Five things to take from Lakers' 97-92 win over the Cavaliers
1. The Lakers nearly squandered a fourth-quarter lead. The Lakers' 97-92 victory Friday over the Cleveland Cavaliers shouldn't have been close. They entered the fourth quarter with an 82-70 lead. They appeared full of energy. And they appeared ready to rest for their game Saturday night against the Clippers.
But then the Lakers' lineup featuring Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock, Devin Ebanks, Troy Murphy and Pau Gasol missed five consecutive shots. The Cavaliers' six unanswered points came off a poor closeout (Tristan Thompson jumper), Goudelock's aggressive foul on Ramon Sessions that set up two free throws and no one closing the lane as Session drove for a layup.
Chalk it up to Mike Brown's experiments with rotations going poorly, but the Lakers' starters hardly secured the win until late in the game. When Kobe Bryant, Matt Barnes and Derek Fisher entered the game with an 82-76 lead with 8:48 left, the unit missed three consecutive shots. Thankfully for the Lakers, Bryant's outlet pass to Barnes for a breakaway dunk and a subsequent three-pointer helped widen the gap.
2. Another big night for Bryant. Bryant continued thriving with his outside shot, and even extended his range to the three-point line where he scored 42 points on 15-of-31 shooting and four-of-seven mark from three-point range. It gets routine seeing this effort. After all, this performance marks the fifth time in the last six games he's scored at least 30 points and third consecutive game he's dropped at least 40. But even if Bryant has played through injuries many times before, it boggles my mind that he's maintained such a high shooting percetange while nursing a torn ligament in his right wrist.
There were a few moments where Bryant looked too much for his shot in the second half. But it's not an issue. In the first quarter, Bryant helped provide a blueprint on how the Big Three of Bryant, Gasol and Bynum can play off each other, combining for 27 points on 12-of-14 shooting. The comforting part of Bryant's performance points to his overall energy. He hasn't looked this healthy since his prime. After all, the last time Bryant had scored at least 40 points in three consecutive games was in 2007.
4. Derek Fisher, Darius Morris shared point-guard duties well. It was safe to presume that Steve Blake's absence Friday night because of fractured cartilage that connects the rib to the sternum would severely hurt the Lakers' point-guard play. Fisher remained a step behind on conditioning and shooting. Morris looked promising in his NBA debut Wednesday against Utah, but lacks experience. And Blake has largely improved his shooting and defense. Not only did Fisher and Morris hold the fort, they excelled in setting up teammates.
Fisher finished with 10 assists, the 15th time in his career he's logged such an effort. Meanwhile, Morris had four assists in 18 minutes. Fisher set up teammates through simple efficiency in running the offense and good court vision. Morris did so with his quickness and passing. Each has a different style, but they both worked well. It'll be interesting to see how consistently they show that effort considering Blake's expected to be sidelined between three to four weeks.
5. Metta World Peace logs a DNP. So the Lakers say World Peace has a sore Achilles' tendon and back. But that doesn't necessarily answer why World Peace has seen a drastic drop in playing time. First, it was Matt Barnes who took away his minutes after logging in great efforts as a starter. Now, Devin Ebanks came off the bench before him. During timeouts, World Peace appeared at times engaged with teammates and distant. The easy answer for increased playing time involves better play, particularly in the post. On a less minor note, Josh McRoberts might still be limited with a sprained big toe on his left foot. He logged only four minutes.
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Photo: Cavaliers guard Anthony Parker tries to pass out of the double-team defense by Lakers center Andrew Bynum and guard Kobe Bryant in the first half Friday night at Staples Center. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times