The Incredible GaSULK - USA TODAY Sports
For the first time in weeks, the Los Angeles Lakers were the hungrier, more energetic squad, and they beat the Utah Jazz going away in a game pivotal to their diminished playoff hopes.
Who knows if it means anything. Who knows if it will last. But finally, we got to bear witness to a desperate team playing with desperation, a team that needs to heal its internal rifts actually playing like a team that wants to. Coincidentally, we also got to bear witness to a victory. For the first time in 10 days, the Los Angeles Lakers ended the game on the right side of the scoreline. Their 102-84 victory over the Utah Jazz may prove critical if the Lakers actually manage to get this ship turned around and make a legitimate playoff push, as the Jazz currently sit in 7th place, five games ahead of the Lakers.
The Lakers made their intentions known early on, none more so than Dwight Howard. Dwight made the single most athletic and effort-filled play of his entire season two minutes into the first quarter, jumping three times in two seconds to secure an offensive rebound and layup. He had 10 rebounds before halftime. And somewhere along the way, the Lakers re-discovered the viable offensive strategy that is throwing the ball in the general vicinity of the basket and letting Dwight take care of the rest.
Kobe Bryant was particularly masterful in this, along with pretty much everything else. Mamba ended the game one rebound short of a triple double, with 14 points on 7-10 shooting, 14 assists, and 9 boards. He nearly reached his career high of 15 assists, and its only the third time in his career that he's had as many or more assists than points. Oh, and he also dropped one fine bit of footwork on Gordon Hayward in the 4th quarter.
And they weren't alone. Steve Nash was aggressively looking for his own shot if teams were playing off of him in the pick and roll. Pau Gasol was the most efficient scoring option on the team, and we got another glimpse of just what Pau's capable of when he has his mind right when he got into it with Paul Milsapp and then proceeded to destroy the Jazz on the remainder of his offensive possessions. 15 points on 7-8 shots for the Spaniard. Say what you want about him, but he's either figured out that maybe coming off the bench isn't such a bad thing, or else he's responding to the demotion in the proper way, by playing so well as to prove himself worthy of more. If Pau could figure out how to utilize The Waterboy method, he might just have some All-Star caliber left in him yet. Also, Metta World Peace had the touch from the outside, hitting 5-11 threes, while also defending Paul Milsapp with aplomb.
But wait, there's more. Chris Duhon AND Jodie Meeks both had and-1 layups! For that matter, Jodie Meeks played minutes! In a real live basketball game! Do you see how many exclamation points I'm using?!?! Get excited people!
Perhaps even more important than any of this, more important than Dwight's energy, or Kobe's facilitating, or Steve Nash's aggression, or Pau Gasol's anger, the Lakers finally, FINALLY, caught an opponent on an off night. There were no All-Stars for the Jazz, and they missed shots that you might have expected them to hit. The Lakers defense played a huge part in holding the Jazz 14 points below their season average, but the defense was aided by the kind of luck of the bounce that every team will rightfully own from time to time, but which has seemingly deserted the Lakers completely this season.
So the Lakers won. All is right with the world, right? Maybe for 36 hours or so. But the OKC Thunder loom in the distance, so we won't have to wait long to find out if this latest energy surge is for real, or just another false dawn.