Lakers' 87-78 Game 2 victory over New Orleans Hornets featured a reliable supporting cast
With the Staples Center crowd cheering during each swing of momentum as if it were an elimination game, Lakers forward Lamar Odom stepped onto center court.
He had just accepted the award as the NBA's sixth man of the year, but it's conceivable that the enthusiasm also represented a boost of support to a team that played Game 1 of its first-round playoffs match-up against New Orleans with the intensity of a regular-season game in mid-January. The scene provided a good illustration of Phil Jackson’s motivational tactic Wednesday during morning shootaround that the announcement of Odom's award a day before Game 2 served one specific purpose.
"The reason that they made sure Lamar had this award was this could be the last time he plays today in front of his whole team," Jackson said with a smile. "They want to make sure that award gets to them at the right time and to go out and prove them wrong."
Jackson was up to one of his usual Zen tricks, and the Lakers laughed at the tactic. But it provided the framework for how the Lakers wanted to change their play after a game featuring poor post play by Pau Gasol, Odom and Andrew Bynum, inconsistency in defending the pick and roll, a bench continuing its inconsistency and an overall effort that suggested the Lakers don't believe the playoffs have actually started.
The Lakers' 87-78 Game 2 victory over the New Orleans Hornets didn't exactly provide a turnaround from everything that had gone wrong in Game 1. Kobe Bryant, Gasol and Derek Fisher combined for 28 points with a seven-of-29 combined clip. The game also featured a third quarter in which both teams were scoreless for a 3:21 stretch. But there were plenty of areas that helped offset that, an encouraging sign for a team looking to take back control of the series.
On Bynum's locker-room chair sat a book titled, "The New Psycho-Cybernetics," which stresses positive thinking and details how to achieve goals faster with more efficiency. Consider it a foreshadowing of Bynum's 17 points on eight-of-11 shooting and 11 rebounds, which helped offset Gasol's two-of-10 clip for eight points.
The contrasts of the two couldn't have been greater. The Lakers' philosophy in getting the ball inside early worked for Bynum because he was efficient with his touches. Bynum squared up, dribbled left past Aaron Gray and finished up with a left-hander on one play. A post-up on Emeka Okafor resulted in Bynum hitting a bank shot, and another showed him backing Okafor with pace and ease before finishing with a left hook. He returned on defense and disrupted a passing lane. And after catching a lob from Matt Barnes and finishing in the lane, Bynum pumped his fist in delight.
"I get my touches where they are," he said, "and try to do the best I can with them."
The same couldn't be said about Gasol.
Bryant fed him two consecutive entry passes in the first quarter and the second pass resulted in Gasol posting up, performing a baseline spin move and finishing with a lefty hook. But instead of carrying that momentum forward, Gasol appeared flat and shaky with his shot. Credit Gasol for going four of four from the free-throw line and for his increased aggressiveness in getting into the lane. Once he received the ball, however, he seemed too tentative and deliberate in finding his shot.
Gasol has shot four of 19 from the field in the first two playoff games, a formula that won't be sustainable in future games. For now, however, the Lakers can benefit from the fact that Bynum had a coming-out game that suggests he'll continue the offensive and defensive prowess that defined him during the Lakers' 17-1 run after the All-Star break.
"He really carries things pretty well," Jackson said. "We're really confident in him having a good game. We think we can play at a higher level even than this."
The Lakers’ bench provided energy
When Odom entered the lineup at the 4:35 mark of the first quarter, the 18,997 people at Staples Center gave him the standing ovation they usually bring, a ritual that Odom had earlier noted at his awards ceremony that evening, when he wanted to leave the trophy at the scorer's table. He actually decided to place the award across from aisle 2 on the main concourse until the end of the game, and then plans to give the trophy to his son, Lamar Jr. But the reason why the fans usually give him a rousing ovation is the reason why no one should be worried about a rare off performance in Game 1. He finished with 16 points on eight-of-12 shooting and seven rebounds, a huge improvement from the 10 points on three-of-six shooting and one rebound he posted in Game 1. His performance featured all the coast-to-coast layups, mid-range jumpers and drives to the basket you'd expect out of Odom.
But this effort was a little different. It also featured a resurgent bench in Steve Blake and Barnes. After two days of practice and finishing pregame warm-ups, Blake returned to the lineup and dished out five assists in 17 minutes, 53 seconds after missing the past three games because of chickenpox. He didn’t appear tentative whatsoever, organizing an offense that featured him throwing entry passes to Odom and stopping in mid-step on a fast break to find an open Odom behind him.
Meanwhile, Barnes benefited from the three-day stretch between games, which allowed him extra treatment on his surgically repaired right knee. His eight-point effort on four-of-four shooting resembled the play he had shown before his lateral meniscus tear three months ago, in which he slashed to the basket, made hustle points and became physical. The latter part resulted in a flagrant foul on Barnes with 7:49 left in the fourth quarter on Trevor Ariza, a call Barnes strongly questioned. On a night when Bryant had two airballs and Fisher drove the break and missed the basket in three separate instances, it's a stepping stone if the bench can produce this kind of effort.
The Lakers defense strengthened
A two-hour film session on Monday pointed out various tendencies in how the Lakers failed to defend the Hornets' pick-and-roll plays, with Jackson arguing at least 35 of the 70 plays New Orleans ran featured the Lakers in the wrong defensive sets. The Lakers appeared more organized in Game 2, limiting the Hornets to 39.1% shooting, forcing 16 turnovers and a multitude of switching on Chris Paul, including Fisher, Bryant, Blake and Ron Artest. The result entailed Paul finishing with 20 points on five-of-11 shooting and nine assists, a severe drop-off from the 33 points and 14 assists he posted in Game 1. Paul still did his damage, but had he not converted on two three-pointers when Bryant was out of position, his stat line would actually read a three-of-nine clip. The Lakers improved in funneling drivers away from the lane, resulting in the team finishing with eight blocks.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum, left, celebrates with forward Ron Artest, right, as guard Derek Fisher looks on during the second half in Game 2 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series Wednesday in L.A. Credit: Mark J. Terrill / AP