Five things to take away from the Lakers' 106-101 overtime victory over Portland Trail Blazers
It's safe to presume the Lakers were in a much better mood following their double-digit victory Tuesday over Atlanta after the All-Star break than when they were riddled with a three-game losing streak, including a loss to the listless Cleveland Cavaliers. But overtime victories in well-fought games against a quality opponent proves something that's more valuable in the long run. It tested the Lakers' willingness to grind it out and maintain their patience when things weren't working out, such as when the Lakers shot only 41.5% in the first half, were outrebounded 21-16 and allowed a 10-2 start to slip away to a 29-23 first-quarter deficit. Lakers Hall of Famer Magic Johnson appropriately tweeted that "I won't get too excited until they win 7 or 8 in a row!" But a victory against Portland surely has to be a momentum boost toward that effort considering the win snapped the Trail Blazers' six-game winning streak and marked the Lakers' second consecutive victory at the Rose Garden after losing nine in a row.
2. Kobe Bryant overcame a poor shooting start with some clutch plays
A four-of-15 shooting mark in the first half surely wasn't going to inhibit Bryant from playing his game, even if it's against a team that historically has taken its chances with allowing Bryant to shoot a high volume of shots. This time, however, Bryant made the Blazers pay, finishing with 37 points on 14-of-31 shooting. His 11 third-quarter points proved instrumental in the Lakers ending that period trailing 69-67, setting plenty of more instances that allowed Bryant to flourish. His fallaway jumper cut Portland's lead to 87-85 with less than a minute remaining in the game and his multiple pump fakes followed by a fallaway jumper tied the score at 87-87 with 4.7 seconds left in regulation.
Once the game went into overtime, Bryant continued to shine. He hit a nine-foot jumper to give the Lakers a 100-97 lead with 27 seconds left, grabbed a key defensive rebound and secured the victory with six consecutive free throws. Sure, there were a few head-scratching decisions, such as his first-half shot selection, three turnovers and not being aware of the shot clock that ultimately led to a turnover. But Bryant didn't allow any of those miscues to cloud his overall dominance.
Usually Artest's role in the offense involves hiding in the corner, shooting off-balance jumpers and either making an offensive foul or botching a layup after bulldozing into traffic. Against Portland, however, Artest played his most consistent game of the season, scoring 24 points on eight-of-13 shooting and hitting a three-pointer that gave the Lakers a 95-92 lead with 2:46 remaining. He then grabbed a crucial rebound that led to Bryant finding an open jumper off a curl. Most of Artest's strong offensive performances happen when he's relying on basketball instincts, looking for the open man, cutting to the open space and finding shots that are open and on balance. Artest and his teammates can say all they want that he's not the primary focal point on offense. Fair enough. The Lakers mostly need him for defense. But it's nights like tonight that prove why he needs at least to be a dependable option on offense.
4. The Lakers made adjustments on LaMarcus Aldridge
His performance shows the Lakers still lack defensive consistency in shutting off the passing lanes, as Aldridge scored 29 points through three quarters thanks to open drives to the rack and uncontested mid-range jumpers. But credit the Lakers for eventually adjusting. Aldridge didn't score a point in the fourth quarter and overtime. This points to the Lakers' relentless double teams in denying him the ball, considering he only attempted two field goals. But it also points to the Lakers clamping down on him on two crucial possessions. First came with shutting off Aldridge on an open layup and Odom grabbing the rebound that set up Bryant's game-tying basket. Then came Odom's help defense on the next possession after Aldridge beat Lakers forward Pau Gasol off the dribble, a play that forced overtime.
5. The Lakers are committing too many turnovers
The Lakers lately have assessed their development by counting the mistakes they're making. With the Lakers committing 16 turnovers a game after finishing with 18 against Atlanta, the defending champions are still in dire need of improving in that category. This easily could've led to the Lakers demise considering the Trail Blazers cashed 40 points in transition. Just because the Lakers found other ways to compensate doesn't mean they should overlook their effort in handling the ball. Come playoff time, most teams will likely find the best way to beat the Lakers will entail forcing poor shot selection and poor ball handling, which in turn will lead to baskets in transition and the open court. Since the Lakers are a deliberate and veteran-laden team, it's imperative they don't allow teams to exploit this area.
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Top photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant pulls up for a jumper over Portland guard Wesley Matthews in the second half Wednesday night. Credit: Steve Dipaola / Reuters
Bottom photo: Lakers forward Ron Artest powers his way to the basket on a drive down the lane against Blazers forward Nicolas Batum in the first half Wednesday night. Credit: Don Ryan / Associated Press