Five things to take away from Lakers' 121-96 victory over Portland Trail Blazers
Perhaps for dramatic effect, the shot took a while before it eventually dropped into the basket. Gasol had just thrown a bounce pass to Ron Artest in the lane and it initially appeared the shot would fall short just like Kobe Bryant's short-range shot did a few players earlier after Gasol found him open. As soon as Artest's shot dropped in, Gasol raced back on defense, pumped his fist and high-fived guard Shannon Brown, the nearest teammate in sight.
Gasol had just recorded his fourth career triple double and second with the Lakers, and eventually finished with 20 points on nine-of-13 shooting with 14 rebounds and 10 assists. The accomplishment doesn't just mean the Lakers media guide will have to add another line to the details surrounding Gasol's career triple doubles, which includes games against Atlanta on Feb. 17, 2009, (12 points, 13 boards, 10 assists) as well as two with Memphis against Utah on Jan. 24, 2007, (17 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists) and against Seattle on March 8, 2006, (21 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists). It's just another example how Gasol has risen to Phil Jackson's challenge that he help carry this team offensively until Bryant fully recovers from his surgically repaired right knee and Andrew Bynum returns from rehabbing his.
The other examples: Gasol earned Western Conference player-of-the-week honors for the first week of the regular season. His 21 points, eight rebounds and nine assists in the Lakers' 114-106 victory on Oct. 29 at Phoenix marked the highest stat line among those categories for a Lakers center since Shaquille O'Neal dropped 22 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists in an 87-84 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Feb. 20, 2000. And his performance against Portland showcased everything that's defined his consistency ever since the Lakers acquired him in February of 2008 from Memphis in a trade. Gasol showcased his amazing footwork and touch when he posted up before turning for a hook shot. He demonstrated his work around the basket when he tipped in his missed underhanded layup. And he showed off his court vision when he threw a cross-court pass to Lamar Odom for a wide open dunk.
But Gasol's performance doesn't just reflect his consistency. It also reveals that Gasol has accepted and reveled in his responsibility to carry the team. In return, the team given him his due respect, most visibly when Lakers guard Steve Blake threw an off the backboard lob for a Gasol fast-break dunk.
2. Ron Artest shuts down Brandon Roy
The work Artest performed on Roy really depends on who you ask. Jackson argues Roy's eight points on one-of-six shooting spoke more about the team's help defense on Roy than anything Artest did. Artest proclaimed Roy's injured and self-censored himself multiple times in postgame interviews in fear that anything he'd say would feed a trash-talking storyline. And Artest's teammates, ranging from Bryant to Gasol to Odom pointed to Artest himself as the one who deserves the accolades.
What remains most impressive about Artest's work on Roy doesn't just entail Roy's shooting mark. It points to the fact that Artest relentlessly shadowed him, slowed down his efficient movement and frustrated him enough that Artest allowed so few shot attempts. Roy's lone field goal came with 5:22 left in the third quarter and actually happened when Artest and Odom switched assignments on a rotation. Beforehand, Artest forced Roy to miss his first five shots. Roy's struggles surely contrasted his four previous matchups with the Lakers when his 17-point average last season contributed to Portland's four successful meetings in which he played.
The performance also sparked a defense that appeared stagnant against Toronto, but appeared energetic against the Trail Blazers. The Lakers outrebounded Portland, 49-25 while holding the Blazers to 36.1% first-half shooting and only eight fast-break points.
Chalk Odom's off night against Toronto to logging many of his nearly 36 minutes at full speed, kept his same intensity he displayed with Team USA in the 2010 FIBA World Championships and that off nights happen. Odom proved in his performance against Portland that he won't be prone to inconsistent swings, a reputation that has carried with him for most of his 11-year career. His 21 points and 12 rebounds represented vintage LO, including coast-to-coast drives, elbow jumpers and his willingness to get on the ground via the baseline to fight for a rebound that eventually went out of bounds.
The only true indicator to measure Odom's contribution entails the plus-minus stat, which was at +19, a mark that only fell short to Gasol's +27.
4. The Lakers absorbed a poor shooting night from Kobe Bryant
Bryant's shot looked far from impressive, as he went three of 11 for the field for 12 points. This isn't so much an analysis on how his knee is doing (it's still progressing) as it is that he can afford to have off nights when the Lakers are playing so well. While he still remained effective with his aggressive drives to the basket (he went six of seven from the free-throw stripe), facilitating the offense and spreading the floor, the Lakers' supporting cast along the frontline and off the bench proved it didn't matter.
Obviously, Bryant needs and wants to become the dominant player he has been, but it's comforting for the Lakers to know that they can lean on Brown lighting it up from the outside (15 points on six-of-12 shooting and three of six from downtown), Matt Barnes relentlessly cutting for open looks by the basket (13 points on six-of-seven shooting) and keep Bryant's minutes to a thrifty 24 as they did Sunday. That can help keep him fresh so that he is dominant when the Lakers truly need him.
Bryant wasn't the only Laker to receive a significant amount of rest. Gasol's 33 minutes was a far drop from the 43 minutes he logged against Toronto. As was Odom's 34 minutes, a five-minute drop from the Raptors game. Meanwhile, Lakers forward Derrick Caracter played a season-high 16 minutes and 30 seconds and Sasha Vujacic made his fourth appearance of the season with five minutes and 34 seconds.
Though Jackson mentioned before the game the likelihood that Caracter and Devin Ebanks will play in the D-League once Bynum returns, the more minutes Caracter can get now, the better. This isn't just to help give him a chance to show his worth. The better Caracter plays, the more willingness Jackson will take in resting Gasol and Odom. Obviously much of that will hinge on how much of a lead the Lakers build, but Jackson has remained reluctant to rest them even during double-digit leads. Jackson also doesn't want to load this responsibility on Theo Ratliff (he played four minutes and 42 seconds), considering his sore left knee and slow mobility. It's not a stretch to say the more Caracter plays during blowouts, the better Odom and Gasol will be later in the season.
Stat of the Night: 26 - The number of rebounds Odom and Gasol grabbed, which eclipsed the Trail Blazers' total of 25.
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Photos (Top) Pau Gasol squares up for a close-range shot. (Middle) Lamar Odom floats down the lane for a layup. (Bottom) Kobe Bryant protects the ball as he splits the Blazers defense on a drive. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times