Five things to take from Lakers' 111-99 victory over Phoenix Suns
1. Kobe Bryant had a huge third quarter in the Lakers' 111-99 victory Friday over the Phoenix Suns. After shooting 37.1% in the past seven games, Bryant vowed he'd look to find various ways to get better looks at the basket. Well, he showed it was pretty easy to do against Phoenix. He scored 18 of his team-high 36 points (on 14 of 25 shooting) in that time period.
His shots came in all shapes and sizes. Bryant drove in for a reverse layup, causing Channing Frye, Steve Nash and Marcin Gortat to argue with each other. Bryant beat Frye off the dribble. He operated in the post and on pick-and-rolls.
An added bonus: All of this came in the context of the Lakers' offense. When Bryant saw a double team in the lane, he fed Andrew Bynum for an easy dunk. When Bryant faced double teams in the post, Matt Barnes flashed into the lane. For at least one game, Bryant ended his shooting funk.
2. Pau Gasol struggled, and that's an understatement. His 10 points on four-of-13 shooting tells it all. Every missed opportunity further discouraged him. When Bryant's perfectly placed fastbreak pass in the third quarter slipped out of his hands, Gasol yelled and slammed the ball against his palms. When Steve Blake's poor entry pass went out of bounds, Gasol slumped on the chair on the next timeout. Phoenix forced a turnover off a double team that trimmed the Lakers' lead to 95-88 with 5:35 remaining, prompting him to shake his head as he ran back on defense. Former teammate Shannon Brown snuck behind Gasol for a put-back dunk that trimmed the lead to 95-90 with 4:28 remaining.
This performance had nothing to do with not finding good looks in the post. It had everything to do with Gasol missing easy opportunities and feeling frustrated about it afterwards.
3. Andrew Bynum shows improvement on double teams. His 16 points on seven-of-13 shooting reflected his ever-growing improvement in handling increased defensive pressure. He quickly passed out to the perimeter and reposted. When Bynum met single coverage, he relentlessly attacked the basket.
4. The Lakers' bench showed mixed success. The reserves are often blamed for blowing leads. This time, they were credited for building a 42-35 second-quarter lead. Steve Blake set people up well. Troy Murphy moved off the ball and hit perimeter shots with ease. Matt Barnes efficiently attacked the basket off the-ball. Andrew Goudelock dropped teardrops. Of course, the bench could face stronger challenges against better teams. But the fact the reserves combined for 32 points shows their chemistry finally has clicked.
5. Derek Fisher showed no signs of illness. It's not surprising Fisher appeared in his 525th consecutive game despite missing practice Thursday because of a sinus infection. It's surprising that he posted 12 points on five-of-eight shooting, considering his otherwise sluggish performances this season. But time and time again, Fisher has delivered when he has been doubted the most.
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Photo: Lakers forward Matt Barnes goes for a rebound against Suns center Robin Lopez in the first half Friday night at Staples Center. Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press