Five things to take away from the Lakers' 103-90 victory over the Detroit Pistons
1. The Lakers get a confidence booster. Take the Lakers' 103-90 victory Wednesday over Detroit for what it's worth. A win against a sub-. 500 opponent can be deceiving when measuring any the areas of significance against that backdrop. So even if the Lakers clicked offensively and sharpened up defensively, I hesitate to draw big-picture implications out of it. Nonetheless, this can do wonders from a psychological standpoint after coming off a recent two-game losing streak. The Lakers rebounded in a competitive win Tuesday against Milwaukee and proved they could sustain that energy, albeit against a 4-8 team, the following night.
The Lakers' three-game trip came at the right time because the team hit a little bit of a lull after experiencing early-season success, and it was nice for the team finally to hit the road for an extended period of time. A change of scenery always helps keep things interesting and the fact the Lakers came away with two wins from it thus far shows the team has changed up its focus. We'll see how that carries over Friday at Minnesota.
2. The Lakers starters received plenty of rest. With the Lakers facing a back-to-back, this served as the most critical component as the quick turnaround and travel schedule equated to their energy level. There was plenty of motivation to put this game away early, as Coach Phil Jackson promised his players they wouldn't have to practice Thursday if he liked their performance. But the Lakers managed to get their rest even before that point. After Pau Gasol logged 44 minutes against Milwaukee, he scored 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting in 33 minutes. Meanwhile, the rest of the starting unit stayed pretty steady around the high-20, low-30-minute range, including Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom (32 minutes), Ron Artest (28) and Derek Fisher (27).
When the Lakers play in non-descript regular-season games, it's going to be very hard to discern how developments would translate against tougher opponents, particularly in the postseason. But one universal thing that will always determine whether the Lakers fully got what they wanted out of what appears to be a meaningless game involves whether the Lakers' starters rested for a significant chunk of time.
Consider it done.
3. The Lakers bench went through growing pains, but they secured enough of a lead that the starters didn't have to reenter the game. That's going to be another item on the litmus test when Lakers play sub.-500 teams. Could the Lakers' bench secure the lead? The box score will show that the reserve unit and Odom entered the fourth quarter with an 84-63 lead and allowed Detroit to cut the lead by the end to 13 points. So long as the Lakers' starters didn't have to come back in the game to secure the victory, it's not a worrisome problem. It's going to be very rare for Derrick Caracter, Devin Ebanks and Sasha Vujacic to have significant playing time this season, but so long as they play as a unit and show an honest effort, there's no need to sweat over Detroit chipping away at the deficit.
4. Bryant benefited from resting the previous night against Milwaukee. He proved once again that no amount of defensive attention would inhibit him, as he scored 31 points, going 11 of 11 from the free throw line, and mixed it up in the lane to grab seven boards against Milwaukee. More importantly, Bryant managed to fulfill that role despite playing only 33 minutes. He played in significant chunks in the fourth quarter since the result was still in doubt, but Jackson managed to find spots in the game to give Bryant a breather.
Not only did that approach pay off against Milwaukee, it seemed to carry over against Detroit. Bryant opened the game scoring eight of the team's first 11 points, thanks to two three-pointers and a beautiful bounce pass that resulted in an easy layup. His stat line -- 33 points on 11-of-20 shooting, including three of six from three-point range, eight of eight from the foul line, nine rebounds and four assists -- speaks for itself. He literally was all over the place. It's necessary to consider the opponent, but the Lakers' matchup with Detroit fully illustrated why the Lakers will benefit from Bryant getting enough rest.
As much as Bryant knows his own body, he doesn't want to feel like he has to pace himself and hold anything back. So if Jackson manages to find moments during games to keep him fresh, it's going to pay off in the long run as Bryant shows more spring in his step.
5. The respect-for-the-game rule requires adjustments from not just officials, but players too. Lakers fans likely aren't losing much sleep over this, since it ultimately hurt the Detroit Pistons. But Rip Hamilton's ejection with at the 7:01 mark of the first quarter serves as another example of the league's new technical foul rule showing the officials overreacting and players struggling to adjust to the rule. Hamilton was called for fouling Bryant and immediately voiced his disagreement about it, drawing a technical foul. Rather than letting it go, Hamilton hunched over and kept mouthing about it to himself within earshot of the official.
That sparked an immediate ejection, as one of Detroit's marquee players left the game less than five minutes into it. Though I've often criticized this rule and think this isn't in the best interest of the league to eject players, Hamilton had plenty of opportunities to just drop the issue. But he didn't.
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant drives the baseline against Detroit guard Richard Hamilton in the first half Wednesday night before Hamilton was ejected. Credit: Julian H. Gonzalez/McClatchy-Tribune.
Photo: Lakers center Pau Gasol attacks the basket against Detroit center Ben Wallace in the first half Wednesday night. Credit: Julian H. Gonzalez/McClatchy-Tribune.