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Lakers 93, Rockets 81: No creamy middles

April 4, 2009 | 12:43 am

Breakdown below...

Three Good:

  • Kobe Bryant: There are games where Kobe will go off for 47, knocking down a dazzling array of fadeaways, triples, and twisty pretzel layups that leave folks slack-jawed and drooling like teenage boys at a Victoria's Secret runway show.  Those efforts are certainly impressive and illustrate the enormity of his skills.  But Friday night, a game in which Kobe only took 11 shots and wasn't the team's leading scorer, gives a better idea of how much he understands and excels not just at the stuff that ends up on SportsCenter, but at the game.  Kobe led the team with seven dimes, and was incredibly active off the ball.  Often he's the beneficiary of pick and roll sets, but against theKobe Bryant drives on Kyle Lowry Rockets he spent a lot of time laying the screen, drawing the defense and creating open looks for his teammates.  Nothing seemed rushed.  There was a great moment in the third quarter when Kobe received the ball in the high post, and looked like he might make a move.  Instead, he patiently held the ball in anticipation of the inevitable double team.  Finally it came, and Kobe calmly delivered an accurate feed to Trevor Ariza for a three pointer.  Very simple, no flash, but a great play. 
And, of course, there were classic Kobe daggers- consecutive triples late in the fourth that pushed a five point lead to 11, and essentially clinched the game.

He didn't take the bait when questioned about the now semi-famous Michael Lewis NYT Magazine article, touting Shane Battier's ability to influence (as much as anyone can) Kobe's offensive output.  "Taking away from what he does as a defender would be completely disrespecting him  He's a very good defensive player.  I enjoy matching up with him." 
  • Derek Fisher: 15 points on 6-11 shooting helped give the Lakers a boost on a night where Kobe Derek Fisher against the Rockets wasn't a points machine and Pau Gasol struggled to find a consistent rhythm, particularly in the first half.  Fish was solid with the mid-range game, finding space a couple times thanks to the aforementioned Kobe picks.  Defensively, Fish had four steals and did a great job limiting water bug Rockets PG Aaron Brooks.  The former Oregon Duck can really fill it up, but tonight was held without a field goal, and finished with only three points.
  • Physicality, and DJ Mbenga: I think it's fair to say that four wins over Houston, two each over Boston and Cleveland, and other grind-it-out wins show that the old narrative of a brie soft Lakers squad isn't the case any more.  "That was what teams started to do.  They figured the Lakers were soft, just beat them up and we'll have a chance at beating them.  As athletes and competitors, I think we've taken that next step and accepted that approach and are willing to get out and fight and play teams like that, and beat them," said Luke Walton.  
For more on DJ, see below.  Especially the video. 


One Bad:

  • Bench scoring: All in all, I don't think the bench play was a negative.  During the second and fourth quarters representing the bulk of their PT, the mob basically held serve (as opposed to recent games, where they could approach the scorer's table without sparking a 10-0 enemy run).  The closest they came to letting a lead fritter away came in the final frame when a five point advantage fell to a single point, but a quick pair of buckets from Pau Gasol and Josh Powell bumped it back to five again before Kobe and LO hit the hardwood again.   While those early season days of blowing a game wide open feel like about 1987, the bottom line is that the starters were able to get a breather without an uphill climb.  If the net result of their play is the basketball equivalent of "cat's game," fair enough. 

Having said that, their ability to connect Spalding and cord was anything but pretty.  Save DJ Mbenga (more on him later), nobody even flirted with 40% shooting, much less an efficient night hucking.  Jordan Farmar, 1-6.  Josh Powell, 2-6.  Luke Walton, 1-7.  Sasha Vujacic, 0-3.   In fact, that quartet had nearly as many shots blocked (three) as converted (five).  Like I said, this was hardly disastrous, reflective of a willingness to play tough and scrappy while overcoming issues.  But such pluck might also not have been needed with a little more proficiency.  Bottom line, thirteen points on twenty-two attempts leaves something to be desired.

