed with 6/3 with a block in 10:02 of run.  19/6/3 from Luke Walton, who played what was easily one of his most productive games of the season (yes, I'm aware there aren't all that many from which to choose).  Playing big minutes down the stretch, Walton rewarded Phil Jackson and the Lakers with solid production.  8/2 in the fourth, and in OT Walton secured a huge offensive board off a missed Kobe free throw that gave the Lakers a chance to clinch the game.  Walton was a key part of a big effort from the supporting cast, and with Kobe not pouring in points and a sick (literally, not figuratively) LO relatively quiet offensively, the Lakers needed production from other sources.  After the game, emphasized that keeping them involved early was a major factor tonight's production.
  • Vlad Radmanovic: When Vlad makes shots, he's generally a pretty handy fella to have around, and tonight, he hit his shots.  18 points on 7-11 from the floor, including 4-7 from three point land.  In a weird twist, two of his misses were air balls.  You don't see that all too often.   As for his lack of run down the stretch... honestly?  I get it, at least on nights where other available options are playing well.  Vlad can be a huge lift for a team, but late in a game he's not a guy I would feel confident in to consistently make good decisions with the ball, and not a reliable defender.  But to some extent, that's beside the point.  Vlad is there to stretch a D and make shots, something he did very well Sunday night. 
  • Kobe Distributing: It was a very rough shooting night for Bryant, who was 7-24 from the floor.  But Kobe did a great job moving the ball around and making sure there was no repeat of Friday night's sleepwalk from the rest of the team.  Washington was very aggressive in getting the ball out of his hands, but generally speaking Kobe didn't force many shots and in the end, the Wizards paid for the extra attention they showed 24.  Take away Kobe's field goal attempts, and the rest of the team shot a combined 57%. 

The Bad:

  • The Third Quarter: The bottom line is the Lakers gave up 39 points in the third.  Granted, the Wizards were drilling everything from everywhere on the court- when a team shoots 80% from downtown (8-10), they can short circuit the scoreboard- whether they were given open looks, highly contested shots, or anything in between.  But while the quarter ended tied at 86, it didn't necessarily have to go that way.  The Lakers were up by as much as 17, and at a critical juncture in the game, let the Wizards close that lead.  Were they red hot?  Absolutely.  Could the Lakers have been more attentive defensively?  No question.

The Mixed:

  • Defense Generally: Take away that video game third quarter, and the Lakers held the Wizards to 42% from the floor.  Even with it, Washington was only at just under 47%.  When a team is 17/30 from downtown, that'll keep 'em in the game no matter what else is going on.  It was, in a lot of ways, one of those nights where just about everything Washington did in the second half, whether via a clean, uncontested look or the circus shot Caron Butler hit over Derek Fisher at the end of regulation, went it.  Jackson said after the game that he didn't feel they did a terrible job closing on shooters, and in many cases he was right.  But there were still plenty of breakdowns.  I'll have to go back and look at the tape (just like the coaches!) before making a more definitive evaluation of the defense.  From what I saw watching it live, it wasn't as bad as the third quarter would suggest, but still had some holes. 

Regarding the Butler three, Jackson said after the game that they thought about fouling to put Washington on the line, but thought there was too much clock left in the game (10.1 when the shot went down, 16 ticks when the ball was inbounded) to go that route.  And while Butler hit the shot, it was a really tough look.  I asked Fish after the game about the play, and while he was disappointed the ball went down, as a veteran player he understands that if you can force a very difficult look and the guy makes it anyway, that's just basketball. 



Ronny Turiaf

On the topsy turvy nature of the game

"This is what the NBA basketball is all about.  This is where "amazing happens."  Teams start getting hot in the second half, knocking down three point shots over and over and over.  We did a good job weathering the storm and not panicking."

On getting the 50th win tonight
"We've been talking about trying to get 50 as soon as possible.  We know how tough the Western Conference is and all these other teams are winning basketball games.  It's gonna be on us to keep winning and keep pushing."

Sasha Vujacic

On the importance of personally having a good game after a poor outing Friday against Memphis

"Definitely.  I shot 14 three-point shots (while making only four) and it was kind of embarrassing.  But it's way behind me, you know."

On how a game like tonight's where so many people score make them dangerous

"When we play like that, when we share the basketball, when we play together on defense and offense, when everyone is involved, we are really hard to beat.  I mean, they had an amazing game tonight, so it was kind of hard to keep up.  But the outcome was good and we were happy about it.

Kobe Bryant

On the entire team being so involved tonight

"Teams are just making a conscious effort to throw the kitchen sink at me, so we have to have that trust where guys knock down shots.  We were able to do that, so it keeps the defense extremely honest.

On the defense tonight
"We did everything we wanted to do.  We stopped penetration.  We closed out to the shooters, get a hand in their face.  They shot 56% from threes.  You kinda gotta live with that.  If teams are gonna go 17-30 on contested three point shots.  I mean, there a couple that were uncontested.  But for the most part, they had hands in their faces, hands on their arms and they were knocking them down.   They made, like, three straight fade away threes.  You gotta live with that and know that when the playoffs come around, if you have a team taking contested threes in a seven game series, it's gonna be a tough series for them to win.

On getting the 50th win of the season
It was a hump for us to get over in the last several years, and it feels good to get there."

Also, a few notes I got during pregame but didn't have time to add before the tip...

For those of you wondering if Pau Gasol's being a little too cautious about getting back on the court, I got a look at his ankles today before the game.  I'm no doctor.  Frankly, I struggled to pass high school biology.  But I'm pretty sure the swollen, red left ankle was the one still hurting and the smaller, pinker ankle was the good one.  And I assuming I identified things correctly, I can see why he's still a bit off from returning.  Thing is still pretty puffy.  Gasol said it's still pretty tender and limiting just about everything he can do on the court.  He's looking to gain more range of motion, some more strength, and basically prevent it from getting hurt again. 

As for Chris Mihm, who got five minute of action on Friday night to mark his long-awaited return to the court, his troublesome foot is not only feeling pretty good today, but felt considerably different than past times when he thought a hurdle was cleared.  Before, a court appearance, combined with a practice (like yesterday's) would leave him struggle to walk around without grimacing.  Today, however, the discomfort was minimal.  Having been down this road a zillion times since 2006, Mihm's not allowing himself to get too excited, but he can definitely feel a difference.  "You kind of forget what a normal foot feels like," remarked the center. 

I also learned a little bit more about what's made this injury so difficult to heal up.  Aside from the fact that he rolled the ankle about as badly as structurally possible without actually breaking it (which, by the way, would have been preferable to the torn ligaments when it comes to rehab), Mihm's got flat feet, which made the screw-inserting procedure more complicated (and eventually, more pain inducing).  They attempted to create more arch for him to remove pressure, but the screw head migrated a bit from the heel bone where the Achilles attaches, which excruciating.  This wasn't really something that could be foreseen, since most people's feet have a normal arch, which makes this less complicated.  But in a broad stroke kind of way, this would explain in part why so much trial and error has taken place.