Five things to take away from Lakers' 90-82 victory over Memphis
1. The Lakers' 90-82 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday came in a game that remained close because of turnovers and poor transition defense. Teams have quickly discovered that the main way to beat the Lakers involves two things. No. 1: Force the Lakers into bad passes and slap Kobe Bryant's right wrist or both of them. The Lakers' continuing unfamiliarity with their spacing exacerbates that. No. 2: Get a steal or a rebound and immediately run the fastbreak. The Lakers won't get back in time.
In Memphis' case, the Grizzlies forced 27 Lakers turnovers and scored 31 fastbreak points. Lakers Coach Mike Brown blames this problem on his players having a "lack of urgency" in playing through every possession. The Lakers' declining athleticism remains understandable. Their unwillingness to take every possession seriously warrants little justification.
2. Bryant's shooting and passing remained impressive. The highlight reels will show Bryant driving the baseline for a reverse dunk and throwing a lob to Pau Gasol. But aside from his four turnovers, Bryant found a perfect mix of remaining aggressive and involving his teammates. His 26 points on 11-for-22 shooting mostly came within his sweet spots on the elbows. His court vision was unmatched and he had nine assists.
Bryant remains capable of having huge games. But it's not a sustainable strategy for him to carry the load. Sometimes those games happen because the Lakers lack other options. Sometimes Bryant does so out of his desire to be great. But it's games such as the one Sunday that show the happy medium, in which Bryant maintains his scoring streak while his teammates prove they're relieable options.
3. Matt Barnes put together another solid performance. His 15 points (on five-of-nine shooting), 15 rebounds and four assists should further convince Brown to keep Barnes in the starting rotation. Brown said a string of such performances would help, but not set anything in stone. Still, Barnes provided a perfect blueprint, epitomized in one sequence in which he blocked a jumper, sprinted out and then converted on the fastbreak.
4. The Lakers' bench remains a work in progress. It appeared the reserves were more reliable than they were in the previous four games. Steve Blake remained in rhythm and exuded confident as he scored 13 points on five-of-eight shooting. Backup forward Troy Murphy's spacing was good and he made open shots en route to six points on three-of-five shooting. And Metta World Peace had a steal and a fastbreak dunk that entertained the crowd.
But don't be deceived. Blake committed five turnovers. Murphy appears incredibly slow on defensive rotations. And World Peace played only 12 minutes, partly it appears because of Barnes' strong play and because World Peace offered little to nothing with two points on one of three shooting.
It's crucial that the Lakers' bench becomes reliable. Josh McRoberts is still sidelined because of a sprained big toe on his left foot and expects that he will return by the end of the week. Bryant shouldn't have to carry the burden. And Andrew Bynum and Gasol probably will face more double-teams.
5. Gasol and Bynum played well. Gasol's behind-the-back pass to Bynum looked nice. Bynum's dunk from Bryant looked spectacular. They held Marc Gasol to two points on 0-of-9 shooting from the field. Their combined 28 points on 10-of-22 shooting and 30 rebounds hardly matches what they can produce. They could've played more aggressively. And Bynum remains a work in progress playing through double teams. But when the team is playing as balanced as it did against Memphis, that's splitting hairs.
-- Mark Medina
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Top photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant gets tangled with Grizzlies center Marc Gasol and guard Tony Allen while trying to drive to the basket in the first half Sunday at Staples Center. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times / January 8, 2012
Bottom photo: Lakers foward Matt Barnes tries to save the ball from going out of bounds in the fourth quarter Sunday at Staples Center. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times / January 8, 2012