Lakers sharpen good habits from start to finish in 112-57 victory over Cleveland Cavaliers
His eyes darted up and down the page, poring over numbers that revealed the Lakers' (28-11) complete dominance over the Cavaliers (8-30) in what marked their fifth consecutive victory. It showed L.A. setting a franchise record for points allowed to an opponent since limiting Charlotte to 66 on March 12, 2002 and established the team's third-largest margin of victory behind a 56-point win over Detroit on Nov. 12, 1966 and a 63-point victory over Golden State on March 19, 1972.
The box score showed that the Lakers beat the Cavaliers in pretty much every statistical category including points in the paint (52-28), field-goal percentage (53.5%-29.9%), rebounding (53-42), assists (25-12), turnovers (12-19) and quarter-by-quarter scores, data Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has argued tells how sharp the team has played. And the box score showed how the Lakers' entire starting lineup and two reserves cracked double figures, ranging from Andrew Bynum and Ron Artest (15), Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Odom and Shannon Brown, as well as Derek Fisher (10).
But it wasn't until Odom saw the common thread among the entire roster that his eyes lit up.
"Everybody took a shot," Odom said to himself before offering what that reveals about a team performance. "That lets you know offensively we're in a rhythm. It also lets you know you're on a defensive rhythm because everyone is involved in the game."
Yet the Lakers still remained mixed on what exactly this victory means. Jackson walked up to the lectern for his postgame press conference and delivered this opening statement: "I don't know what to say about this game." He then rattled off several qualifiers, such as LeBron James' departure, Cleveland featuring seven players on the injured-reserve list including a season-ending right ankle injury to star player Anderson Varejao and the the Cavaliers' record to take into consideration. In turn, James tweeted: "Crazy. Karma is a .... Gets you every time. It's not good to wish bad on anybody. God sees everything!"
But this game signified more than just the Lakers' exploiting their overwhelming talent level, securing free tacos for fans and causing the 18,997 at Staples Center to give them a standing ovation once the buzzer sounded. It reflected a fresh attitude on how the Lakers have prided themselves on sharpening up habits, regardless of the opponent.
"We're not trying to show anybody up," Bynum said. "We're just out there executing our offense from one through 14. It worked out for all of us. Even in the fourth quarter, they were playing defense, continuing to move the ball on offense and everything was going well."
The result -- a blueprint that may be unrealistic for the Lakers to replicate all season but an approach they should strive for beginning Wednesday on a second game of a back-to-back against Golden State. Ball movement ranged from Bryant's backdoor lob to Bynum, Bryant's pass to Gasol that led to a one-timer to Bynum in the lane and a give-and-go between Steve Blake, Shannon Brown and Devin Ebanks. The Lakers demonstrated marked improvement of their execution in a defensive scheme installed about a week and a half ago that emphasizes forcing players to drive baseline instead of the middle of the lane, the backcourt to guard the perimeter and the frontcourt to remain close to the basket. And the Lakers maintained an intensity that was lacking when the team lost four times to sub-.500 opponents and mailed in victories against plenty of others.
"You don't ever imagine something like that," said Bryant, whose two field-goal attempts in the first half revealed the team's strong offensive rhythm didn't require him to carry the load. "You just go out there and do your job and we did it for 48 minutes tonight."
One of the lasting images of this game might be Bryant's off-the-backboard lob to Bynum, Gasol's one-handed slam, Artest's awful layup attempt that appeared to be an intentional setup for Fisher's tip-in, or Brown's half-court buzzer-beater at the end of the third quarter ("They're so supportive of me. They give me the ball. They got confidence that I'm going to make something positive happen with it.") But the tangible benefits points to the Lakers taking pride on improving various nuances.
"The actions are still the same actions that a team uses," Jackson said. "What we're trying to do is we're trying to get our guys doing the right thing, know how to play the defense, know how to get into rotation, know how to push the ball, how to control the ball and the movement of the ball off the dribble."
Bynum said those habits have been present because of an increased intensity in practice. Jackson noticed that it has had a trickle-down effect on their defensive stance and how they attack the rim. And Odom argues that the Lakers have focused on sharpening up what he calls "intangibles."
But it's also how the Lakers addressed this context setting up challenges within the game to help themselves maintain their edge. When the Lakers entered the locker room with a 57-25 halftime lead, very little of it centered around the Cavaliers' offense marking the lowest scoring total the Lakers had allowed since yielding 19 points to the Clippers on Dec. 14, 1999. They instead talked about maintaining solid ball movement and limiting the Cavaliers to as few points as possible. And they followed through with that goal, granting every starter with the exception of Gasol an entire fourth-quarter's rest.
"It was team ball tonight on the offensive and defensive end," Brown said. "Defensively, we talked, we rotated, we helped each other, we got blocked shots, we got steals. On the offensive end, we got ball movement. The ball got in the right person's hand and that person made the play."
At the end of it, however, Artest still remained unconvinced. Consider his various takes, including his thoughts on the Lakers' record-setting night ("They had some guys out. "I don't want to judge our play on that game."); on whether the team's improved defensively ("It's still hard to say. We need a stretch run against a bunch of teams, good teams."); on what he needs to see before he knows the Lakers are playing well ("I don't know. I'm not really feeling a good answer with where we're at"); or on how he feels his role will change with Matt Barnes' expected eight-week absence after having surgery Tuesday on his lateral meniscus tear in his right knee ("I've been on teams where I've had to carry the whole load. I don't know where I have to fill in anybody's role. But I can't wait to get Matt back.")
For one night, Artest's contention to just move on to the next game proved valid. But how to get there? The Lakers explained the details on the court and they provided the answers in the box score Odom held.
"We're starting to grow and we're starting to get on a roll and play good basketball. As a team, our focus is there," Odom said.
-- Mark Medina
E-mail the Lakers blog at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos (from top): Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, right, tries to get past Cleveland forward J.J. Hickson during the first half of the Lakers' 112-57 victory Tuesday at Staples Center. Lakers Center Andrew Bynum dunks during the first half. Forward Lamar Odom controls the ball under the basket during the first half.
Photo credits: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times