Lakers' teamwork evident on numerous plays in 96-81 victory over Utah Jazz
It's likely Lakers fans have often heard or read buzzwords such as "teamwork," "collective effort" and "balance" to describe how the team has managed to survive this last week without guard Kobe Bryant (sprained left ankle) and center Andrew Bynum (sore right hip) in the lineup.
Feel free to run a count on how many times I've written those words, because I know they've circled in my head numerous times while the Lakers (40-13) have reeled off three consecutive victories, their latest being a 96-81 win Wednesday over the Utah Jazz.
It remains unclear whether Bryant will play Sunday in the NBA All-Star game. It's also uncertain when Bynum will return, after recently telling reporters he may get a cortisone shot to treat his hip after the All-Star break.
Regardless of whether they will have to hold the fort without two of their starters, the Lakers have provided a model these last three games that the team can follow going forward. It's nothing groundbreaking. They simply have been executing the triangle offense and sticking to basic defensive principles, resulting with the team feeling pretty good about itself during the All-Star break.
Though the Lakers had actually gotten off to slow starts against Portland and San Antonio before pulling away, they displayed a balanced effort the entire game against Utah. The execution mostly went well from start to finish. Below is a breakdown on how the Lakers pulled that off (after the jump).
First quarter, 12:00 - 11:45
The Lakers displayed their teamwork from the opening tip. Forward Pau Gasol's tip went to the Lakers' backcourt near Utah forward Andrei Kirilenko. But Lakers guard Derek Fisher quickly took the ball out of Kirlenko's hands and then passed to forward Lamar Odom to direct the offense up top. After Gasol set a high screen on forward Carlos Boozer and rolled inside, Odom drove to the left, recognized center Mehmet Okur was confronting on helpside and passed to Gasol inside for the easy lay-in and a 2-0 lead.
First quarter, 11:24 - 11:19
On a give-and-go, Lakers forward Ron Artest connected with Fisher just above the free-throw line. With Boozer trailing Fisher, Okur and Jazz guard Ronnie Brewer moved up from the paint. Before being locked into a double-team, Fisher kicked the ball out to a wide-open Shannon Brown, who sank a three-pointer for a 5-2 lead.
First quarter, 9:00 - 8:49
Brown's pull-up 20-foot jumper over Brewer hit off the front rim, but Odom grabbed the rebound. He took a quick dribble, weaved through Boozer and Utah guard Deron Williams and drew a foul on his successful left-handed bank shot. After converting on the three-point play, the Lakers held a 12-8 lead.
First quarter, 7:42 - 7:39
With Odom directing the offense up top, Gasol set a screen on Boozer. But rather than allowing Gasol to roll off the screen, Boozer locked him in on a double-team with Okur. He then moved up toward the perimeter, but it was too late. Odom immediately drove through the lane for the authoritative left-handed slam, drawing a foul on Okur. The three-point play gave the Lakers a 15-10 edge.
First quarter, 6:30 - 6:18
After Brown's entry past to Gasol on the near post, Brown flashed to the basket, Brewer followed him toward the paint and pushed him out toward the far wing. Gasol's post-up on Okur immediately drew a double-team from Brewer, but Brown quickly slashed from the far wing to the basket along the near baseline. Gasol found Brown open for the right-handed layup, giving the Lakers a 17-12 lead.
First quarter, 6:11 - 5:50.
The shot clock was winding down, and the Lakers played tight man-to-man defense. But for a slight moment, Artest left Brewer open on a back-door cut. But Gasol deflected Boozer's pass from the top of the left block, Artest saved the ball and Brewer was forced to shoot a highly contested 20-foot shot over Artest from the nearside as the shot clock expired.
First quarter, 1:07 - 1:00
After Boozer set a screen on Brown by the left block, Brown curled around and prevented Utah forward C.J. Miles from cutting inside. Miles' bounce pass to Boozer was quickly intercepted by Gasol, who led a three-on-one break with reserve guard Jordan Farmar running on the far end and Brown running on the near end. Gasol made a well-placed bounce pass just above the free-throw line extended, where Brown picked up the ball and added another one-handed slam that will surely be documented at LetShannonDunk.com. The play also gave the Lakers a 23-18 lead.
First quarter, :38 - :27.9
Boozer's drive to the lane was immediately blocked by Gasol, and the ball landed in Odom's hands. He then ran a three-on-two break and found Brown on the left wing. Brown then one-timed it to Gasol on the other end for an alley-oop lay-in and a 28-18 Lakers lead.
First quarter :8.4 - :00
Brewer's inbounds pass to Boozer resulted in a give-and-go to Brewer, who tried attacking the near baseline. But Gasol and Brown moved to cut his penetration while Lakers reserve guard Sasha Vujacic surrounded him from behind to limit his options. Nonetheless, Brewer managed to drive the lane, but Gasol blocked his shot. Gasol then pushed the ball to Vujacic, who went past the timeline and found an open Farmar on the nearside for a 27-foot three-pointer as time expired. The Lakers led 31-18 after the first quarter, thanks a 12-0 lead in the final 2:15.
