If you finally wanted to see a team take advantage of a squad that is missing its second and third centers, you had the Atlanta game, as whenever Dwight Howard exited the game, the Hawks went nuts on the interior. Granted, every team does this, Pau Gasol or no Pau Gasol, because Dwight is that much of a difference maker around the rim, but it especially shows when your undersized frontcourt players get abused by a team like Atlanta. Metta World Peace shouldn't have to cover Al Horford, Kobe Bryant should never have to be saddled with the responsibility of checking Josh Smith, and so forth. If there is any downside to the eight man rotation that Mike D'Antoni has settled on, this is it. At some juncture, the team was going to have to deal with the consequences of not playing Robert Sacre or signing an additional big. Granted, between the lack of good options available to sign and Sacre's inexperience, the Lakers have very good reasons for carrying on as they've been doing; not a lot of teams are going to lose two of three players at a key position for a fair chunk of the year. As noted last week, there might be some on-court problems to work out, but if there's any place to see Pau's impact, it's in a set of matchups such as these.
- Kobe Bryant -- Kobe finally slipped a bit in the efficiency department and needed volume to get his points, although a 55.7 TS% is still a perfectly respectable mark for him. His ridiculous dunk and dramatic finish around the rim to win the game down the stretch will stand out as the memorable moments to take from the game, but needless to say the iso-Kobe approach has to be limited as much as possible with Steve Nash now on the team. It's not to say that Kobe in isolation is necessarily a bad thing: look at Drew's breakdown of the play that got Kobe his thunderous dunk and you'll see how a nice Dwight pick -- and rather illegal screen of Zaza Pachulia that prevented him from coming over to help contest the drive -- and a bit of misdirection from Kobe gave him the lane and the opening to blast past Smith straight towards the cup. If Kobe's isolating against a guy as part of the aftermath of a 1-2 pick-and-roll, freeing himself with a traditional big man pick as previously mentioned, or simply taking advantage of a non-elite perimeter stopper who isn't going to stand in front of him, then he can have at it. There simply needs to be a proper context to his attempts such that the Lakers aren't needlessly shooting themselves in the foot down the stretch as they've tended to do the past few years.
- Steve Nash -- Nash seems to be nicely rounding into form, as his recovery from injury has been a narrative that hasn't gotten a lot of coverage and the chemistry appears to have improved between him and the rest of the team. Five turnovers is a bit too much, but given how sloppy the team was on the whole, it was roughly par for the course. He's gotten a lot more comfortable using the space created by the pick-and-roll to look for his own shot and when you shoot a ridiculous 55.4% from 16-23 feet, he should absolutely let loose. At least once or twice a game, moreover, Nash reminds you of how deadly his entire game is not because of his passing or shooting, but how teams overplay him in either aspect and end up getting burned. Several times Nash will just waltz to the rim -- where he shoots 70.2% (!!), an impressive mark for a 39 year old point guard -- because defenses are so occupied with cutting down the passing lanes and playing his jump shot that they don't realize they're screwed until it's too late.
- Dwight Howard -- This wasn't Dwight's best contest on offense, as he got plenty of opportunities in the deep post but was simply unable to convert them. If there's any difference between Andrew Bynum and Dwight, it's that the latter doesn't have the former's soft touch around the basket and combination of size and length to essentially will the ball in. Dwight's sweeping hook shots are more mechanical and the ball hits the rim much more violently, which doesn't lead to a lot of the easy bounce ins that were more common with Bynum's hooks. Still, the other difference between the two was the important one against Atlanta, as Dwight brought the effort on defense and stalled Atlanta's offense attack whenever he was in the game. There still are some kinks to work out, as both Kobe and Metta World Peace spent a bizarre amount of time giving the baseline to Smith and Horford only for Howard to play the middle, although figuring out the help responsibilities has been the bete noire for the team this year.
- Steve Blake -- After the Lakers' offense ground to a halt in the second quarter, it was Blake who helped resuscitate it as part of a two point guard lineup with Nash, something the Lakers are using much more often nowadays. Given Blake's newfound comfort as a pick-and-roll operator and secondary creator on the wing, this works marvelously and give D'Antoni credit for using lineups like these more often. It helps that Blake tries to fill the mold of a pass-first point guard as much as he humanely can, only taking one jumper inside the paint and it was the only one that wasn't a spot-up opportunity. Combined with Nash, who has taken a more aggressive scoring role nowadays, you get a fair amount of balance, as Blake distributes the ball well and perhaps best of all, almost never neglects to hit Dwight in the deep post when he works hard for position.
- Earl Clark -- Clark had his minutes toned down likely to avoid too much of the mismatch against Atlanta with him at center, but he brought much of the skill set that has cemented his role in the rotation these past weeks. He might be the team's smartest cutter aside from Antawn Jamison, as he'll fill the lane at optimal times ready for the pass from the wing or elsewhere and he managed to snap his slump from three-point range by hitting one in the first quarter. You wish he would maximize his midrange game more by filling the open spaces on the floor and acting as a pressure release more often, as he's also displayed some good high-low passes recently, but insofar as his role, he's been performing fine.
- Honorable mention to Metta World Peace, who had equal parts perplexing and endearing in this game. A solid defensive possession against Al Horford of all post players would be paired with another in which he'd completely lose Kyle Korver off a screen or go for a steal far too aggressively against the ballhandler he was playing. Similarly on offense, he did hit a pair of critical threes down the stretch, but one of them was an utterly horrid attempt he stepped into off the dribble that would have earned our utter contempt if he had missed it. Between those and the other positives he brings, he had more or less a break even performance, but it didn't do a lot to assuage our reservations about the current approach he takes to the game.
- Jodie Meeks -- Meeks had a tough job in tailing Korver through screens all game, especially since it took the Lakers forever to adjust by having the big hedge on him until Meeks could catch up, but it was mostly an ineffectual outing. When it comes down to it, Meeks needs to have an impact in the scoring column to justify his minutes on the floor, as much as we praise him for his respectable defense and intelligent pick-and-roll conduct in the rare occasions it comes about. While it's true that Meeks doesn't control his shot attempts to a certain extent -- the offense has to work and get him in the ball in ideal spot-up situations -- being on the floor for twenty minutes and only shooting twice isn't going to work for him.
- Antawn Jamison -- Jamison had a splendid outing before his offense tailed off and the Hawks basically directed their offense to whomever he was trying to guard. It's not necessarily that Jamison's defensive limitations haven't been a problem before, but Atlanta has the personnel to mercilessly attack him over and over again in the post and elsewhere. Especially in lineups without Dwight, Jamison was going to get exposed and it showed. This notwithstanding, Jamison's failure to be effective down the stretch on offense was more damning and like Meeks, it's what he has to do to justify his spot on the floor.