Five things to take away from Lakers' 117-89 victory over Golden State
1. The Lakers made a good impression in their return home.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson approached the lectern at a loss of words.
"I don't know what to say," he said.
That's because he mostly uses his opponent statements to address poor habits the team displayed or area he would like sharpened up. But, really, what are you going to complain about the Lakers' 117-89 victory Sunday over the Golden State Warriors? The Lakers (12-2) extended their four-game winning streak. The team featured four players in double figures. They shot 55.7%. They held Golden State to 35.2% shooting. And they built enough of a lead for all the starters to rest in the fourth quarter and all but Pau Gasol to play less than 30 minutes.
"I always have complaints," Jackson said. "There's not a perfect game, but it still what it is."
Even so, the Lakers followed everything Jackson asked them to do. He warned the team during shootaround Sunday the necessity to maintain dominance throughout the entire game. He stressed how challenging the first home game after an extended trip can become, though the Lakers finished 13-2 last season in such contests. And he reiterated the team's need to remain sharp despite having the day off from practice Saturday, a move that either could've helped the team pace itself but also increase the likelihood that it comes out flat.
But if Kobe Bryant's early arrival to Staples Center before facing Golden State on Sunday signaled anything, it was that the Lakers wouldn't allow that to happen.The team kept the same hunger level they had redeveloped during their 3-0 trip. That's been a common theme for most of the season, but the Lakers hit a minor malaise in performances against Minnesota (narrow win), Denver (loss) and Phoenix (loss) before reverting back to their healthier habits.
"It's just about winning every night," Bryant said. "You're here and you show up. YOur job is to play and your job is to win."
2. Pau Gasol strived for perfection
Matt Barnes approached Gasol in the locker room and said, "Welcome to the club," a remark that drew laughs from Gasol. Barnes had just come off a season-high 24 points on seven-of-seven shooting, including five three-pointers, and here Gasol was topping that with 28 points on 10-of-10 shooting and a eight-of-eight clip from the free-throw line. Things like this don't exactly happen, let alone in consecutive games.
"It's weird," Gasol said. "But it's a good sign."
Though Jackson described it as a "great game," it seemed like he couldn't resist taking yet another jab at Gasol. Jackson argued he remained more impressed with Barnes' effort Friday against Minnesota because statistically came on five three-pointers.
That's OK. Regardless of Jackson's needling, Gasol's performance puts him in the record books. His performance marked the sixth time in Laker history that a player secured a perfect shooting percentage when attempting at least 10 shots. The other feats included Wilt Chamberlain (14 of 14 vs. Detroit on March 11, 1969), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (11 of 11 vs. Golden State on Dec. 29, 1985, and vs. Phoenix on Dec. 12 1985), Mitch Kupchak (11 of 11 vs. San Antonio on Nov. 20, 1981) and Byron Scott (10 of 10 at Dallas on Feb. 26, 1986). The back-to-back statistically perfect nights from Gasol and Barnes put them with Charles Barkley as the only players in NBA history to post a minimum 20-point, five-rebound, five-assist night while not missing a shot with at least five field-goal attempts and five free-throw attempts.
The performance featured plenty of vintage Gasol moments, such as when Bryant fired a pass over his head to Gasol for an easy bucket, a beautiful hook and converting on an alley-oop lob from Derek Fisher. The Warriors lack any semblance of a frontline, and David Lee's absence doesn't help (an inadvertent bite from New York's Wilson Chandler resulted in Lee recently having a bacterial infection). But it at least helped Gasol rebound from his poor performance Friday against league bust Darko Milicic.
"It was outstanding," Bryant said. "He had great looks and knocked them down."
3. The Lakers scored in transition
The numbers speak for themselves. The Lakers scored 29 points in transition. They grabbed 10 steals. And they imposed their front-line dominance with 56 points in the paint, 17 second-chance points and a 32-20 advantage in defensive rebounding. But the Lakers didn't maintain their league-leading pace by simply just running up and down the floor. They kept a deliberate pace, but dialed up the intensity after defensive stops.
There were plenty of plays that exemplified the Lakers' aggressiveness. Four tip-in attempts eventually resulted in Bryant's and-one at the basket. Lamar Odom's cross-court pass to Steve Blake resulted in a one-time pass to Shannon Brown, who switched hands and went in for an up-and-under shot. After a Gasol block, Odom found him on the other end for a one-handed slam. And after a few Fisher deflections, he threw alley-oop lobs to Gasol, Odom and Bryant.
"There's a number of occassions in which the ball came down and we had a good pace on the floor," Jackson said. "We ran the floor well. It wasnt a fast break, but we got into that flow in which the ball moves a couple times."
Teams already know players such as Gasol (28), Bryant (20), Brown (17) and Odom (15) can have big offensive nights. But unlike other games, the Lakers still maintained that high production level without sacrificing their defense.
"Those are the type of things that are advantageous when you're playing at a higher pace game," Jackson said. "But you're not running and shooting. It's not one-two pass type of thing. I think it's very important to play a pace that we can sustain. We're not a helter-skelter team, but we can't play this fast paced."
Artest rarely likes to boast about an impressive defensive performance, stressing that it's all about team defense. When it comes to Ellis, the league's second-leading scorer, shooting two of 10, Artest is actually right. Both Artest and Barnes shared duties in guarding Ellis, and they displayed the type of work that validated the Lakers' hope that the two would add toughness.
"That's what the team is for," Artest said. "We dont have to worry about scoring so much. [Kobe] doesnt have to worry about defending the best player while scoring all the time. we're working well together."
Artest and Barnes cut off passing lanes. They gave little space for Ellis to operate. They intimidated Ellis into forcing shots. And they "harassed" Ellis, as Bryant observed. As much as this makes it fortunate for Bryant not having to worry as much on defense, Barnes' added presence also relieves responsibility from Artest, who's had back and hip issues lately.
5. Plenty of rest for starters will have positive long-term implications
This is probably the most important factor considering the Lakers have long maintained that their chance to three-peat largely hinges on the team's health and energy level.
"It's great," Bryant said. "You don't have to exert a great deal of energy and risk an opportunity for injury."
The Lakers' starters resting for the entire fourth quarter does wonders beyond the chance to ice early and laugh on the sideline. See this as a down investment for when the Lakers need their starters to grind out a close game in a marquee regular-season matchup or a playoff series. See this as a down investment in Jackson's confidence that Odom can solely lead the reserves and ease the transition for whenever Andrew Bynum returns to the starting lineup. See this as a down investment that the Lakers' starters further minimized the chance of injury by simply not playing.
"It's definitely noticeable when you play those kind of minutes," Gasol said. "I'll definitely feel better tomorrow than if i played 40 plus minutes tonight."
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Photos: (Top) Lakers center Pau Gasol tries to block a shot by Warriors forward Jeff Adrien. Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press. (Middle) Lakers guard Kobe Bryant drives past a reaching Charlie Bell of Golden State. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times. (Bottom) Lakers forward Lamar Odom blocks a shot by Warriors forward Jeff Adrien. Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea / US Presswire