Second quarter, 11:30 - 11:22
Though Brown's three-pointer from the top of the key fell short, Lakers forward Josh Powell grabbed the rebound and kicked it out to Farmar on the nearside. After Farmar pointed Gasol to the near post in the paint, Gasol caught the entry pass, drew a double-team from Kirilenko and Utah forward Paul Millsap. Gasol found Powell wide open along the near wing, and he nailed the open J for a 33-20 lead.
Second quarter, 10:12 - 9:57
Williams briefly lost a handle of the ball from a pesky Farmar, but he quickly connected with Jazz guard Wesley Matthews on the near baseline. Powell blocked Matthews' shot, which went off the backboard and landed in Vujacic's hands. He sprinted down the end of the court, almost went in for a left-handed layup but made a quick pass to avoid Kirilenko swatting the ball away. Gasol picked up the ball and slammed it home for the 35-24 lead.
Second quarter, 8:47 - 8:32
Vujacic stole the ball from Miles by the three-point line, ran the break and made a behind-the-back pass to Lakers forward D.J. Mbenga for the one-handed dunk and a 42-26 lead. That marked Vujacic's fourth assist in only five minutes of play.
Second quarter, 6:07 - 5:59
Williams tried connecting with Miles on a back-door cut, but Vujacic grabbed the pass. As Vujacic dribbled up court, Williams jumped at him, but Vujacic made a bounce pass around Williams to Farmar just past the timeline. In a three-on-one break, Farmar dished off to Mbenga at the free-throw line. Mbenga handled it from there, capping the break with a two-handed jam for a 46-32 lead. That play marked Vujacic's third steal.
Second quarter, 2:14 - 2:07
Fisher fed the far post to Artest, who spun around Millsap for the left-handed layup, giving the Lakers a 54-38 lead.
Third quarter, 5:47 - 5:12
After tying up Fisher and causing a turnover, Williams tried leading a break, but Brown, Odom and Gasol were all back in time defensively to stop any transition points. Williams picked up his dribble just past the free-throw line and kicked the ball back out to Kirilenko, who quickly passed it back to Williams up top to set up the half-court offense. Kirilenko was open on the near side of the three-point line, but his shot rimmed out and Gasol grabbed the board. Moments later, Fisher set up Gasol in the post. After drawing a double-team from Okur and Brewer, Gasol saw Brown flash toward the free-throw line. After receiving Gasol's pass, Brown weaved through Kirilenko and Brewer for the one-handed dunk, increasing the Lakers' lead to 65-47.
Third quarter, 3:22 - 3:18
This play was perfectly set in the triangle offense, with Gasol on the near post, Brown on the near block, Odom on the far post, Vujacic on the far side of the perimeter and Fisher at the top of the key. After Odom passed to Fisher at the top of the key, Odom cut right to the far post to get positioning over Millsap. As soon as the cut was made, Fisher passed the ball to Vujacic on the far end. Vujacic then fed an entry past to Odom, who cut left, spun right, drew a foul on his successful layup and completed the three-point play. The sequence gave the Lakers a 70-51 lead.
Third quarter, 1:39 - 1:30
After Farmar fed Gasol on the far post, he cut toward the free-throw line and then backed outside the perimeter. Meanwhile, Kirilenko and Miles doubled on Gasol, who quickly dished it out to Brown at the top of the key. Brown's original man was Miles, so Jordan's original man (Ronnie Price) stepped up toward Brown. That left Farmar with a wide-open 26-foot three-pointer, giving the Lakers a 76-55 advantage.
Fourth quarter, 8:27 - 8:20
After Price passed to Matthews outside the perimeter along the near side, Price "flexed" and cut toward the right block and then slashed to the basket with Farmar trailing. Matthews fed a bounce pass inside to Matthews, but Jordan quickly recovered while Powell and Odom moved toward the paint. Matthews thought he had a clear shot at the basket. But as he went up, Odom swiped the ball away.
Fourth quarter, 4:00 - 3:54
With Artest handling the ball up top, Farmar penetrated the wing and curled around Odom on the far side. Artest fed Farmar, who quickly slashed to the basket for the left-handed layup, giving the Lakers a 90-74 lead.
What this means
Though Gasol and Odom specifically showed more initiative during these last three games, much of the Lakers' offensive production revolved around properly executing the triangle. And the fact you're reading lots of names from the Lakers roster clearly indicates that many were involved with the ball movement and court penetration.
Some Lakers fans are reading Gasol's simple explanation that the team is properly running the offense as an indirect jab at Bryant. It isn't. The aforementioned plays indicate Gasol is just observing the reality.
The triangle offense is simply based on proper cutting, spacing and reading of the defense, and it's best executed when there's constant movement and the team shows an ability to switch positions. When you match that description to many of the offensive plays above, it's obvious to any fan that the Lakers are just following the fundamentals. And as far as the defensive efforts go, most of those plays came down to communication and covering for each other.
It's not flashy, but it works.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Pau Gasol finished with 22 points, going 10 for 15 from the field, and added 19 rebounds to help the Lakers overcome the absence of Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum for a 96-81 victory over the Jazz on Wednesday. Credit: Steve C Wilson / Associated Press