The Lakers put their 10th victory of the season in the books as Jodie Meeks scored 24 points and had a great night. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant was doing Kobe Bryant things.
The journey to ten wins has been much more difficult, and longer, than anticipated. It took twenty-four games of basketball for the Los Angeles Lakers to break into double digit victory territory, and the tenth came against the worst team in the league that is fighting through injuries of their own. This isn't how it was supposed to be, but this is how it is. The absence of Steve Nash and Pau Gasol on a team that many considered lacked quality depth played about as poorly as you'd expect it to through this stretch, yet every loss felt as jarring as it would if they were fully healthy and not on their second coach of the season. A coach that had no off-season, training camp, or preseason to prepare for managing this roster. And when he worked his way into the favor of Jerry Buss, Jim Buss, and Mitch Kupchak? Surely he wasn't pondering how he could make these downtrodden lineups work.
He was sitting there looking at Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant, and Dwight Howard, just like the rest of us.
When the Lakers took to the floor in Washington D.C. they knew what was at stake. The season has been brutal to them and didn't let up as back spasms forced Jordan Hill out of the starting lineup. What to do but start Devin Ebanks at power forward, continue to run Chris Duhon as the point guard, and play Robert Sacre extended minutes? But you don't lose to the Washington Wizards without John Wall, Trevor Ariza, A.J. Price, and Trevor Booker. You just don't.
Yet the game looked dangerously losable as it progressed. In tonight's showing of Wheel of Who's Going to Have a Career Game Against the Lakers Cartier Martin took his best shot at taking the grand prize. He ended the night with 21 points, just 1 shy of his career high of 22, and nailed 5 threes as he fought for his Wizards. As has been the case for the D.C. crew this season, however, it simply wasn't enough. Better luck next time, Cartier. You'll have another crack again someday.
Kobe Bryant played 43 minutes of back spasms and basketball and acted as if he was young and spry, taking shot after shot after shot going 9-29, good for his season high in field goals missed thus far. So, in true Kobe fashion, he:
- Scored 30 points
- Missed 20 field goals
- Put up 7 boards and 7 assists
- Walked away with a victory
So about that "when Kobe scores 30 the Lakers lose" thing. He scored 30 in the most inefficient way possible, and the Lakers won. Arbitrary trends, are indeed, arbitrary. What isn't arbitrary, though, is a quick look at Kobe Bryant's minutes over the last five games. He's played 200+ minutes over the last five contests, and in four of them he's hit the 43 minute mark. Any surprise that his back is having spasms? The Lakers are short on quality depth, and really any depth at that, but the minute load he's taking on is worrisome.
Thankfully, while Kobe Bryant continued to flip off his mortality and didn't bother slowing down his game to account for the extensive minutes, the back-to-back game, or the back spams, Jodie Meeks was ready to go blow for blow with the Cartier Martin show. Meeks had 24 points (9-14), going 4-7 from deep. The surprising part is that Meeks actually finished around the rim a few times; something he isn't quite... proficient... at from what we've seen from him. A very solid 24 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals for Meeks which undoubtedly helped the Lakers stave off the Wizards.
Dwight Howard, though, had a very quiet game. Yes, he had 14 rebounds. With the players on the court there's absolutely no reason that 14 missed shots shouldn't have just essentially fallen into his hands. Yes, he blocked 4 shots (into the stands so the opponent maintained the possession). His defense was reasonable, but not noticeably dominant. 12 points on 8 field goal attempts as well for Howard, who continues to look aloof in half-court sets. He turned it over another 4(!) times against the Wizards, tying him for fifth most turnovers in the league at 79. When Chris Duhon, or any Laker really, penetrates into the paint there's never much of an attempt to get the ball to the "game's most dominant big man". Often Dwight is on an island where he's posting his man entirely too far away from the block and has to put the ball on the floor. Where he's turning it over (and over, and over). Clearly the absence of Steve Nash hurts the Lakers here as Howard rarely receives the ball in prime position. Even when there's a window (albeit perhaps a small one at times) it appears the first option for the Lakers is to kick the ball right back out to the perimeter. With Howard seeming very wary of his role in the offense post-game just a night ago after the loss to the Knicks, something's gotta give.
Ball distribution, decision making, proper passes, flow; all things that Steve Nash will bring into the fold for the Lakers. To a lesser extent, this is exactly where Pau Gasol is sorely missed as well. He is a great interior passer who seeks any opportunity to facilitate both from the high and low post. Andrew Bynum was spoon-fed at times by Gasol's play making abilities. For as well as Chris Duhon has (and hasn't) played (another 5 assists for Duhon against the Wizards) he isn't creating for Howard. Kobe Bryant is a great passer but without question his natural inclination is to score. And score a lot. On a night that he hoisted 29 shots up he still ended the night with 7 assists.
Yeah. Come back soon, Nash.
A win is a win is a win right now for the Lakers though, as they managed to scrape this one off the frying pan in D.C. in the 102-96 victory. The Wizards kept after it in the fourth quarter. Yes, Nene Hilario (17 points, 8 rebounds off the bench), Kevin Seraphin (16 points, 8 rebounds off the bench), Jordan Crawford (11 points, 6 assists), and Cartier Martin (21 points, 8 rebounds) were uncomfortably close to coming back in the fourth quarter against a team led by Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard. Beyond the 11 minute mark in the 4th quarter (Meeks made 3 at 11:06) the only Lakers to score any points were Howard and Bryant. Yet, the two were able to close it out as the Wizards frantically put together a 27 point quarter. Most memortable? Kobe Bryant shooting the gap like a linebacker on a mission as he tipped in a Dwight Howard missed free throw.
10 victories into the season now for the Lakers, they head to Philadelphia to take on the 76ers, and then finally return home to Los Angeles for some much needed regrouping. Pau Gasol and Steve Nash continue to progress and should be close to returning. All I want for Christmas is...
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