Lakers change habits in 103-88 victory over New Orleans Hornets
With a smile bearing across his face, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant engaged in playful trash talking with New Orleans guard Marco Belinelli. With his confidence booming, Lakers forward Lamar Odom drove down the court, swung the ball behind his back and then dunked off his own putback. And with the Lakers' ball movement and teamwork mentality on full display, they discovered in their 103-88 victory Wednesday over the New Orleans Hornets how different they can appear when they change fundamental habits.
The atmosphere presented a much different picture than in the Lakers' double-digit loss to San Antonio the previous night. That game featured Bryant's anger leading to a poor shooting night and lost composure, the team's poor play left Odom speechless afterwards and the Lakers indicated through their discipline and execution they're far from a championship contending team. One game doesn't change that even if it improves the Lakers' record to 22-10 and their mark to 2-5 against winning teams. The Lakers snapped their third-game losing streak against the Hornets (18-13), who have featured their share of adversity as well, going 10-13 after an 8-0 start. Though the Lakers' next opponent Friday involves the Philadelphia 76ers (13-19), but that'll provide another set of variables that will reveal the Lakers' hunger level, including the game taking place on New Year's Eve and whether the Lakers can put a sub .500 team away early.
But at least for one game, the Lakers made tangible changes that could restore the team's dominance should they execute it with the same consistency and determination. Change defined the Lakers in various ways.
It remained prevalent in the team's lineup: Jackson started center Andrew Bynum for the first time this season after he played seven games off the bench following rehabilitation efforts surrounding his surgically repaired right knee. His 18-point effort on eight of 12 shooting in 30 minutes revealed his conditioning has improved, indicated by the timing of his jumps on lobs, close-range shots and by the fact he reached the 30-minute plateau the first time this season. Lakers forward Lamar Odom graciously returned to the bench after starting in Bynum's absence, but maintained the same consistency that's defined his versatile play all season. His season-high 24 points on 10 of 15 shooting came on mid-range jumpers, drives to the basket and even that nifty putback after he wrapped the ball around his back.
The changes remained prevalent in the Jackson's instruction to the team before tipoff, as reported by KCAL-9's John Ireland,: that the Lakers are an inside-outside team first. Besides the production from Bynum and Odom, that entailed Gasol scoring 11 points on an efficient three of five clip and five of six mark from the free-throw line.
The changes remained prevalent in the team's increased discipline in the backcourt: Bryant's 20 points on eight of 14 shooting showed he maintained his aggressiveness, but not at the expense of other teammates. Derek Fisher (nine points), Ron Artest (six) and Steve Blake (five) all shot at least 50% because of improved passing, spacing and rhythm. And even if he could do little to stop the speed of Chris Paul (20 points), Fisher offset the damage with making three steals and disrupting the passing lanes.
All these changes didn't suddenly solve all of the Lakers' problems. Their more productive and team-first offense also featured 21 turnovers, for one. But the Lakers at least found out how a few subtle changes and increased focus can result in a different outcome and a much happier squad afterwards.
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Photo: Lakers center Andrew Bynum dunks during the first quarter of the Lakers' 103-88 victory over the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday. Credit: Derick E. Hingle / U.S. Presswire