You can relax now, Laker fans: Los Angeles is finally on the board with a win and a 79-3 finish is still in the cards. Alright, so maybe our original expectations were a little far out, and they'll only look worse with Steve Nash out for a good while. But it was nice to see the Lakers put a strong effort together for four quarters yesterday, even if it was against a Detroit Pistons team that may end up with a top five pick (and, unfortunately for them, most of the top prospects are big men right now, which doesn't fit their needs), to secure a 108-79 win.
Mike Brown's plan to start the game was very transparent, but there was nothing the Pistons could do to stop it. The Lakers ran the same play twice in a row to start the game, having Dwight Howard set a screen for Pau Gasol at the free throw line, switching Greg Monroe onto Gasol in the post. Gasol attacked him going to the rim on the first play and hit him with the mid-range jumper on the second play. Los Angeles' first four plays of the quarter would be post-ups and their early 8-2 lead forced Lawrence Frank to call the rare pre-9 minute mark timeout.
It was pretty obvious what Frank called the timeout for (to devise a new strategy against LA's bigs) and it was pretty obvious what his plan was (to front). Unfortunately for him, his young bigs don't have a lot of experience fronting, and they made several errors with their positioning, ranging from not having any backside protection to overplaying a certain side of Dwight's body, allowing him to make a few quick spins for dunks. As the game went along, Frank would also try zoning the Lakers (which LA quickly foiled by getting the ball to Pau, the ultimate zone buster, in the middle of the floor) and even doubling occasionally, but nothing worked on this night.
This is the kind of thing that LA can consistently do (and could have done in the first three games) as long as they are persistent with their desire to post-up. One subtle adjustment that I think helped Los Angeles establish a rhythm down-low was putting Kobe on the strongside wing and having him make the entry passes (rather than MWP). Kobe had eight assists last night and most of them came on his entry passe.
Dwight Howard was the star of this game for Los Angeles, as he played his most complete game as a Laker thus far. Howard still isn't back to normal, which makes the fact that he put up 28 points on 12-of-14 shooting even more incredible, but it didn't matter last night. Howard's only two misses came on a missed chippy and a missed dunk and it was clear on both plays that Howard couldn't elevate like usual. Dwight also only had seven rebounds, a modest total for him. In games that he played at least 33 minutes in, Dwight has only had seven or fewer rebounds 23 other times in his career, with four of those games coming against Detroit.
That's nitpicking, though. Dwight's help defense was much improved in this game, which is absolutely vital for LA's defensive system to be successful. He finished with three blocks and altered several more of Detroit's at the rim attempts. Howard's play in the post was also impressive. Superman finished 11 plays in the post last night per Synergy Sports Technology, shooting 4-of-5 on the block with three turnovers and three fouls drawn. And despite his incredible efficiency offensively and his famed help D, the most impressive thing that Howard did last night was probably his one-on-one defense against Greg Monroe. The Pistons would prefer to run the majority of their offense through the highly skilled seven footer, but Howard made it tough on Monroe to get the ball and forced Detroit into some sets they aren't they aren't comfortable in just yet.
Kobe Bryant had another great night as well. It was the kind of game that will decrease his scoring average but the efficiency that he has maintained through four games is exactly what you want to see from him with this cast. After watching Kobe dominate the mid-range space for half a decade, it is a bit odd to see him being the one to set up others in those spots while sticking to shots at the rim and beyond the three-point line himself, but his three-point stroke has looked much improved so far this season (he's 9-for-17 from deep early on) and his crazy contorted finishes at the rim game has never been better. 15 points, eight assists, seven rebounds for been. Ho-hum.
In his second game this season as the starting point guard, Steve Blake played his second pretty good game, and he didn't even have to curse out a fan last night. Blake's six point, six assist, five rebound and five steal line last night is close as you are going to get to a Kirilenko for a point guard and Blake did a good job of moving without the ball and spacing the floor for Los Angeles to keep using the post. Metta World Peace also played well last night, looking competent for the first time this season. I'm not holding my breath, though.
If there was an actual downside to last night's game it would be the bench and the droughts they are prone to have on the offensive end. One of those droughts led to Mike Brown putting the starters back in during the fourth quarter even though the lead was still huge (did you see the look on Dwight's face when Brown told him he was going back in?). Amazingly, the Lakers starters actually played more minutes than Detroit's in a 29-point win (mostly because Frank angrily benched his entire starting line-up in the second half).
Antawn Jamison has not provided the offensive spark that we all thought he'd deliver and I'm not sure if that's a factor of the offense or him just being done as a solid rotation player at the the age of 36. He scored 17 a game last season but that was on 16 shots a night. It'd be nice to see some offensive production from Jamison soon, because if he isn't scoring, then he's a major liability. It's still shocking to me that Jodie Meeks isn't in the regular rotation right now. He must have made a Mr. Potato Head joke in the lockerroom that Mike Brown overheard. I'm also still trying to get used to Darius Morris actually having a role on this team. He hit a three last night, which was nice, but he doesn't really get the second unit into much offensively.
Also, a note to Jordan Hill: Can you control yourself a little bit better? How many times is this guy going to fall on his already injured back this season? He's so active and energetic that he gets his body into weird spots without knowing who is around him and he is always losing his balance at the end of his jumps. If you are going to fall, at least start falling on your face. Hill was effective last night, though, scoring 11 points and grabbing seven rebounds (four offensive) in 19 minutes of action.
In just three games, Detroit has shown that they are very versatile in the ways they can lose a game. They got pick-and-rolled to death in their season opener against the Rockets and last night Los Angeles took them down to the block and overpowered them all night long. It's going to be a long season in Detroit unless that defense improves quickly.
It's nice to write a positive Laker recap for once. The Lakers should be able to pick up a couple of more wins next week (they play three games: at Utah and home for the Warriors and Kings) but with Nash out, those games might be interesting. More interesting than last night's game, anyway.