The Lakers played an NBA basketball game last night. Shocking, I know. However, if you were living under a rock and somehow missed the game, do not fret - provided you watched either of the Lakers' three games prior to that, you already know the basic themes of this game, with the only difference being the opponent - the Sacramento Kings, who showed slightly more fight than the likes of the Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns or Golden State Warriors.
Needless to say, this display of offensive brilliance on the Lakers' part, whilst entertaining now, will doubtless soon get boring. Not to fear, however, as knowing our Lakers, regression to the mean will kick in like a bitch any time now. The Lakers of this era have a history of rolling out to fast starts to the season before getting bored (remember last season's start?) and injured. The Lakers of this era (and damn near every era) also have a history of winning championships, so no need to worry.
Last night's game was decently entertaining, with excellent offensive execution from both sides at times, and numerous highlight plays to show for it. The end result was even in doubt during portions of the game. The only ones who have legitimate grounds for complaint are the defensive afficionados amongst us, who had nothing to cheer about all game long (the fourth quarter was low-scoring, but that was more a result of the teams cooling down and not getting out in transition as much, and Luther Head's defense on Kobe was significantly aided by the fact Kobe tried the exact same thing five or six times in a row - as soon as he changed his plan of attack, he scored).
Some notes on last night's game and the season so far after the Jump:
- Kobe Bryant may not be one hundred percent, but he is just 'fucking' fine, thanks. One of only 17 triple-doubles in his career (and one of the top 3 or 4 of them, too), and the first since 2009, agrees with me. Kobe's movement was fluid, his scoring and playmaking was done well within the flow of the offense (although Lamar certainly seemed to give him that last rebound), and he did not seem to be overexerting himself in the slightest. It was the second-lowest minute total accumulated by Kobe in a triple-double game, and one of only four in which he scored 30 points or above. Up until the Kings started sending hard doubles in the fourth quarter, Kobe was shooting over 50%, too. If this isn't 100% for him, he may well be putting up a strong case for MVP this year. Still annoying that he had to try scoring from the exact same position sive times in a row in the fourth, particularly considering that as soon as he faced up from midrange instead of attempting to back Head down, he scored a three-point play.
- The bench haven't been as great the last two games, playing extended stretches and struggling to score, but maybe playing the entirety of the bench isn't a great idea. It certainly wasn't something Phil would even think of doing last season, and even with an improved bench this year it may not be the best way to utilise them effectively. Whilst the '07-'08 Bench Mob was a run-and-gun unit that possessed a collective style wholly different from that of the starters, this year's 'Renegades' are more interchangeable with the starters in terms of style, and the rotation should probably reflect that.
- Playing the bench as a unit incites issues further exacerbated by Bynum's absence. The bench as a unit generally only plays with one of the Lakers' core bigs, either Odom or Gasol. If the bench runs with an Odom-Ratliff frontline, it does not possess any true post threat, a core component of the Triangle. And if the bench runs a Gasol-Caracter frontline, it lacks the dribble penetration necessary to make any good offense run. Essentially, either Gasol or Odom are the only ones playing with the bench who you'd want creating their own shot. Blake is more of a shooter, Barnes a slasher, and Brown a scorer best used in bursts, and as such the reserves can either run with a single dribble penetrator in Odom and sacrifice having a post presence, or run a single post presence in Gasol and not have a penetrator. When Bynum returns, the bench unit will play with either Gasol or Bynum at the 5 and Odom at the 4, thus giving them two shot-creators of differing styles at all times.
- Thanks to the Lakers' unexpectedly good play, the rookies have been seeing more run than expected (that is, a number of minutes greater than zero), and whilst not having amazed, they've not done anything to make one think they shouldn't have been picked and/or signed. The more the Lakers blow out opponents, the more experience the rookies will gain and thus the sooner they will able to contribute.
- The Lakers' big three have played better, more consistently and arguably with better on-court chemistry than any big three in the league. They have been averaging more points, rebounds and assists than any three teammates in the league, and have been doing so at a higher collective efficiency. Their passing and cooperation with each other and other teammates has been impeccable. Screw impromptu 'super teams' concocted in one hasty offseason, the Lakers' Big Three have displayed all the intangible qualities Miami lack and all the skill that Boston have aged beyond. On a side note, Kobe and Pau are equal at exactly 90 shots each this season (Kobe shooting a lower percentage but drawing significantly more fouls) and scoring within 1.2 points per game of each other. Lamar is slightly behind in shots and scoring, but has been insanely efficient at 70% for the season.
- The Lakers as a team seem to know exactly what they need to be doing at the moment. All the players know and fill their roles, and with their doing so it is now easy to see how carefully the team has been crafted. Pau Gasol is the focal point of the regular offense, Kobe is who the ball goes to when the shit hits the fan (or when he's just feeling it, like last night), Lamar is the do-everything guy, Ron is the defensive specialist and floor-spacer, Blake and Fisher are the steady hands and floor-spacers for either unit, Barnes is the slasher and hustle guy, Ratliff is the defensive post role player, Brown is an emergency scorer and another hustle guy, and the rookies are actually involved (a rarity for most back-to-back championship teams). It shall be interesting to see how the return of Andrew Bynum impacts upon this.
