Five things to take away from Lakers' 108-83 victory over Detroit Pistons
1. The Lakers' 108-83 victory Tuesday over Detroit meant very little, but at least it's a start. The Staples center crowd gave the Lakers a standing ovation as the game came to a close. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant chatted courtside with actor Tom Hanks in the final minutes. And the teammates exchanged high fives after well executed plays.
Yes, it was a much different tone for the Lakers (24-11) than say their double-digit loss to Memphis, which prompted boos from the crowd, a stoic demeanor among players and frustrated expressions all around after poor execution. But the Lakers shouldn't be lauded for this too much, considering Detroit (11-24) shouldn't have been in contention with the defending champions. But with so much deserved scrutiny over the Lakers' four losses in the past six games and numerous reports trickling out involving Ron Artest's confrontation with Phil Jackson, three players showing up to Sunday's morning shootaround late (Luke Walton, unnamed player) or not at all (Pau Gasol, who insisted later he was just late) and issues involving the team's nuanced view on Bryant's shot selection, the win serves as a welcome dose of good news.
But it's more important how the Lakers replicate their performance moving forward, considering Detroit's record, the team's game Wednesday at Phoenix and the team's sharp execution has only come in spurts following an 8-0 start.
There's a point in a game where you have the ability to stand up and start playing the kind of ball game where you make a stand," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson offered as a formula for replicating similar performances moving forward. "We're going to make a defensive stand or take an offensive position that crushes a team and opens up the game. It can happen at any place."
2. The Lakers made adjustments The event Jackson described in the first note took place immediately beginning in the third quarter, a good sign considering the Lakers maintained only a 45-42 halftime lead. The Lakers opened with Ron Artest hitting an open three-pointer, Pau Gasol creating a turnover and Derek Fisher also nailing a trey. Once Fisher hit a 20-foot jump shot to give the Lakers a 59-44 lead with 7:37 remaining, he and Bryant hugged at midcourt.
The difference between the first and second half stats prove drastically different including field goal percentage (40.4%, 54.8%) and field-goal percentage defense (51.6%, 39%). But that happened because the Lakers didn't fall to frustration. The Lakers pursued shortcuts when their execution didn't work at the beginning of games, further exacerbating the team's lacking fundamentals and focus. It's debatable whether Detroit should've even held ground in the first place, but the Lakers showed growth in not wallowing in their own shortcomings.
3. The Lakers played as a team. Whether it came after Bryant and Gasol executed a pick-and-roll, Steve Blake worked with Shannon Brown on an alley oop or anyone fed an entry pass inside, the Lakers offered plenty of sequences that prompted high fives.
The Lakers simply provided what their well-oiled machine should look like on a daily basis. Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom combined for 51 of the team's 108 points, revealing their increased aggressiveness in getting post position and the backcourt's increased emphasis on looking inside first. But their combined 22 rebounds also shows they found ways to remain engaged in the game even when the play didn't revolve around them. In addition to surpassing Dominique Wilkins on the NBA's all-time scoring list, Kobe Bryant recorded a near triple-double with 17 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, revealing he was equally effective in using his explosiveness to drive to the basket and punish Detroit for double teaming him. Bryant only went six of 18 and missed his first nine shots, but he showed enough awareness to still help the offense with a facilitating role.
There were also players such as Fisher and Artest who hit critical shots in the third quarter, but also established a defensive blueprint with Fisher's deflections and Artest's tenacious effort on Tayshaun Prince (who worked very hard for 12 points on four of eight shooting).
4. The Lakers appeared in better conditioningIn a 2 1/2 hour practice on Monday, Jackson had his players complete a drill he hadn't used since training camp. It involved the team scoring 82 layups from end line to end line within a two-minute span, a drill that took six attempts before successfully completing. It reaped immediate benefits with the Lakers looking more sharp with their passing and cutting, a huge reason why the Lakers only committed six turnovers after averaging 16.8 turnovers per game in the previous five contests. That created a trickle effect where the Lakers appeared more ready to stop the Pistons in transition, with the improved quickness and decreased turnovers holding Detroit to only six fast-break points.
5. The Lakers received needed restAfter the Lakers built a 76-59 lead entering the fourth quarter, all but Andrew Bynum sat out the rest of the way. It provided some entertaining aspects with Luke Walton drawing a technical for showboating after a jumper, Brown's alley oops and Joe Smith's first field goal as a Laker. There's very little of that to take from a big-picture standpoint. But with the Lakers playing Phoenix tonight, it's a good sign most of the Lakers' starters didn't have to log heavy minutes late in the game.
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