Five things to take away from Lakers' 113-80 victory over the Sacramento Kings
1. The Lakers ended their four-game losing streak. The significance of the Lakers' 113-80 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Friday at Staples Center is fairly minimal, considering that the Kings (4-13) entered the contest having lost 11 of their last 12 games and had a limited Tyreke Evans and tons of youth.
But here's where the victory is significant: It would not be healthy for the Lakers (14-6) to wait four days before playing a game after a loss. The Lakers already showed a stoic and levelheaded demeanor following their fourth loss in a row, but piling on another one would only have increased the frustration and tension. Having to then sit with that before a game Tuesday against Washington would only heighten their antsiness to get out and end that streak. After all, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson readily acknowledged that the team felt "frustrated" with losing four consecutive games for the first time since April 2007. So now instead of furthering that streak, the Lakers have a half-week stretch in which they don't have to field questions about their latest loss and they don't have to overly scrutinize their weaknesses.
Still, it's critical to consider the opponent.
"It's hard to make a judgment," Jackson said. "Have we broken free from the bonds that have held us, or are we still mired in what we're doing and we just got a weak sister in this particular time of the year?"
It's typical that Jackson gives his players a day off after a large block of games, particularly when the schedule shows a three-day cushion before the next contest. But the Lakers want center Andrew Bynum to practice as much as possible, so on Saturday, he'll take part in a half-court four-on-four scrimmage to test his surgically repaired right knee. With the Lakers' starters planning to rest, however, Jackson said he doesn't really know how valuable that practice will be. He also said he plans to keep the practice short because afterward the Lakers have their annual holiday event, sponsored by East West Bank, that entails hosting a clinic and providing gifts for underprivileged children. Jackson also said Monday's practice might be fairly limited because the Lakers have a holiday party.
(In an interesting aside, Jackson didn't seem too concerned with correct spelling when he wrote this on the white board in the locker room following the game, specifying Saturday's schedule: "11 report, Children Holiday, Joyfull ,Blessed, Gift, Xmas party, 1230ish").
Jackson's mild complaint about the Lakers adjusting their practice times based on the team's "social calendar" prompted a reporter to jokingly suggest that Jackson is exclaiming "Bah! Humbug!" a la Ebenezer Scrooge.
"It just turned December," Jackson said, smiling. "I begin celebrating Christmas on the 21st."
The Lakers certainly wouldn't have been in much of a festive spirit Saturday, however, without a win.
2. Pau Gasol proved healthy enough to play. He had spent all Friday morning receiving treatment and stretching his strained left hamstring, but the routine almost proved pointless, considering he arrived at Staples Center 35 minutes late in connection with an undisclosed personal matter.
It turned out the team's warm-up was all Gasol needed to determine he could play, though he later said the hamstring "felt a little sore and a little tight." His 16 points on six-of-eight shooting showed he could overcome that discomfort. He displayed his usual post efficiency, such as when he saw a cutting Shannon Brown through the lane and pivoted a few steps before banking in a jumper. Gasol was in slow motion running up and down the court, but considering how efficiently the Lakers played on offense and defense, it was good enough.
I didn't push it too hard," Gasol said. "I was able to play through it."
"He looked all right," Jackson said. "I thought he moved OK, played inside the framework we were trying to do tonight. It was a real aggressive offensive game for him, but he did fine."
Most important, Gasol played only 27 minutes, after logging at least 40 minutes per game in four of the last five contests. Always eager to find a way to needle Gasol, Jackson told him he might to reenter the game after rookie Derrick Caracter picked up his fifth foul with 3:53 remaining.
Said Jackson: "He got quite animated and asked Derrick to watch his fouls. It was the most animated he was all night in a lot of ways."
Even though Gasol knew Jackson was joking, he didn't want to take his chances and told the coach, "Ron [Artest] is ready" before also offering a warning to Caracter.
"He [Gasol] just said play smart the last four minutes," Caracter said, "and don't get the last foul."
