Lakers 101, Utah 77: It may not be "X" hat worthy, but 10 straight wins is pretty damn good
Am I wrong, or does it look in that video like I somehow ate my own neck for dinner? Hopefully it's just a lighting issue. Breakdown below.
-Defense: As mentioned in the video, the D done went gangbusters after Phil Jackson's timely third quarter interlude. After ripping off an 18-8 run to close out that frame, the Lakers proceeded to step on Utah's necks even more, limiting them to just 2-18 shooting and six measly points over the final dozen minutes. That kind of effectiveness makes it hard to narrow down the evening's singular defensive highlight:
Do you go with Lamar Odom batting a Mehmet Okur miss to himself, a rebound he eventually converted into a fast break layup for Pau Gasol? How about Jordan Farmar blocking Deron Williams' jumper in space, the highlight of a possession doomed to result in a 24-second violation thanks to equally busy hands from LO, Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest? Or maybe the other pair of clock gaffes in that same quarter? Farmar and LO converging to force a D.Will turnover, with the ensuing possession good for an Artest trey ball? Walls of Laker bodies forming on several baseline drives to force desperate kick outs for lower percentage shots?
And hey, the choice becomes even more difficult when you consider the first half also featured nice moments: Gasol blocking Carlos Boozer. LO following suit against Okur on the heels of standing his ground to force a Paul Millsap miss. Derek Fisher batting Williams' pass to disrupt his former protege's flow, then Andrew Bynum stepping out to bother the point guard's jumper in the lane? Gasol's presence preoccupying Booz down low, allowing Kobe to creep in like a ninja for the sneak attack block?
Am I allowed to choose "All of the above?"
Oh, and FYI. That six point quarter represents the fewest allowed by the Lakers over a quarter since they surrendered THREE points (I'm being serious) to the Clippers in the second frame of a Dec. 14, 1999 win. It's almost ten years to the day, actually. In other words, if you're a betting man and can find a bookie willing to take action on a Lakers game taking place in December 2019, if he's offering a prop bet involving single digit quarters at some point during the month, give him your money.
-Kobe Bryant: 27 points on an efficient 10-19 clip from the field, plus eight trips to the line. And typical of the story line, as the third quarter began turning positive for the purple and gold, Mamba was right in the mix. Seven points over the games final six minutes, with assistance provided on another trio of buckets. Kobe added another five dimes over the contest's course to tie a season-high (8), then chipped in six rebounds, a pair of steals and blocks each, and predictably lent his presence to the second half clampdown. Such all-around efforts are common enough to possibly become ho hum, but I think most would agree, they remain well appreciated in this neck of the woods.
He doesn't often get the chance to pop up in this section. Or any
section, really, considering how drastically his PT has been slashed. And
judging the stat line alone, it's not readily apparent why The Machine would
land here. 3/1/1, albeit with a pair of steals. But when you consider the issues that cost Sasha his spot in
the rotation, the way he conducted himself during meaningful minutes (more or less his first six) bears mention.
Getting a surprise nod with about three minutes left in the third and the Utah's lead chipped down to a tie, Vujacic didn't let the tense atmosphere translate into anxious play. Instead of frantic defense that often results in dumb fouls, he created two turnovers via quick, controlled mitts and stuck with CJ Miles on a drive to the rack, forcing a miss. Even more impressive, he only took one shot, a three pointer drilled in rhythm. That extended the Laker lead to a lucky seven and prompted Jerry Sloan to call time out. Kobe took Sasha's place when the action commenced, but not before Sasha was able to make relatively few minutes matter, never an easy proposition for Vujacic.
I hope Sasha truly understands why this stint was successful. The Achilles Heel during his entire Laker career has been a maddening habit of trying to cram fifteen minutes of stats into five minutes of burn, which typically resulted in forced (and sometimes selfish) shots and a perpetual habit of confusing activity for achievement. Tonight, we saw Sasha do what's been asked and often resisted: Allowing the game to just come to him without worrying about "producing" his way into a bigger role. This could be a stepping stone towards getting back in Jackson's good graces. I'm not suggesting tonight landed him back in the rotation. I'm very confident Friday's game plan against the Wolves will involve the same eight-man crew. But during an important time, Phil offered Sasha the chance to earn trust, and the guard didn't disappoint. That should mean something to both parties.
