Lakers 121, Phoenix 102: The power of positively smart thinking
Fair to say the Lakers handled the first half of their toughest back-to-back to date with style.
We talked about the smarts up top in the video. I'm certainly always an advocate of this team showing some discipline- this is not an unusual stance, by the way- and they bought it in bulk. 78 points in the paint. More good stuff:
-Andrew Bynum: The 26 points were great, the 13-18 shooting highly efficient. What I really liked, though, was his rebounding, shotblocking, and defense he displayed over nearly 36 minutes of burn. After grabbing only three rebounds in a win over the Hawks on Nov. 2, Bynum made it clear that he had to do more on the glass against smaller teams. Tonight, against the Lilliputian Suns, Bynum was a force in that department, cleaning the home glass 12 times and grabbing three on the other end (by my count, that's a grand total of 15). He was strong in the paint, contesting shots and blocking more as the game went along. Bynum's work on the high screen was effective, as he showed hard and recovered well, helping seal any gaps that might have been left for Steve Nash to cause havoc in the lane, all while picking up only one foul. "He did pretty well out there," Phil Jackson said. "He got some help situations, scrambling around out there and was really active. I thought he did pretty well." Given how PJ normally rides Bynum for his lack of assertive D, this is pretty high praise.
-Bench Contributions: Just about everyone PJ could find made a contribution. Shannon Brown again landed on YouTube with a great dunk in the fourth quarter, part of a 10 point, 4-6 shooting performance that included both a triple and a great drive'n'finish with the left hand. Jordan Farmar finished with eight assists (and it would have been nine had DJ Mbenga not back-ironed a dunk off a particularly fancy over the shoulder feed from JF). Sasha Vujacic hit two threes. Josh Powell was 6-10 from the floor, including another short corner three and in a nice change of pace, some quality makes from the paint. Luke Walton entered the game in the second quarter and had two straight bad trips, but then quickly rang up three dimes and buried a three. Jackson showed a little faith in the group, too, sticking with a sub-heavy group after LA's seven point lead to start the quarter was shaved down to three, and was rewarded when the lead was pushed back to 10 before the starters returned. Playing on their home floor, those are the sort of positive minutes the bench can build on as the season progresses.
-Kobe Bryant: I'm going to post a little more about this tomorrow, but it's fair to say Kobe again crushed it, and again the damage was done from around the basket. 13-21 from the floor, plus four boards and four assists, generally coming when the Suns were eventually compelled to double him. He did his damage primarily against Jason Richardson, but when Alvin Gentry looked to put larger defenders on him in Grant Hill and Jared Dudley, the results were the same. None of Kobe's 29 points came from beyond the arc, since (as it was when he hung 41 on the Grizzlies last Sunday) he didn't bother taking one. It's incredibly fun to watch a guy do what he's doing this season. It's not exactly new- Kobe's been among the NBA's most effective posting guards for a while- but the level to which he's excelling on that part of the floor is pretty amazing.
-Defense: Phoenix was at the end of a tough trip, missed a lot of looks they'd normally make, and Amar'e Stoudamire, Richardson and Leandro Barbosa won't typically combine to shoot 8-36 from the floor. But anytime an NBA team can be held to 36.5% shooting, that has to involve solid defense. Particularly when that team is the Suns. I mentioned Bynum's play, but as a group they were strong. Derek Fisher did a nice job on Nash, helping to limit him to 13 points and five assists, in part by working hard to deny Nash the ball once he gave it up. Combine that with solid P and R defense from the Lakers as a group and the two-time MVP was left without much space to operate.
VIDEO:Derek Fisher: He addresses the discipline and smarts we alluded to in the video. "Being together for another season," he says, "we understand each other's strengths and weaknesses pretty well."
Andrew Bynum: He was pleased with his effort tonight, particularly defensively. Interesting to hear him talk about how he trained this summer to prepare for the pick and roll: On the gridiron!
Phil Jackson, Part I: On the win, Bynum, defense, and so on.
PJ Part II: More on Drew, on Fish, and so on (with a little so forth tossed in).
PJ, Part III: On Friday's game in Denver.
More to come tomorrow.