The final game of the Bernie Bickerstaff era came to an end with a win over the Phoenix Suns. It was a game without much of showing defensively from either team, but as it goes, the Los Angeles Lakers simply had more firepower. Pau Gasol set the tempo draining wide open jumpers in the first quarter showing the qualities he can bring to the floor when his future coach Mike D'Antoni takes the reigns going forward. The Suns went blow for blow with the Lakers through the first three quarters but once the final quarter rolled around there wasn't enough left in the tank to finish the game, finally conceding victory. Lakers over Suns, 114-102. No tacos tonight.
On a night that began with the unveiling of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's statue in front of Staples Center the Lakers seemed to carry the energy to begin the game. Specifically, as mentioned, Pau Gasol looked assertive with his mid-range game to open up the contest. Just a day removed from Mike D'Antoni proclaiming he expects to put 110-115 points on the board on a nightly basis the Lakers did just that. Coincidentally, they also gave up 102 points in the process and looked atrocious defensively yet again. The valiant defensive effort they put up against the San Antonio Spurs Wednesday night seems like a distant memory when looking at the way they played tonight. It was enough for a regular season win against a Phoenix Suns team few have any expectations for, but against the elite teams? No way, no how.
An under analyzed issue over the beginning of his time in Los Angeles is Dwight Howard turning the ball over. Howard is currently turning the ball over a career high 3.6 times per game, adding four more to his tally on the season. For a team that has issues with transition defense and turnovers this is a trend that needs to change immediately. Dwight worked in 18 points and 12 rebounds, along with 4 blocked shots, but his play continues to be far from consistent. It's worth applauding his effort on being back with the team as fast as he was, but it's painfully clear he is still far from being all the Dwight Howard he can be. How long until those feathery layups become shattering dunks? Or, even more importantly, when will all of those bobbled rebounds that turn into offensive rebounds for the opponent come to an end?
Kobe Bryant scored a game high 31 points while also adding 6 assists to his stat sheet. It took 24 shots to get there, but his efficiency remains a story to watch. Again he worked his way to the rim and used his body to find angles to finish his layup. Meanwhile, his starting back-court mate Darius Morris continues to show improvements. With each game Morris becomes more comfortable playing the game of basketball, tonight also putting 6 assists on the board. His athleticism is apparent, but his play making ability and court vision continues to be a mystery. At times he looks like a point guard that can contribute once he gains more experience. At other times it's hard to watch him play the game of basketball as he looks rushed and uncomfortable. His defensive effort will need to be consistent in order to find his way into the backup point guard minutes, as his play against Goran Dragic (22 points on 9-17 shooting, 7 assists) ranged from "this is horrible" to "wow look there's the Darius who worked his tail off against Tony Parker".
However, the surprise of the night, and nod of the night, goes to Metta World Peace. His ability to stretch the floor is going to be put to the test with Mike D'Antoni's offense, but tonight is a night where you can nod and see it working. 5-10 from deep? Are you kidding me? The ball is going to find him open a plethora amount of times under D'Antoni's philosophies and it's going to be his job to shoot those open shots without hesitation or reluctance. A night like tonight can go a long way in building confidence. 22 points, 3 steals, 3 assists, and 6 boards from an incredibly active Metta World Peace.
This wasn't a pretty game to watch. Both teams hit peaks and valleys offensively. Runs were had, as were sighs. However, much like the "Mike Brown" days of this season, the system and ideology was there in it's infancy. Specifically, to start the game the Lakers relied heavily on ball movement created off of varying pick and rolls. Sunday night's game against the Houston Rockets will challenge the shaky defense as both James Harden and Jeremy Lin utilize the pick and roll to their advantage. It wasn't a statement win, or specifically meaningful victory, but the Lakers won a game they were supposed to win. Like good teams do. Full recap in the morning, then back at it Sunday.
What are the Phoenix Suns fans saying about the Lakers? Check Bright Side of the Sun as they discuss losing to the team that now touts both their prior star point guard and head coach.
Want to read more about Mike D'Antoni? Head over here where we compiled a few prime cuts from around the web discussing D'Antoni and what it means for the Los Angeles Lakers.