Five things to take away from Lakers' 112-100 victory over Sacramento Kings
1. Kobe Bryant has an historic night.It's fitting that in the Lakers' 112-100 victory Wednesday over the Sacramento Kings, Bryant surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's franchise record for career minutes (37,492) the same night he recorded his 17th career triple double. Usually, Bryant's heavy basketball mileage leads to suggestions that he's becoming damaged goods, but Bryant clearly showed at Sacramento that he'll return to true form as his surgically repaired right knee improves. His 30-point performance on nine of 22 shooting with 12 assists and 10 rebounds perfectly sums up the complete player has become.It's also fitting that in an otherwise sloppy game among both teams, Bryant's impressive play still stood out.
Bryant showcased his improved rhythm this way: He cut to the nearside, received a pass from Derek Fisher, squared up for a three-point shot and drew a foul on Kings guard Tyreke Evans for the four-point play. He sprinted into the lane and leapt for an alley-oop lob from Matt Barnes. And Bryant cut to the far side, pump faked, lofted a shot over Kings guard Luther Head and drew a foul, with the shot hitting the front rim, bouncing off the backboard and dropping into the net.
Bryant illustrated his sharp court vision this way: He threw a no-look pass to Lakers forward Lamar Odom, who went in for a one-handed dunk. On another play, Bryant drove through traffic and then kicked the ball out to the nearside perimeter for Odom to nail a triple. Bryant lofted an alley oop lob to Pau Gasol. And he boxed out Kings forward Francisco Garcia for a rebound before throwing a cross-court pass to Barnes for a layup just as the first-half buzzer went off.
2. Derek Fisher proves he's clutch once again. Someone forgot to deliver the memo to Fisher that this is only the Lakers' fifth regular-season game and not the postseason. But Fisher delivered against the Kings as if it were the 2004 West semifinals against San Antonio, the 2009 NBA Finals against Orlando, the 2010 West semifinals against Utah and the 2010 NBA Finals against Boston. After attempting only two field goals, he replaced Steve Blake with the Lakers leading 98-88 and scored seven consecutive fourth-quarter points. The Lakers may have nursed a double-digit lead, but they entered the fourth quarter going three of nine from the field.
But Fisher quickly put the game out of reach.
After Evan's three-pointer from the top of the key hit off the front rim, Fisher grabbed the rebound and went coast-to-coast before drawing a foul on Head, resulting in one of two made free throws to increase the Lakers' lead to 99-90 with 4:09 remaining. Gasol's tip out to Fisher for a three-pointer hit the back rim, but a minute later Fisher made a corner three-pointer to extend the gap to 102-92 with 3:34 remaining. After he fed an entry pass to Bryant, Fisher cut across the lane toward the corner of the far-side perimeter. Bryant drove the lane, met a double team and fired a pass to Ron Artest. He then swung the ball to Fisher, whose shot rimmed into the hoop.
On the next possession, Fisher pick-pocketed Carl Landry as he drove the lane, converted on the coast-to-coast layup, drew a foul on Beno Udrih and completed the three-point play, giving the Lakers a comfortable 105-92 advantage with 3:14 left in the game.
3. The Lakers offense continues to flourish. The Lakers have fared as the league's highest scoring team thus far, thanks to constant ball movement and familiar chemistry among the core players.
That's not just indicative of the box score, which featured Bryant's triple double, Fisher's fourth-quarter rally, Artest's improved shooting (17 points on a seven of 11 clip and three of four mark from three-point range, four assists and two steals), Gasol's aggressiveness inside (22 points on seven of 15 shooting, eight of 10 from the charity stripe, 11 rebounds and two blocks) and Odom's continued relentlessness (18 points on eight of 12 shooting and eight rebounds). It's also reflective of the plus-minus stats, featuring Fisher (+24), Bryant (+22), Artest (+18), Odom (+16) and Gasol (+13). And it also points to the Lakers' six turnovers, a sharp decrease from the 19 they averaged in the previous two games.
No matter who is the opponent, the Lakers will flourish offensively if they continue sharing the ball, running the triangle and remaining selective with their shots.
4. The Lakers defense still remains an issue.Their latest game marks the fourth time this season that they've conceded at least 100 points, showing they're far from the defensive team that held Boston to 79 points in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Surely, some variables, such as the newcomers becoming acclimated and the Lakers beginning a rhythm to start the season, contributes to the lapses. But the numerous times the Lakers allowed drives to the lane remain puzzling because of the length Gasol and Odom have and the help defense the team should receive.
Instead, Sacramento featured five players in double figures, including Evans (21), Udrih, Landry and Garcia (17) and DeMarcus Cousins (11). Sequences like these were all too common: Evans easily drove through lane past both Odom and Gasol for a right-handed layup. Evans zipped past Barnes, Gasol and Derrick Caracter and capped the play with a underhanded reverse layup. And Kings center Samuel Dalembert worked a give-and-go with Udrih, with Blake chasing behind, Theo Ratliff failing to switch and Shannon Brown unable to help.
5. The Lakers squandered an opportunity to rest their starters. One of the biggest challenges in going through the NBA regular season, particularly as two-time defending champions, entails finding ways to keep a team motivated. I'd say it's important for the Lakers to show incremental improvement every week, but it's frank;y unrealistic and it's a false barometer considering every player inevitably goes through rough patches. So the two main goals the Lakers need to shoot for in the regular season entails compiling enough wins to secure home-court advantage for the entire postseason and play sub. 500 opponents good enough so that starters earn enough rest and the bench receives ample time to continue developing.
The latter factor will prove important because then the starters will have more energy to grind out games that should be close against playoff-caliber opponents and the bench will become more dependable. That's why it's unfortunate for the Lakers that they didn't play well enough against Sacramento, who's not considered a playoff-caliber team. Only Lakers forward Ron Artest played under 30 minutes, and that seemed to point more toward Matt Barnes playing well enough to give Artest a breather.
Every other starter played at least 30 minutes. Jackson had indicated before that he plans to play Bryant around 36 minutes per game, the allotted time he logged in against Sacramento, because he views that as necessary for Bryant to maintain a rhythm. Jackson also plans to keep Fisher at no more than 30 minutes per contest (he played 31) so he has enough rest for the postseason and to give Blake some opportunities. Even if Jackson has asked more out of Gasol this regular season, I doubt he'd have logged 43 minutes if the game wasn't as close.
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant drives to the basket as Sacramento forward Omri Casspi defends during the Lakers' 112-100 victory Wednesday. Credit: Kyle Terada/U.S. Presswire
Photo: Lakers guard Derek Fisher, right, looks to pass the ball around a Sacramento defender during the second quarter of the Lakers' 112-100 victory Wednesday. Credit: Kyle Terada / U.S. Presswire.
Photo: Lakers center Pau Gasol, right, tries to shoot over Kings center Samuel Dalembert during the second quarter of the Lakers' 112-100 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday. Credit: Kyle Terada / U.S. Presswire