The Celebrated and T-Shirted

  • DJ Mbenga: During the game, a bunch of us couldn't help but notice the first four rows in section 104 chock full of with fans donning gold T-shirts featuring "Banging With Mbenga" across the chest in purple.  As most of y'all know, I'm incapable of just shrugging my shoulders and looking the other way over such an oddity.  So after the game, I talked with their leader "Hoover," a 26-year season ticket holder and long-time advocate for the A.C. Green and Kurt Rambis types.  "The guys who did the dirty work down low in the post and don't get recognized," smiled Hoover.  "That's the part the casual basketball fan doesn't see." 
As the Lakers' resident mbanger, DJ Mbenga has naturally caught Hoover's eye.  He's been pleased with the Congolese center's "quality minutes" since Andrew Bynum's MCL gave out, and recently found himself yelling "Banging with Mbenga!" after a great play, a reaction that "just came naturally".  This ran so smoothly off the tongue, in fact, that Hoover decided to make a few dozen shirts blazing the phrase that pays.

With Yao Ming in town and Mbenga likely to get some run to battle that 7'6" girth, Hoover and the Gang decided this was an ideal night to debut the custom tee.  Mbenga had no idea these guys were in the house cheering him on, but you wouldn't have known it by the way he played.  4-7 shooting for 8 points (easily the most productive bench player in this respect), plus a pair of swats in just under ten minutes of highly energetic play.  Naturally, the night was all that and then some for Hoover, and he gave me a t-shirt to present to its namesake.  

Only one problem.  He worried that their biggest size (XL) might not fit.  And I'm guessing it won't.  But judging by Mbenga's surprised and touched reaction, that ain't an issue in the slightest.

Told about his fan club, Mbenga looked absolutely blown away, then made no secret that he wanted one of the shirts.  With that, I handed over the gift.  "Banging with Mbenga!" exclaimed DJ with a grin the size of his biceps.  "I'm so excited.  I like it!"  From there, the moment seemed to really register, and containing his emotions required some effort.  "You know what I'm going to do," noted DJ after a pause.  "I'm gonna send it to my foundation in Africa.  That's really nice.  I'm really happy to have this"   When I told Mbenga about section 104's appreciation of his hustle and balls to the walls, the pride DJ takes in grabbing their applause was evident.

"The love they give to me, it's because they see something.  And I appreciate this. As a player, you don't pay attention to what's going on, because when they call your name, you gotta be ready to do what you gotta do.  After the game, you hear about what they say, and that's when you find out about stuff like this."

Moments like these are honestly quite rewarding to be a part of.  I've expressed doubts that DJ can play this well 10-15 minutes per night on a regular basis.  Often with players of a limited skill set, increased time equals diminishing returns.  But that's also irrelevant, because I've also made no bones about how much I respect Mbenga's work ethic, attitude and the tribulations conquered to even reach the NBA, much less stick.  If anyone deserves a night like this, it's DJ.


Bynum News:
Posted by Ben Taylor

The latest update on the always popular “What's the Latest with Andrew Bynum?” watch: More than an hour before the game, Bynum worked out with Kurt Rambis and Brian Shaw, performing a series of post drills with Rambis feeding him and Shaw acting as a post-defender. Bynum sported a large brace on his inured right knee.

By my estimation, the session was performed at about half-speed – nothing too physical, nothing too quick. Afterward, Drew said that “lateral movement started to feel's pain free now.” He looked comfortable and executed a number of spin moves over his left shoulder. He even dunked, albeit barely, after one of them.

“It went well,” Bynum said. “We did a bunch of stuff, getting back into the triangle. Three on three started on Thursday. I haven't had difficulty with much yet.”

Bynum was in uniform for the run-through but insisted it was only “to go out with Kurt Rambis and workout before the game.” He said he still hopes to see game action before the regular season concludes April 14 against Utah. Ironically, Memphis - the opposition for Bynum's last two serious knee injuries - is the Lakers penultimate opponent on April 12. No one would blame him if he waited until the Jazz came to town to take the court.



Phil Jackson, on continuing to push for the league's best record (the Lakers are only one game back, after Cleveland lost Friday in Orlando):

"We have to make an attempt for it.  I wouldn't feel good about it, neither would these payers if we didn't.  We don't really hae to threaten our well being by doing it, I don't think.  We have some opponents that I consider dangerous and tonight when I walked in (to the locker room after the game) to talk to them I said, "dallas got beat by Memphis, Utah got beat on their home court by Minnesota, New Orleans got beat by Golden State tonight.  We have the have the Los Angeles Clippers and the Sacramento Kings coming up as our next two games, so we don't take them lightly."


Kobe on the win:

DJ, on the t-shirts: