Five things to take away from Lakers' 107-83 victory over Golden State Warriors
1. Kobe Bryant's claim that he's 100% isn't accurate, but he's on the right track: He drove through the lane with ease. He posted up with enough timing and rhythm to nail his jumpers. And he mucked it up inside to help clean up the glass. Yup, the Lakers' 107-83 victory Sunday over the Golden State Warriors marked Bryant's best effort yet with his 20 points on eight of 16 shooting marking the first time he shot 50% all season (of course the Lakers have only played three games so this isn't saying much). His seven boards showed he had the confidence, mobility and toughness to contribute to the Lakers' 55-42 rebounding effort. And his near 27 minutes of playing time reflected the Lakers managing to put away the Warriors early and granting many of the starters some rest.
It also led Bryant to boldly tell Fox Sports West's Patrick O'Neal that his surgically repaired right knee feels 100% and that he shouldn't ask him about the status of his knee ever again. He repeated it moments later to reporters in the locker room, though Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said earlier that Bryant's claim is far from accurate.
Obviously, Bryant wants the questions about his injuries to stop, which is his right. Obviously, the press isn't going to stop asking them, which is its right. But the fact that Bryant remained in a playful mood about his knee shows that it's making significant progress. When he fought valiantly through essentially one leg during the postseason, Bryant appeared in a very stoic mood. More importantly, Bryant's movement improved enough where he didn't feel as if he needed to shortcut on defense, an approach he took Friday against Phoenix. And his rhythm on offense continued to flourish.
Bryant showed Golden State guard Monta Ellis how hard it is to guard him with an aggressive pos-up and then a drive to the basket for a leaner. He cut through the lane off a screen from Ron Artest, allowing Pau Gasol to feed Bryant in the lane for an open shot. And instead of forcing the action in traffic on one sequence, Bryant founder Derek Fisher open in the corner for a jumper.
2. The Lakers played well enough to earn some rest for their starters: With exception to Gasol, every Lakers starter played less than 30 minutes. They all sat out for the first 3:24 of the second quarter. And they all sat out for the final 6:50 of the game.
Gasol had to log heavy minutes for a few seasons. Jackson doesn't feel 100% confident in playing the bench entirely. It also spoke to the fact that the Lakers lack frontline depth outside of their starters, the fact Artest shot two-of-11 from the field and Jackson wants to limit the minutes as much as possible for Bryant (knee), Odom (played the most minutes during the preseason) and Fisher (Jackson keeps him under 30 minutes every game).
Nonetheless, the fact the Lakers built a 34-14 first-quarter lead and a 93-69 advantage before the starters called it a night illustrates the value of putting away an opponent early. It couldn't come at a better time considering the Lakers play four games this upcoming week, including contests against Memphis on Tuesday, at Sacramento on Wednesday, against Toronto on Friday and against Portland on Sunday.
The performance also provides a blueprint on effective teamwork. Some examples: Odom opened the game powering his way in off of only two dribbles. Odom nailed a three-pointer after recognizing David Lee gave him the space. Fisher, whom Jackson observed seems motivated to play since Blake plays right behind him, appeared like a young and quick point guard, pump faking Ellis and then driving inside off a single dribble past him. And Odom fought valiantly for a rebound that resulted in a Fisher jumper.
The effort proved enough for Gasol (26 points and 12 rebounds) and Odom (16 points and 14 rebounds) each to record double-doubles and Fisher to contribute 14 points on efficient five of six clip.
3. The reserves need games like these so they can play as an entire unit: The Lakers have earned high marks with their bench, enough for Jackson to assign them a team nickname, Renegades. But as impressive as the Lakers have played thus far, they hadn't ever played together as an entire unit until Sunday against Golden State.
The verdict: The Lakers have work to do in fostering chemistry, considering the Lakers entire bench unit conceded a 13-2 run to the Warriors and committed three turnovers, resulting in Golden State cutting the Lakers' lead to 36-27 with 7:15 remaining in the second quarter. As mentioned, Gasol also logged heavy minutes because of the reserves' inexperience.
Some examples: Devin Ebanks' mishandled dumpoff pass from Theo Ratliff. Shannon Brown and Ebanks committed consecutive offensive fouls. Sasha Vujacic's pass in the fourth quarter to Ebanks was mishandled and the ball went out of bounds. Derrick Caracter's kick out of a double team to Ebanks resulted in an airball. And Caracter's drive to the basket resulted in an offensive foul.
But the Lakers bench appearing tentative isn't an alarming sign. This illustrates the similar practice of riding a bike. The bench has mostly featured Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Brown with training wheels (at least one or two other starters). They've shown plenty of promise, so Jackson thought the large lead would give him a good chance to have the reserves take the training wheels of. It granted Ebanks his first regular-season appearance, as he finished with four points on zero-of-four shooting in 12 minutes. Vujacic also received his first regular-season run, scoring three points on one-of-three shooting in eight minutes.
The bench currently is riding on training wheels and Jackson wants them to ride without them. That plan failed, forcing Jackson to put the training wheels back on, with starters guiding them through. But if the Lakers build up more sizable leads, Jackson will likely try to take the wheels off again.
It's not a good thing if Vujacic, Caracter or Ratliff are logging heavy minutes this season because that means the Lakers are suffering injuries among their starters. But it's critical the entire reserve unit learns eventually how to play completely independent of the starters in case that scenario plays out. More importantly for the Lakers, the better they play as a unit the more likely Jackson will grant the starters more rest. It's unlikely Jackson will resort to such a rotation during the postseason because the results only matter. But more solid performances from the collective bench during regular-season blowouts will ultimately make the starters more effective come playoff time because they'll be more rested.
In the meantime, however, it remains a good sign the bench and starters work wonders together. Barnes fed two consecutive passes to Gasol for dunks. Barnes hustledfor a rebound and a cut inside resulted in two passes from Gasol for easy buckets.
4. Ron Artest's shooting has been off the mark: Artest has proudly proclaimed that he worries more about defense than offense and that he doesn't need to consistently produce on offense to help the team. These are valid points, but Artest's rationales sometimes mask the obvious fact his shot selection needs work. This is one of those moments. Artest's six-point effort on two-of-11 shooting, including zero of four from three-point range, shows he often forced shots and ran outside the context of the offense. After looking very fluid this preseason and at one point topping the Lakers with a 42.1% clip from three-point range, Artest through three games has shot 10 of 40 from the field, including eight of 33 from three-point range.
Considering the Lakers are 3-0, this observation may appear to be splitting hairs. But it's necessary to point out. The Lakers may not need Artest to produce much offensively, but every missed shots takes away an opportunity from someone else helping out.
5. The Lakers' defense was vastly improved: For a team that allowed 97 points a game last season, it's not exactly impressive that the Lakers have conceded in the first two games an average of 108 points. Two games bear very little on where the Lakers' season average will end up, but their defensive effort Sunday against Golden State proved much better. After the Warriors averaged in their first two games 120.5 points on 54.3% shooting, the Lakers held them to 83 points on a 40.9% clip. After Lee posted two consecutive double doubles, Odom held him to zero points and only three shots. After Ellis boasted impressive enough numbers to rank second in the league in scoring, constant switching and communication between Bryant and Artest led to Ellis scoring 20 points on a nine-of-20 clip, but he had to work for his points.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Kobe Bryant makes his way Golden State center Andris Biedrins during the first half of the Lakers' 107-83 victory Sunday at Staples Center. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times
Photo: Lakers center Pau Gasol, right, drives to basket past Golden State center Andris Biedrins during the Lakers' 107-83 victory Sunday at Staples Center. Credit: Jayne Oncea / U.S. Presswire
Photo: Golden State guard Monta Ellis, right, makes a basket over Lakers center Theo Ratliff during the first half of the Lakers' 107-83 victory Sunday at Staples Center. Credit: Lori Shepler / Associated Press
Photo: Golden State guard Monta Ellis makes his way around Lakers forward Ron Artest during the Lakers' 107-83 victory Sunday. Credit: Lori Shepler/Associated Press