Lakers 112 - Cavs 57: No, you are (probably) not hallucinating.

Unless you're on meds or something, in which case WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING SURFING THE WEB? Get to a doctor, man, safety first yeah? Anyways, it's perfectly understandable why one may second-guess their state of sanity/sobriety upon glancing at that score; but I assure you, last night's game did in fact occur and the Cleveland Cavaliers did indeed lose by 55 points to our Los Angeles Lakers (and LeBron James indeed does remain a jackass).

I could summarise or recap this game in an in-depth manner, but I'm fairly sure that could lead to me being prosecuted for promoting violence and torture, so I'll let this play sum up the game:


Yep, that was an NBA Game, folks, not the And-1 Mixtape Tour.

The Lakers beat down the Cavs so bad that it made the record-books, as the equal lowest points scored by Cleveland in the shot clock era, the lowest points allowed by the Lakers in the shot-clock era (second-lowest was 66), and the largest Laker margin of victory since 1972 (the year in which they won 33 games in a row). Hell, the Lakers looked on track to hold the Cavaliers to the lowest point total EVER in the shot-clock era (49) until Phil took Bynum out, and the Lakers paint defense subsequently fell off (Pau, for all his benefits, is simply not a protector of the paint in the true sense). Perhaps most impressive is that at one point in the first half, the Lakers led by 30 whilst Kobe Bryant had only taken one field goal attempt. So what was it that led to this beatdown of historical proportions, you ask? Well it was a culmination of three primary factors:

The Lakers can defend just fine when they want to:
When the Lakers were successful early on in this season, it was credited to the offense; and the idea was that as offense was a matter of skill and not efficiency, the Lakers were better equipped to win lazy, as CA Clark highlighted. However, the flip-side of that was that when the offense was not clicking the Lakers possessed little or no wherewithal to grind games out and win low-scoring contests, due to their lack of defense, as was highlighted with gory detail in their three-game losing streak this season, in which their offensive efficiency averaged out to a painful 90.3, resulting in them getting blown out in all three contests, as they could not find the capability to lock down their opponent and hold them to less points than what they themselves could manage.

This was in stark contrast to last season, in which, despite subpar stretches later on in the season, their defense overall was of a very high standard, but their offense often struggled to generate enough points for them to get the win. Considering the core of this team has not really changed from season to season, it was evident that somewhere deep down the Lakers still possessed the ability to lock down defensively, but they were struggling to find it due to lack of use.

The last two games, however, have shown that the Lakers can indeed still draw upon that defensive monster under the surface. I do acknowledge that this is in extremely small sample size, nor do I believe the Lakers will maintain this standard of defense throughout the season - quite the opposite, in fact; but it does reveal that the proverbial switch is not broken - just extremely small and hard to find behind all the Lakers' championship rings.

Phil Jackson after the New York game, in which his Lakers held the League-leaders in scoring to approximately 20 points below their season average, that the Lakers 'could definitely win a Championship with [that] type of defense', and this game certainly does nothing to make him want to retract that statement. Now all the Lakers need to do is hold a playoff team to a six-point quarter.

What's intriguing is that these last two games are arguably the two greatest Regular Season defensive performances of this modern incarnation of the Los Angeles Lakers. Thus, it would be interesting to discover the source of this newfound defensive talent. Is it the new defensive scheme Phil spoke of implementing (whose effectiveness is helped in no small part by Andrew Bynum)? Is it health? Is it the new personnel? Is it Derek Fisher's defense seeming tangibly improved (interesting fact - he leads the team in steals per game)? Is it simply Andrew Bynum's monstrous presence in the paint?

The Lakers' mentality has shifted:
I would be inclined to credit much of this improvement to Andrew Bynum, whom the Lakers have gone 7-1 with since his insertion into the starting lineup. The Lakers once again play 'bully-ball', pounding the rock inside and protecting the paint, instead of playing tentative, and from what I can tell that's mainly on Drew. And, as far as I'm concerned, the Lakers' post defense has transformed from 'The Twin Towers' to 'Andrew Bynum and help'. He has received exceptional help from perimeter players ducking down low for steals, particularly backcourt mates Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, but in terms of a traditional presence in the paint, he is the Lakers' Alpha and Omega.

