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Five things to take away from Lakers' 108-103 victory over Toronto Raptors

November 6, 2010 | 12:30 am

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1. The Lakers survived the test, but they should save that for playoff opponents. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson entered the press conference room following the Lakers' 108-103 victory Friday over the Toronto Raptors ready to address a litany of issues that made this win more difficult than it should have been.

Before addressing the Lakers' trouble against Toronto's zone defense, the team's poor defense and individual performances, however, Jackson shared a sentiment that at first seemed puzzling. "I thought it was good for our team to have to face some adversity," Jackson said after the Lakers improved to 6-0.

Surely, this time would happen at some point. No team can enjoy double-digit leads, comfortable rest for their starters and significant bench play for the entire season. But given the Lakers' constant monitoring of Lakers guard Kobe Bryant surrounding his surgically repaired knee and the want to rest the starters as much as possible so they're fresh for playoff-caliber opponents, I found it odd Jackson found satisfaction with his team experiencing that test against Toronto (1-4). After all, Jackson was asked before the game whether he's viewed the prospect of resting starters for significant chunks of time as a necessity or a luxury.

"I think it's very important," Jackson said beforehand. "Any time a player has to overextend in a game, it affects him at a later date."

It's unclear whether the heavy minutes assigned to Pau Gasol (43) and Lamar Odom (39) will have devastating effects in the future. It is one game after all, but it reveals a continuous pattern where Jackson simply doesn't have confidence in the rest of the Lakers' frontline to absorb Andrew Bynum's absence. The burn for Theo Ratliff (four) and Derrick Caracter (two) provided little to help give Gasol and Odom a rest. "We have to shorten that somehow," Jackson said, although he hasn't done so yet all season.

That's a much different story for the Lakers' backcourt, which entailed Kobe Bryant (34) and Derek Fisher (30) getting relief thanks to the consistent play of Steve Blake and Shannon Brown, but the Lakers simply don't have that luxury with the their frontcourt. It also doesn't help that the Lakers haven't had more than a day between games for rest following the Lakers' second game against Phoenix, prompting Jackson to give anyone who played more than 24 minutes Wednesday against Sacramento off during Thursday's practice. That included all the Lakers starters and reserve forward Matt Barnes, leading Jackson to tell them they had the responsibility to prove their rest was warranted.

The Lakers instead allowed the Raptors to remain within single digits for the entire four quarter.

"I'm playing a lot of minutes," said Gasol, who entered the Toronto game averaging a team-leading 37.4 minutes per game. "That's a reality. I don't know if I wish I'd play a little less. But it is what it is."

The Lakers' locker room, including Gasol, Barnes and Derek Fisher, downplayed the notion that this was nothing more than a blown opportunity considering close games will likely come possibly as early as Sunday against Portland. Barnes mentioned the value for teams learning how to grind out wins. Gasol credited Toronto's personnel. And Fisher argued the Lakers can set themselves up for failure if they enter a game expecting things should happen exactly the way they envisioned.

Jackson was then asked to revisit the the dichotomy Jackson outlined regarding the value of his team building sizable enough leads to warrant rest versus the team learning how to play through adversity.

"That's a good comment there," Jackson said. "I really don't know how to respond to that. We want to keep this winning streak going obviously. So we push it a little bit far and we're also at home so it's also easier to play. Rest comes easier. With that knowledge in mind, we know the next contest against Portland is going to be a real challenge. They have a good idea of how they want to play us and they do a good job with it. We have our challenge ahead of us. It's always nice to keep the winning streak going and extending it so we're pushing the envelope right now."

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2. The Lakers' defense is on a milk carton: A huge reason why the Lakers remained in close contention with Toronto points to their failure to hold a team below 100 points for five of their six games. Bryant raised an interesting note where the Lakers have held teams to 43.1% shooting, a mark that ranks seventh best in the league. But it's clearly not a good thing that the Lakers are allowing that many points.

The Lakers conceded 58 points in the paint, 24 fast-break points and were outrebounded 49-31, a stat line that Jackson said indicated pointed to the team's "commitment to defense."

"That's something we can't continue to do," Brown said. "Sometimes we didn't box out. But that's unacceptable and inexcusable. We have to grab every ball we can."

The responsibility goes beyond Odom and Gasol needing to combining for more than 16 rebounds. All player accounts said the breakdowns started with miscommunication on pick-and-rolls, providing a trickle effect where the Lakers featured delayed reaction on help defens, resulting in putting themselves in a tough position to get the board.

