In the absence of their superstar, Mr. Kobe Bryant, we have been inundated with stories about how the Lakers were now Dwight Howard's team. Their first game under his reign went pretty darn well, and as a result, the Lakers have passed the first, and largest, hurdle between them and the playoffs, defeating the San Antonio Spurs by the final score of 91-86.
Dwight Howard was the beast we thought we'd have all season, going berserk with speed and power in the post, sinking enough of his free throws to not be a complete liability, changing shots on the defensive end and cleaning the glass at every opportunity. Dwight ended up with a beastly 26 points, 17 rebounds and 3 blocks. But Dwight wasn't the only one to assume the mantle of leadership and shine on the night. The other bright spot was a bit more ... unexpected.
With Kobe out, and Steve Nash yet to return, the biggest question was where on the perimeter could the Lakers get enough offense to keep teams honest. The answer, for one game at least, was resounding. Steve Blake was incredible in the first half to help the Lakers match the Spurs in the first half. Blake ended the night with 23 points on 8-16 shooting, and more importantly, 4-8 from distance. That long range accuracy provided Howard the space to operate down low. Pau Gasol struggled mightily with his shot, hitting just 3-17 from the field, but he compensated in other ways, picking up 16 rebounds. And Antawn Jamison, who always seems to be the indicator of victory or defeat, was excellent from the outside as well. Even Darius Morris played decidedly un-awful to provide spot minutes in the back court. Chris Duhon? Not so much.
To these eyes, the Lakers were a little lucky to get a Spurs team which was far from their best. Tony Parker struggled on the night, and Tiago Splitter missed at least 4 layups as well. Tim Duncan was an absolute monster in ways that no 36 year old man should be able to do, but the Spurs struggled with the crisp passing and lethal shot making that is their calling card. The Laker defense had something to do with the Spurs' struggles, but that doesn't explain the whole equation.
Still, a good performance and a great result will give the Lakers hope that Kobe's injury is not a death sentence to their season. The Lakers had two choices when Kobe Bryant went down; come together, or fall apart. One game in, it seems like they've made the right choice.