3. The Lakers defense remained more disciplined. There are certain statistics Jackson weighs more heavily than others. Defensively, that entails how many points the team allows by quarters; on Friday, the Lakers held the Kings under 20 points through the first three quarters.
Jackson described the effort as "aggressive." Lakers guard Kobe Bryant argued that the performance "built some encouragement for the future." And Gasol added that "the overall energy was better; we just communicated from the first minute to the end."
Part of that effort entailed Lamar Odom cutting from the weakside and stuffing Evans on a drive, as Odom and Gasol each contributed with three blocks. It also included holding the Kings to seven-of-16 shooting in the first quarter. And it meant better communication on rotations, such as when Bryant helped Odom on a double-team, picked up a loose ball and finished with a fast-break dunk. It was a much improved effort, considering the team's tendency during its four-game losing streak to falter defensively after building up large leads.
"There's almost no team in this league that can survive if they don't score," Jackson said. "It's a game that scoring is such an important part. if teams don't get 20 points in a quarter, it dents their effort and takes their heart out of them."
4. The Lakers' ball movement improved. Some other statistics Jackson sees as key indicators of a team's performance: points in the paint, assists and how the number of shots by a player compares with his point total. The Lakers' 68 points in the paint served as an "indicator of how penetration was going on," Jackson said, such as Gasol connecting with Brown when he cut through the lane. The team's 27 assists served as an "indicator of how well the ball moves," such as when Artest threaded the needle on a bounce pass to Bryant for the easy dunk. And the Lakers' 56.6% clip from the field showed they were effective in building a rhythm and finding quality shots, led by Bryant's 22 points on nine-of-18 shooting.
"All I'm going to say is that we played the right way," Bryant said. "It felt good to win this game, but it's more about doing the right things to be successful."
5. Caracter's heavy playing time will help accelerate his growth. With the strong likelihood Gasol may be limited because of fatigue and the strained hamstring, Jackson provided a simple message to Caracter.
"You may be playing more," Jackson said, despite concerns that an increased role could set up Caracter to fail and that he remains too inexperienced. But Friday's scenario set up Caracter to succeed. He scored a career-high 10 points on five-of-eight shooting and four rebounds in a career-high 21 minutes, a development as significant as every starter but Artest sitting out the entire fourth quarter. It's also more important than Brown's 14 points on six-of-11 shooting coming on several highlight reels and Devin Ebanks and Sasha Vujacic logging eight minutes and 34 seconds.
Although he picked up five fouls and appeared to be running all over the place, Caracter showed flashes of effective footwork, post-up moves and chemistry with his teammates.
"He's still finding his way," Jackson said of Caracter. "There's still a lot of things he's missing out on the floor. Those things are going to happen until his learning curve increases. It inhibits his ability to be out there for critical times in the game for us when we need recognition, but his effort is good. He wants to play, and his attitude is good about this game. We appreciate that and like that. But you know what I say about rookies, and it still pertains."
Underneath Jackson's criticism and zinging, it's notable that he values Caracter's attitude, because it shows the young player's willingness to improve and accept his role. It also points up an interesting comparison between Caracter, the Lakers' 58th draft pick, and DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings fifth pick. Cousins has had reported issues with Sacramento Coach Paul Westphal and fared worse than Caracter head-to-head, finishing with nine points on three-of-nine shooting and six rebounds.
"It's a dream come true," Caracter said. "This is something I always wanted to do. It's my job now. Everybody is here for a reason, and I like to believe that I'm in the same position. I'm out here as a professional basketball player. I can produce just like any guys out there. It's just about being confident and continuing to get the reps."
-- Mark Medina
E-mail the Lakers blog at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: Lakers center Pau Gasol rips a rebound away from Kings forward Carl Landry in the first half Friday night at Staples Center. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times.
Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant drives down the lane for a layup against the defense of Sacramento's Donte Green, left, and Samuel Dalembert in the second quarter Friday night. Credit: Luis Sinco, Los Angeles Times
Photo: Kings forward Donte Green has to deal with Lakers forward Lamar Odom and guard Kobe Bryant on a layup in the first quarter Friday night. Credit: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times.