Likely the overarching catalyst in all this, however, is embarrassment. The Lakers were being (rightfully) doubted, being embarrassed on their home floor. Maybe they finally decided to start giving a shit about the Regular Season, if only to send a message. In which case, it will be interesting to see how long this lasts - the Lakers certainly won't keep holding teams to record-low performances, or even season-low performances, for the remainder of the season; but any improvement over their prior malaise will be well-appreciated.

They've also shifted back from being an offensively-minded team, as they started the season, to a defensively-inclined team. This is always welcome, as although it requires more effort, it is far more reliable. Whilst sometimes on offense your shots may not fall, particularly out on the perimeter, the knowledge that you can and will effectively limit teams on the other end of the floor is a good thing to fall back on, and with Andrew's newfound power down low the Lakers can simply lock down on D and pound the post during their offensive droughts, a strategy sure to pay off.

The Cleveland Cavaliers really, really suck:
No offense to the Cavs fans that frequent this blog, but right now there is no other way to put it. Whilst LeBron/Miami Heat fanboys may hastily and gleefully pin this all on the lack of LeBron, and claim the team's success was solely due to the talent of LeBron and his teammates were the reason he did not win a ring in Cleveland, it's essential to take a step back and look at the broader picture of the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

When LeBron was here, the team was solely built around him. He was their sole creator, and former Cavs' GM Danny Ferry did his utmost best to surround LeBron with highly effective complementary pieces, namely shooters. LeBron is a superlative drive-and-kick player, and as such Danny Ferry built the best three-point shooting team in the League around him. When the Cavaliers eventually learnt that three-point shooting is not always reliable, they added a veteran, solid post presence in Shaquille O'Neal. On the defensive end, they relied on strong team defensive schemes as well as the anchor of Andersen Varejao; with LeBron playing an effective free safety with his athleticism. Perhaps their only truly bad move was acquiring Antawn Jamison. Whilst Jamison was a good-player, he primarily created for himself, something impossible to do when playing with someone as ball-dominant as LeBron, unless LeBron respected you enough to properly share the ball. As such, that move was a bust, but the Cavaliers were still a formidable team built around LeBron, and whilst not the greatest talent-wise, they were the best-engineered team in terms of fit that could be built around a player like LeBron.

The downside of this, of course, is that without LeBron being the core and creator, the team is next to useless. They are completely lost on offense without any true dribble-penetrator/creator, and have no true post scorer either. The team is a bunch of complementary pieces without a star. Even their defense has fallen apart as they do not have any size to speak of due to the losses of Shaquille O'Neal and Zydraunas Ilgauskas. The team was truly gutted, with the only holdovers from last season being Mo Williams, Andersen Varejao, Daniel Gibson, Antawn Jamison, Leon Powe, Anthony Parker, JJ Hickson and Jawad Williams - all complementary pieces. Their new recruits are pretty much all young, inexperienced players. And then the injury bug hit - Varejao has been lost for the season, and they currently have 5 other players injured. The Cavs need a doctor (just wanted an excuse to post that song - WARNING NSFW lyrics).

The team is truly at its rock-bottom now, as Antawn Jamison himself stated; and it's unlikely that the Lakers could have eviscerated any other team in this League as thoroughly as they did to Cleveland tonight. Hell, it's doubtful that the Lakers could have even done that to Cleveland, any other time. Nonetheless, a record-breaking performance like this is always something to be impressed by.

 

Every Laker played well tonight, from the vets all the way down to the rookies. Even Derek Fisher had a significantly positive tangible input on this game, and Ron Artest continued his streak of good games, most impressively from the perimeter instead of solely from the post. The only possible criticism is Phil waiting so long to take Pau and Lamar out of the game (they didn't come out till the 6:22 mark in the fourth), but in fairness he was trying to get them out from the 7-minute mark onwards, there just weren't any stoppages in play. I'm sure many would have liked to see all the starters rest the entire fourth (if not the third as well), particularly with a game against the Golden State Warriors today; but the Lakers quite realistically needed to rest the bench, as I don't think it's very likely the 35-year old Joe Smith or 270-pound Derrick Caracter could play a full quarter straight, particularly considering the lack of stoppages in play in a blowout.

112-57, folks. My only regret is that the Lakers didn't score two more points to double the Cavs' score, something I don't think has ever been done in the NBA since the advent of the shot clock in 1955.

Be sure to check JD2K's video highlights  at lakersmedia.com

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