- This effectiveness and cooperation have led to a hyper-efficient offense, the best it has been in this Laker era at over 114 points per game (good for first in the league), but the defense is lagging somewhat. This is where the return of Andrew Bynum will doubtless help, and any further lack is simply due to effort. The Lakers were a premier defensive team last season, particularly when they wanted to be, and the additions of Ratliff, Barnes and Blake only provide upgrades on that end of the floor. The Lakers' defense will be there when it is truly needed, regardless of their Defensive Rating rank (currently 13th, just FYI).
- Speaking of Barnes and Blake, I'm starting to think Barnes was our best off-season acquisition. Barnes provides something the Lakers have desperately lacked since Ariza's departure: a slasher and hustle guy. Ron Artest tried to fill this role, but I think we'd all rather he didn't, and whilst Brown sometimes succeeded in this role, last season he was often too focused on scoring, and his lack of height handicaps him. Barnes has added a source of 'easy points' to the Lakers: alley-oops, putbacks and fast break finishes that were not available last season. And he can play with both the starters and the bench with ease. Blake's addition has also been crucial in that he adds extra floor spacing, defense and stability at the point guard position, and he can control the bench. But whilst Barnes adds a new dimension to the Lakers, Blake is simply a younger (and thus better) Fisher-clone, hence why Barnes may edge Blake out in significance. And when you factor in their contracts (Barnes at two years and roughly $4 million, Blake at four years and $16 million), the difference becomes more clear.
- Derek Fisher. Derek 'El Motherfucking Presidente' Fisher. Last game, he again reminded everyone why never to doubt him. Whilst Kobe continuously headbutted a brick wall trying and failing to post up Luther Head (and heavy help), Fisher decided he wanted to put the game away and thus scored six straight points in the space of 20 seconds, with a 23-foot three pointer and a one-man semi-transition old-fashioned three-point play. After Fisher's little mini-run, the Kings had absolutely no momentum remaining.
- Ron Artest's shots fell for once. He took many of the same shots he's been taking in other games these season (they've generally been the right shots), and they finally started falling, leading to an excellent night for Mr. Queensbridge. The addition of Barnes should really help Artest know his role in the Triangle, as he no longer has to try and fill the Ariza role of slasher/hustle guy and can instead play in a way more suited to his style.
- Lamar Odom is beasting. Courtesy of the World Championships, Lamar is in midseason form. While I certainly don't expect Lamar to keep playing what Kobe calls 'the best basketball of his career' once returning to the bench (Lamar's stats take a significant drop when he is in his bench role, even though his minutes do not drop drastically), this season is looking to be better for him than either of the last two. However, burnout is a worry, as Lamar's offseason break was virtually nonexistent. A quick return for Bynum and Caracter's continued development should lend itself well to Lamar not getting exhausted. Let's just hope for no more injury scares like last night (apparently Lamar hyperextended that thumb in the preseason, and will play through the pain despite trainer Gary Vitti saying it will 'definitely' re-injure, as it did last night).
- That Pau Gasol-DeMarcus Cousins battle was entertaining. I especially like that Pau made a point of going directly at Cousins after Cousins started going off, as if he was (rightly) offended at this rookie trying to go at him. A few seasons back, Cousins' size and physicality would have likely thrown Pau off. This season? Pau scored often and efficiently on Cousins, leading to Westphal benching Cousins for heavy stretches in favour of superior defender Samuel Dalembert; and Pau getting Cousins in foul trouble when he returned to the floor (five fouls in 20 minutes, really?).
- I predicted that the Kings would put Omri Casspi on Kobe Bryant for heavy stretches to prevent Kobe trying to take Tyreke Evans out of the game with foul trouble (a good idea for Kobe to try, as Evans really isn't the type of player Artest excels at defending, and Kobe doesn't want to have to chase Evans around). Coach Paul Westphal stuck with 'Reke on Kobe, and 'Reke predictably suffered, spending large chunks of the game on the bench with foul trouble, making it extremely difficult for the Kings to attempt to mount any type of comeback as they have been doing this season.
- 52% from three, largely due to the starters. Kobe isn't shooting 50% from deep for the season, Ron is more likely to hit 1-for-4 than 3-for-4, and Lamar isn't hitting 2 threes in a game again any time soon - he shouldn't even be taking that many. This hot streak can't last from three, and the Lakers need to be prepared to compensate with tougher defense when the threes stop falling.
- Speaking of defense, the Lakers held the Kings without a field goal for seven whole minutes in the third quarter, with them missing 14 straight. The talent's still there, and the effort can still be called upon. Of course, the Lakers were somewhat helped with DeMarcus Cousins taking four 3's in the game (the fuck??).
- Quick, creative point guards really piss me off. Not to be racist or anything, but so do Slovenian NBA guards - Beno Udrih, Goran Dragic... you get my point. They're the sort of players you'd love to have on your team but hate to play against, and always seem to have a knack for hitting ridiculously difficult runners and leaners in momentum-changing scenarios. Compare them to Sasha Vujacic, and a clearer picture unveils of why Sasha didn't make the Slovenian national team, 'injury' claims notwithstanding.