Five things to take from Lakers' 99-83 victory over Phoenix Suns
1. The Lakers closed out the Phoenix Suns well, 99-83, with strong defense. There's a whole list of problems the Lakers hardly corrected, including turnovers (15), poor three-point shooting (two of 17) and perimeter defense (seven of 20).
But from a result standpoint, the Lakers closed out in great fashion by going on a 16-1 run and holding Phoenix without a field goal in the final 5:56. Meanwhile, the Lakers made some great plays, punctuated by Kobe Bryant's baseline dunk past Grant Hill and two-handed reverse dunk off Matt Barnes' lob.
2. Bryant remains spectacular in his 108th 40-plus-point performance. Here's how to break down Bryant's 48 points on 18-of-31 shooting. Bryant scored 23 points on nine-of-16 shooting in the first half, thanks to his marvelous footwork and efficient jump-shooting. It seemed unfair for him to carry the workload, but Bryant can do it.
In the second half, he received more support. But his impressive play remained the same. There were a few forced shots. But mostly, it was a masterpiece. Bryant's dunks will get the highlight reels, but that doesn't do justice to the amazing form and footwork he provided on his jumpers.
3. Andrew Bynum and Paul Gasol lacked aggressiveness in the first half, but bounced back in the second. As the Lakers havea definitive advantage against almost any front line, let alone Phoenix, it's implausible the two played passively in the first half. Bynum (seven points on three-of-five shooting and three rebounds in first half) hardly appeared adept at making quick passes or adjustments out of double teams. He also remained slow on switching on pick-and-rolls, particulalry with Steve Nash's drive to the basket. Meanwhile, Gasol showed little effort in closing out on Channing Frye both in the perimeter and on the boards. His six points (three-of-eight shooting) and five rebounds in the first half also reflected missing easy looks and not penetrating efficiently enough to draw open looks.
In the second half, they appeared more aggressive. The Lakers found them open inside. They established better post position. And they closed out better on rotations. The result: Gasol and Bynum combined for a final line of 28 points on 11 of 21 shooting and 20 rebounds. Criticize them for starting sluggishly, but credit them for bouncing back.
Blake's three points on one-of-three shooting and eight assists hardly elicits much attention. He also made some mistakes, such as an ill-adviced lob to Bynum that went off the backboard. But his overall play surpassed Fisher's, which entailed a five-point effort on two-of-five shooting, poor attempts at creating his own shot and arguing an offensive foul call. I've long held Fisher's presence and leadership in high esteem. But facts are facts. Blake's latest effort represents a larger picture where the Lakers' reserve guard has provided much more than Fisher has thus far.
5. Luke Walton actually looked decent. Lakers fans will probably flood the comments section in protest, but Walton actually played OK (six points, three of seven shooting in 26 minutes). He earned more time because of absences of Jason Kapono (wife gave birth to twin daughters), Josh McRoberts (sprained big toe on left foot) and Troy Murphy (gastroenteritis). And it's likely Kapono will play Wednesday at Utah, while it's plausible McRoberts and Murphy could return to the lineup.
But it's comforting the Lakers didn't hurt too much with a depleted frontcourt on the reserve unit. Part of that points to Walton playing decently, including a great mid-range jumper, efficient passing and a timely putback.
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Photo: Phoenix forward Grant Hill, right, pressures Lakers guard Kobe Bryant during the first half of Tuesday's game at Staples Center. Credit: Jae C. Hong / Associated Press / January 10, 2012