Lakers 118, Atlanta 110: Eat a peach
At best, it helps clear the memory of Friday's pre-Halloween horror show. At worst, it takes the edge off a Monday morning. Particularly one accompanied by an iconic Allman Brothers album.
More stuff below, filled with (as that cute kid from those new Windows commercial calls them) lots of happy words.
Intellectually, most Lakers fans understand the addition of Ron Artest, while it can (and damn well better) ultimately lead to positive things, changes the way the team operates on both ends and therefore requires a transition period, one that can't truly get into full swing until Pau Gasol is back on the floor. On the other hand, I thought there'd be a time of adjustment last season when Gasol and Andrew Bynum were sharing the lane for the first time and the team had to grow accustomed to Lamar Odom coming off the bench. Instead, the Lakers got off to a great start and made me look like a big ol' worrywart.
Except that it didn't happen last season doesn't mean it won't be necessary now. Waiting for Phil Jackson after the catacombs in the catacombs of Staples, another member of the media said he figured it would take about 30 games for things to look the way they might in the playoffs. Argue about the number if you'd like, but the basic point is true. What we'll see is fits and starts- moments where things look really good mixed in with raggedy sequences of indecision. When it works, though, man alive it can be pretty. We touched on Artest's defense above. Once he got his claws into Atlanta's Joe Johnson, holding him to one field goal after the first quarter, the Lakers were liberated in a few ways. First, Atlanta's offense was crippled. Then Kobe, whose freelancing got him in some hot water against Johnson early, was now up against guys like Marvin Williams and Josh Smith who can't make a defender pay for gambling nearly as well. Now it's okay for Kobe to wander a little more.
Five steals later, Kobe was able to make his presence felt on that end, a nice side note to his 41 points on 15-29 and another night of 10+ free throws.
Offensively, Artest remains a work in progress, far better at helping create shots for others than he is at getting one for himself, though he did have a nice drive off the wing in the second half for a layup. His line (12/7/4 with three blocks) had all sorts of variety in it, something he had in common with his teammates. Odom, save a couple loose passes, was fantastic, with 11 points, 14 boards, eight assists, and a steal. He grabbed a couple key offensive rebounds in LA's decisive 18-0 third quarter push, helping to stretch possessions and the lead. Kobe finished with eight rebounds and three assists. Bynum had 21 points (though three boards in 37:01 isn't exactly Windex work on the glass). Luke Walton was effective in his 13:40, with two assists, two boards, a steal, and eight points.
PJ said after the game (see it all below) that three games in, the Lakers are yet to play an effective 48 minutes start to finish, and I don't think anyone would disagree. The parts that have worked, though, show where the team can go from here. It's a process, and hard as it is not to get wrapped up in each game, the important thing is the general trend, not the day to day return. If I could hitch my stock portfolio to the direction I think the Lakers are going, I'd certainly make that wager. Even if I'd take hits from time to time, Friday for example, in the long run I'd be likely to cash in.
One more note:
-I'm going to write more about this later in the week, but PJ made it clear that a five guard rotation isn't going to work out in the long run (there just aren't enough minutes to go around), and that certain players are in danger of playing themselves out of the loop if they don't pick it up. Fish noted how PJ uses early season games to play with different rotations and place guys in a variety of situations, so he knows what he has when things really get into crunch time. Someone, be it Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, or Shannon Brown, is going to find himself tethered to the bench a few weeks from now. I don't expect it to be Brown.VIDEO:
PJ, on the game generally and Artest's defensive effort:
Jackson again, on the guard rotation, and the performance of LO:
MORE VIDEO...After describing how he found success defending Joe Johnson, Artest describes the process of switching onto JJ after Kobe began with that assignment. "I wanted to guard him and give Kobe a breather. "He's never gonna (ask). He don't want to be babied, so I gotta say, 'Kobe, I got him.' He'll wear himself out into the dirt and if you don't go over there and (say that). As a good teammate, he'll say, 'go get him.'"
Oh, and contrary to the popular opinion of his detractors, Artest claims to actually be quicker this season than skeptics writing him off as an aging defender would claim. Beyond that, he says that increased speed came while adding three extra pounds of muscle to boot. Exactly three pounds, Ron? How would you know? Dude gets himself on a scale every single day. As we speak, he's weighing in at precisely 265. No word on the exact ounces, so I guess that number be the result of rounding up and or down.
FYI. If you substitute "slower than a parked car" for "quicker" and "slightly less toned" for "extra three pounds of muscle," the transformation of my body this offseason is identical to Artest's. I mean, exactly the same.
Remember the post I wrote before the game about how playing without Pau Gasol makes life difficult on several counts beyond El Spaniard's individual stats? Well, Luke Walton concurs. The reserve forward sees Gasol not only as "one of, if not the most skilled big man in the game," but without him, roles change. The rotation changes as well. Players like to find that comfort zone as early as possible, but the process, for all intents and "this is how we'd try to build for the playoffs" purposes, gets halted.
Mind you, Walton wasn't making excuses and noted that even without Pau, the Lakers are talented enough that a high level of play can and should be expected. But that doesn't change reality.