Plenty of missed assignments go around, including Bryant allowing DeMar DeRozan to beat him a few times one-on-one, Ron Artest going for a steal at the expense of keeping the rotation in tact, Ratliff proving too slow to slide forward on Toronto's drives to the basket and the Lakers' frontline (Odom, Gasol, Ratliff, Caracter, Artest, Ratliff) failing to switch with the backcourt (Fisher, Blake, Brown, Bryant) on screen and rolls.

"That's something we can't have," Barnes said. "I know we're missing our center in Andrew, but I know we have enough big guys and talent and smarts to take a charge, take a block or cut it off."

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3. Derek Fisher set the example on hustle plays One player, however, set a good example on how to play defense. Fisher recorded four steals, drew two charges and contributed with 11 points on four of seven shooting, including a key corner jumper that gave the Lakers a 104-94 lead with 2:43 remaining.

Fisher said those type of hustle plays give more satisfaction than just hitting a quick shot, and it's something that should serve as an example for the rest of the team.

"I think every team keeps track of deflections," Fisher said. "If one guy can be active out there and get his hands on the basketball, when you're on a team there isn't anybody out there by themselves on offense and defense. That defense starts picking up or there's two or three guys being really active out there they're going to stand out if they don't pick it up."

4. The Lakers offense looks impressive but they can't depend on it

The Lakers have cruised on offense thus far, with their dominating and team-oriented offense churning out a league-leading 113.8 points per game. They provided plenty of theatrics to show how difficult it will be to stop the Lakers. Bryant drove the lane and posted up DeRozan with ease, resulting in 23 points on six of 12 shooting. Gasol's team-leading 30 points on 12 of 22 shooting revealed his patience in the post. It also partly illustrated the chemistry between Bryant and Gasol, which once featured Bryant throwing a no look behind the shoulder pass to Gasol for the easy basket. Steve Blake's 14 points, including a four of six clip from the three-point line, points to his effectiveness as a catch-and-shoot player as well as the vision Bryant, Gasol and Odom have in finding him open after drawing double teams. Brown's 12 points on four of seven shooting signifies his ever continuing improved stroke since devoting much of the off-season to perfecting it.

But the Lakers hit a dry spell in the second and fourth quarter, thanks to a Toronto zone defense that prompted the Lakers to force shots. That resulted in a two of eight three-point clip in the second quarter and a zero of five effort in the fourth quarter, an issue Jackson expressed concern about this season even when those shots went in the basket. The Lakers haven't fully grasped that they're an inside-out team, and the zone defense exposed the team's willingness in settling for shots instead of working for them.

With the Lakers already struggling on the rebounding front, that left them further exposed on transition defense.

"We probably needed to run what we were going to run if it was man to man," Blake said. "We have to run our normal stuff and our shots will come to us."

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5. Luke Walton's return - Even though Jackson had indicated earlier this week he needed to see Walton in a "hard practice" before he made his first regular-season appearance because of a strained right hamstring, Jackson reconsidered after Walton successfully went through running and three-on-three drills on Thursday.

Even if Walton dressed for the Raptors game, however, Jackson said beforehand that wouldn't automatically yield to playing time.

"I'm not going to throw him out there whimsicially because he needs minutes," Jackson said of Walton, whose activation left rookie forward Devin Ebanks off the roster. "I'm going to throw him out there because we need to use him to our advantage. In many ways I hope he doesn't have to play, but the other possibility we may have to use him because of the situations that demand it."

Jackson inserted Walton with 5:41 left in the second quarter in hopes he'd help with the facilitating the triangle and helping in boxing out. But his immediate three-point attempt hit the backboard, a shot Walton said he took simply because Bryant instructed him to do so. He then reentered the game with 24.8 seconds remaining in the third quarter, and recorded a steal that led to Gasol's bank shot that gave the Lakers a 89-80 lead with 9:58 remaining in the game.

"It was nice to be out there and feel no pain," said Walton, who played six minutes. hopefully I wake up tomorrow and feel the same way."

"My back feels great," he added. "That's what felt so frustrating about the hamstring. I felt so good in the first week of training camp and the hamstring went. It felt frustrating, but I feel great right now."

--Mark Medina

Twitter.com/latmedina

E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant collects a pass in the post against the defense of Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan in the second quarter Friday night. Credit: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times.

Photo: Lakers center Theo Ratliff can only get out of the way as Raptors guard Sonny Weems puts down a dunk in the second quarter Friday night. Credit: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times

Photo: Lakers point guard Derek Fisher deflects a pass by Toronto center Andrea Bargnani for a steal in the first quarter Friday night. Credit: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times

Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant gets ready to congratulate forward Luke Walton in the final moments of Friday night's 108-103 victory over the Toronto Raptors. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant gets ready to congratulate forward Luke Walton in the final moments of Friday night's 108-103 victory over the Toronto Raptors. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times


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