Hot damn, that was fun.
Somewhere between Pau Gasol's three and Xavier Henry's thunderous dunk, it became clear that the Los Angeles Lakers were in the business of entertaining last night, and they would not be disappointing. Somewhere between Jodie Meeks' improbable conversion of an And-1 in transition and Jordan Farmar's emphatic celebration of drawing an offensive foul, it became clear that the Lakers wanted to win more than their opponent, the crosstown L.A. Clippers. And somewhere between Wesley Johnson's made three (after many, many misses) and Jordan Hill's banked in 18 footer, it became clear that the Lakers would be riding the wave of their effusive bench performance all the way to the bank.
Xavier Henry - When the Lakers first signed Xavier Henry, I couldn't quite remember who he was. The news did not, as they say, move the needle. When I saw him play in preseason, I liked his aggressiveness, liked the way he attacked the basket, and I thought he deserved to make the team. What I did not think, what I did not fathom, is that preseason Xavier Henry had a snowball's chance in hell of transitioning into regular season Xavier Henry. He seemed a classic example of a guy playing for his life in preseason, trying desperately to make a roster against guys who weren't trying that hard.
One game into the regular season, this kid might be for real after all. A game high 22 points, 8-13 shooting, 3-4 from downtown, and 8 free throw attempts to boot. He attacks the rim with reckless abandon and is shifty enough to get there more often than not. He won't shoot this well every night, but the way he plays, he won't have to. Also, this:
The return of the bench mob - Xavier was the stand out, but there was so, so much to love about the bench's performance, enough so that Mike D'Antoni's decision to let it ride with them down the stretch was a genius move. Jordan Farmar, Jordan Hill, even Jodie Meeks shook off an awful first half to make some great plays down the stretch. Every single one of those guys could have been singled out for praise
Pau Gasol - The Spaniard did exactly what the Lakers need him to do in Kobe's absence: Clean up the glass and play aggressively as the first option on offense. Gasol had the most shots of anybody on the first unit, and picked up a tidy 15 and 13 despite only playing 24 minutes.
Steve Nash - There's no easy way to put this: There is a distinct possibility that Steve Nash is the 3rd best point guard on this team. He simply did not have the impact on this game that you would expect a player of his caliber to have. 1-3 shooting (with his only make coming on a banked in three) with three turnovers to go along with five assists in 21 minutes, along with the (expected) awful defense. Most concerning of all, Nash appears unable to get into the teeth of the defense even when utilizing a screen, and if he can't get to the paint, he can't do all the amazing things he's spent his career doing.
Shawne Williams - The most controversial aspect of tonight's game was Shawne Williams starting in place of ... somebody else (either Chris Kaman or Jordan Hill) at the power forward spot. And, tonight at least, it did not appear an entirely wise decision. Williams got quite a few open looks, and failed to convert on any of his three attempts from 3 pt range, which is the only thing he brings to the table that could justify his inclusion in the starting lineup.
Wesley Johnson - The only bench player who can not be commended for superb play, Wesley struggled mightily from the field. It's not a crime to miss shots, but when you miss them quite badly while taking quite a lot of them (1-11 total, the team high shot total was 13), and mix it all up with an entirely too quick trigger despite being guarded rather closely, its a bad combination. However, his one made three did serve as the cathartic moment in which it became clear the Lakers were going to win.