Things to take away from Lakers' 92-89 win over Denver
1. Lakers finally secure a close game. OK, so no one could breathe a sigh of relief until the final second. Danilo Gallinari missed a wide-open layup on a fastbreak triggered by a long rebound off a Kobe Bryant miss from three-point range. Bryant made one of two free throws and Al Harrington missed a three-point try. But the Lakers' 92-89 victory Saturday over the Denver Nuggets also showed their ability to make key plays, something they lacked in season-opening losses to the Chicago Bulls and Sacramento Kings.
Take your pick of exciting plays. Ty Lawson running a screen-and-roll prompted Derek Fisher and Andrew Bynum to switch, leaving Nene open for a dunk. There was Bynum's converted lob from Bryant followed by a free throw. There was Nene's missed dunk. There was Fisher diving for a loose ball after missing a trey with the shot clock running down. There was Bynum's block on Nene followed by a layup on the other end that gave the Lakers a 91-89 lead. And there was Pau Gasol's block on Harrington.
With exception to Nene's dunk off the pick and roll, the Lakers executed properly on defense in the final stretch. As much as there was to take away from the game, the fact the Lakers closed out in such a fashion marks growth.
2. Bynum can score, but he can't run. Once Bynum enters the paint, an aggressive switch turns on. His 29 points on 13 for 18 shooting, 13 rebounds and two blocks amounted to the second-highest statistical showing of his career. He caught feeds in the post, performed nifty spin moves and was a towering, dominant presence in his first game this season after a four-game suspension.
There's no debate on Bynum's value upon his return and how much involvement he'll have in the offense. But there is debate on when Bynum will catch up on his conditioning. It turns out the only time Bynum shows any speed is when he's driving. He looked winded, which detracted from his defense and rotatations. Interestingly, Lakers Coach Mike Brown talked with Bynum each time he removed him, showing he's properly evaluating Bynum beyond his scoring production. Big picture, Bynum's poor conditioning is going to seriously hurt the team if it doesn't improve soon.
3. Bryant played facilitator. There was understandable debate on how the offensive pecking order would work with Bryant being the scorer that he is and Bynum wanting a larger role. But for at least one game, Bryant was buying into it. His 17 points on six-for-18 shooting, 10 rebounds and nine assists reflected Denver's relentless effort to double team him. But instead of forcing the issue, Bryant simply punished the Nuggets by finding Bynum and Gasol for open looks. Once Bryant finally scored with 3:40 left in the second quarter, he strung together a series of fadeaways when the Nuggets fed him with single coverage. Bryant's assist total would've been higher had the Lakers made their outside shots.
5. Matt Barnes starts at small forward instead of Devin Ebanks. This is an ongoing story. Barnes didn't appear in two of the first four games after losing the starting spot to Ebanks. But Barnes received more time against New York because of his stronger ability to guard Carmelo Anthony.
Barnes looked promising, posting seven points and seven rebounds, thanks to frequent off-ball cuts to the basket and making one of the team's two three-pointers. Brown had provided no indication he'd make a lineup switch. So it remains to be seen if this is a permanent or temporary adjustment.
6. Gasol adjusted to Bynum's return after a while. He could've played more aggressively, considering he had only five rebounds. But Gasol and Bryant worked off each other well, with Gasol consistently getting open for mid-range jumpers and scoring 17 points on seven-for-10 shooting. Based off Bynum's performance, it will be interesting on whether he becomes more of a focal point on offense than Gasol.
7. Metta World Peace has an off night. World Peace sounded hesitant before the game in embracing the "Peace Corps" nickname bestowed on the bench unit. Perhaps because it is a tad too early to give World Peace too much praise based on two consecutive solid performances. World Peace was scoreless on 0-for-8 shooting, partly because of his failure to find looks in the post.
8. Lakers turnovers remain an issue.This time the Lakers' 19 turnovers had nothing to do with Bryant's wrist. The total had everything to do with the Lakers' forcing the issue on offense.
9. Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy remain in the rotation. Even with Bynum back, Brown still wanted to include Murphy and McRoberts on the normal rotation. Their playing time dwindled significantly, but they lots of energy.
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Photo: Nuggets center Nene tries to cut off a drive to the basket by Lakers center Andrew Bynum in the first half Saturday at Staples Center. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / December 31, 2011.