Two Bad: (It was a 24 point win with a completely dominating final 18 minutes-- let's not pick nits just to find a third thing to harp on...)
-Defensive Rebounding: In the first half, the Lakers limited the Jazz to 42.6% shooting, but still found themselves down by four. Why? Nine second chance points certainly fueled Utah's attack, and to be honest it could have been much worse. The Jazz, not an overly robust offensive rebounding squad over the course of this season, managed 11 of them on 27 missed shots, an almost 41% rate (they came into the game with a 26.8 ORB%, by comparison). That's fairly absurd. On any given night, the ball can bounce in ways that can artificially create opportunities for teams to get second chances. Teams that bomb from distance, for example, tend to get a lot of long rebounds. The Lakers gather a lot of them with their height inside. But tonight, it seemed to be a combination of Utah's aggressiveness, a lack of awareness and organization defensively from LA, and moments where the Lakers were probably just outworked (I'll have to watch the game again to see exactly what went on, but even in live viewing it was clearly not a positive development.) On a night where the Lakers didn't turn the ball over much (a manageable seven in the first half, only nine overall), and shot well (52.6% in the first half, 47.4% in the third quarter) the inability to secure Utah's many misses was the big reason LA was behind at the half.
-Andrew Bynum's Rebounding: There was a moment during the live blog where I defended Bynum after a play in which Carlos Boozer snuck inside for a putback of a Deron Williams miss, noting how Drew had to come off his man in order to challenge the shot, leaving Boozer unmarked underneath. This sort of thing happens over the course of a game, and no doubt against a mobile player like Boozer who can shoot on the perimeter, score inside, and rebound with strength, Bynum has a tough assignment. I get that. But c'mon, man. No rebounds in the first half? Not one? In almost 20 minutes? That ain't right.
Said Phil Jackson, when I asked him about his night on the glass:
"I think it's just a reactive quality that of getting after the ball and finding it and understanding where the ball's going to come off at, and going to get it at the point where it's coming off the rim or coming off the backboard. Those things have to do with getting turned and planted and prepared to go get the ball. I think a lot of times he just wasn't in space, or have spacial relations to where the ball was goign to come off at. There were a few that he picked off the floor in the second half, and we kind of congratulated him off those rebounds. Four, I think is what he ended up with. We're not trying to make an issue out of it, we're trying to help him get through that and find his way to being a better rebounder, a guy who can track the ball down a little bit."
Tuesday at practice, I spoke to Brian Shaw about Bynum's rebounding (a conversation that seems a lot more germane in light of tonight's performance, and something I'll try to share over the rest of the wee), and he echoed a lot of what PJ said tonight. Lamar Odom is the team's best rebounder, Shaw told me, because he has that innate skill of anticipating the flight of the ball, and the aggressiveness to go to it. Bynum, despite his height, isn't necessarily a natural rebounder. Some of that is instinct. Some of that is attention to detail (put a body on a guy). Some of that, no doubt, is a question of motor. Great rebounders make every missed shot theirs. Odom isn't as big, but has that mentality and the instinct to go along. Bynum will have to develop it from the ground up. Overall, he's been better this year. Tonight, he wasn't. To his credit, he put responsibility the first half glass donut on himself. "I wasn't out there really being active towards the basketball tonight," he said. "I wasn't being active, and going to get the ball."
One Big Thing:
-Win Streaks: One of the things I found to be amazing about last season's 65 win regular season was the steadiness with which they did it. No double digit win streaks, but a big collection of six, seven, and eight game runs. There was a level of consistency. As most Lakers fans know, the team hasn't lost three in a row since Pau Gasol arrived, but over the past couple of seasons, they've also avoided those stretches where they lose four of seven, or go .500 over 12 games. Despite the dominant stretch of play they're currently in, it'll be interesting to see how things play out. Steady, like it was last year, is better than gaudy streaks with middling play in between. Of course, gaudy win streaks without the middling play is even better.
Bynum, on the fourth quarter defense and LA's talent:
Odom, on his team's fourth quarter run, defense, nature of momentum:
Derek Fisher, on the team's defense, and how momentum can shift:
Fish, on criticisms the Lakers haven't played a strong schedule, and Friday's game against the T-Wolves (there's irony buried in that line somewhere):
Sasha Vujacic, on his effort tonight, and LA's defense:
Shannon Brown, on PJ's third quarter TO, rebounding, defense: