Lakers show offensive improvement in 111-99 victory over Phoenix Suns
Summoning his players over, Lakers Coach Mike Brown looked them in the eye and told them to appreciate what they have.
Embrace the grind that a compacted 66-game schedule entails. Relish the hard work that comes with nailing down his offensive and defensive system. Tolerate the fluctuating lineup changes. Block out the "outside noise" regarding what moves the Lakers will make before the March 15 trade deadline. Understand that all of these challenges remain an ongoing effort.
"I knew we were going to get socked on the chin because I didn't have enough time to figure out what I had," Brown said. "So it starts with me. Then, to our guys' credit, they were searching too. I'm not saying we have arrived, because we have not, but we are getting better."
The Lakers showed that in their 111-99 victory Friday over the Phoenix Suns. They reached their season high in points and reached the 100-point threshold for the fourth time all season. After shooting 37% from the field in the last seven games, Kobe Bryant dropped 36 points on 14-of-25 shooting, including 18 in the third quarter. The Lakers bench combined for 34 points on 13-of-20 shooting. Andrew Bynum showed tremendous ability in passing out of double teams and re-posting en route to 17 points on a seven-of-13 clip.
It remains to be seen whether the old adage What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" will apply to this current Lakers team. The Suns (12-19) rank 23rd overall in total defense (97.32 points allowed per game) and 20th in opponent field-goal percentage (45.2%). The Lakers allowed Phoenix to cut double-digit leads in both the second and fourth quarter, partly because of 17 turnovers. Bryant believes Pau Gasol's 10-point effort on four-of-13 shooting relates to the possibility the Lakers might trade him.
Still, the Lakers' progression leaves Brown confident enough to say that "I'll bet on us in the playoffs." It leads Suns Coach Alvin Gentry to dread the Lakers the same way as when L.A. eliminated Phoenix in six games of the 2010 Western Conference semifinals. It gives the Lakers' players some hope that progress finally feels as if it has arrived.
"For this stretch that we've been on in the first half has been difficult," said Bryant, whose team currently ranks fifth in the Western Conference. "But we haven't had many practices and juggled with the lineup, played two rookies in the fourth quarter on the road and they have to learn on the fly. It's been tough. I think I'm fairly pleased with where we are at this point."
That started with Bryant, who found a good mix of drives, post-ups and passes through double teams to keep the Suns' defense honest. That included Bynum, who handled double teams by facilitating to a strong cutting Troy Murphy or Matt Barnes or re-posting Phoenix on single coverage. It trickled down to the bench, where Steve Blake immediately found Barnes open on backdoor cuts, Andrew Goudelock on floaters and Murphy on mid-range jumpers. It even extended to Derek Fisher, who scored 12 points on five-of-eight shooting despite having a sinus infection a day earlier.
"With all the new things that have been thrown at us, it's taken a little longer than we thought to get going," said Barnes, who scored 17 points on six-of-seven shooting. "But I definitely feel we're heading in the right direction."
-- Mark Medina
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