Things to take away from Lakers' 96-71 victory over Utah Jazz
1. The Lakers improved, but to what degree? The Lakers needed this 96-71 victory Tuesday over the Utah Jazz simply so they could minimize any additional frustration. But it's hard to gauge how much the Lakers improved, playing a Jazz team that simply isn't good. The Lakers held the Jazz to 31.3% shooting from the field. They disrupted the Jazz by funneling more of its personnel into the middle of the lane. The Jazz's inside presence in Al Jefferson (four points, two of 16) provided next to nothing.
All of these efforts can be attributed to the Jazz's unfamiliarity with new personnel and rustiness from playing in its first NBA game. Still, a win is a win, and the Lakers will gladly take it. If nothing else, this game helped the Lakers feel good about themselves. They also received full-court time in sharpening their play.
2. The Lakers received plenty of rest.It was huge that Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, capping their third game in three nights, received plenty of rest in the fourth quarter. They didn't rest the entire quarter, because Lakers Coach Mike Brown wants to use these games as extended practices. But Bryant, Gasol and Derek Fisher still played fewer minutes than usual. Double-digit victories against subpar teams will always prove significant, especially in a compacted season, since they give starters rare opportunities to ice the bags early.
3. Bryant played with good mix of scoring, passing. Brown said before the game that he thought his players "put the ball in Kobe's hands too much" in the team's loss Monday to Sacramento. As has happened throughout his career, that prompted Bryant to shoot too many shots outside of the offense and his teammates to lean on that aggressiveness. Bryant maintained a balance against Utah, scoring 26 points on eight-of-17 shooting and tacking on four assists.
Of course, many fans prefer seeing Bryant attack the basket, as he did against Raja Bell in the first half for a two-handed slam. But for the sake of protecting his wrist and fostering team chemistry, this was a better approach. On one play, Bryant scanned the court and waited for Gasol to cut inside. But Bryant soon found Steve Blake open on the perimeter and he nailed the open jumper. On another, Bryant saw Troy Murphy open at the baseline, but then immediately connected with Gasol as he penetrated into the lane. Overall, Bryant maintained a good balance between playing aggressively and getting others involved.
4. Gasol played with more aggressiveness. It's always a bad exercise to judge Gasol's performance on statistics. Gasol's 22 points, on six-of-11 shooting, and nine rebounds aren't impressive just because of the numbers. It's impressive because he played much more aggressively than in the past two games. Of course, this partly reflects the zero defense from Jefferson and Enes Kantor. But Gasol's constant cutting and last-second putback to end the first half illustrated his sharper focus.
5. Metta World Peace makes a one-handed dunk? Staples Center replayed the sequence three times, perhaps because very few of the 18,997 believed it actually happened. But it did. World Peace remained open on the perimeter, but found an opening in the lane. He then threw down a one-handed dunk in the second quarter that sparked teammates and brought fans to their feet.
World Peace also showed for the second consecutive game that he's capable of fulfilling his role as a post player on the reserve unit. He scored 14 points on four-of-six shooting and played with more energy on back-to-backs than he did in the first game.
6. Josh McRoberts and Murphy remain solid. McRoberts (six points, six rebounds) and Murphy (no points, 11 rebounds) showed a rugged style that will ensure the rest of the roster stays fresh. McRoberts remains a ball of energy, diving for the loose ball, taking charges and setting screens. Murphy's shot may have been off, but he proved to be relentless in clogging the lane and grabbing boards.
7. Fisher and Steve Blake looked more comfortable. Again, it's hard to measure worth by one game. But in terms of getting their rhythm back, this game helped. Fisher (nine points on three-of-four shooting) appeared more polished and even made a coast-to-coast layup. Blake (eight points on three-of-seven shooting) showed he remains confident about taking the open shot.
8. Jason Kapono made his season debut. Brown said before the game that Kapono hasn't played yet because he didn't think his age (30) and size (6 feet 8) matched well against the smaller and quicker backcourts the Lakers faced against Chicago and Sacramento. But Kapono made a token appearance, scoring five points on two-of-six shooting in 16 minutes.
9. Matt Barnes did not play. Barnes' left-hip injury must be serious if he didn't log a minute in a blowout. At least that's the only rationale I can offer. To Barnes' credit, he's handled it well. He acknowledged and smiled at fans who called for him to play. Barnes remained the last guy to give the starters a high-five after player introductions. And he continuously cheered on the sideline.
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, right, makes a pass in front of Utah's Al Jefferson, left, and Gordon Hayward during the Lakers' 96-71 victory Tuesday at Staples Center. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / December 27, 2011.
Photo: Lakers forward Pau Gasol, left, dunks over Utah guard Raja Bell during Tuesday's game at Staples Center. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / December 27, 2011