Boom. In a downright brilliant show, the Lakers dominated the Blazers at both ends of the court last night, picking apart their defense with slick passing and man movement on one and forcing them into long contested jumpers on the other. Needless to say, this is what we expected this team to grow into and is one of the few things we can hang our hat on in hope that this kind of effort and execution shows up as the Lakers battle for playoff seeding. In many ways, this win is reminiscent of the victory against Utah on the final leg of the Lakers' back-to-back-to-back that opened the season, in which the Lakers thoroughly dominated the opposing team after a poor performance the previous night on the road. That the Lakers need to bring that same fire to their road games is another issue entirely, especially with a tough two-fer coming against the Mavericks and the Thunder, but it indicates that Mike Brown's system is settling in and finding a receptive audience. A serviceable point guard and more scoring at the small forward spot is definitely still a need, but at least for the moment, this group seems to be pulling things together.
- Steve Blake -- This was teed off by Steve Blake, who was en fuego from behind the arc last night, nailing open three after open three off nice ball movement from the bench. He also remains the only guard on the team who is using the pick-and-roll well as a means to create for others -- save for Kobe in stretches -- and he has developed some nice synergy with Matt Barnes, whose cutting has often been rewarded by a nice pinpoint pass from Blake for a layup or dunk. Like the rest of the Laker guards, Blake could stand to throw fewer crazy alley-oop passes that Dwight Howard wouldn't be able to finish, but it emphasizes that Blake is getting everyone in the floor involved in the offense and needless to say, that's what this team needs to win in the long-term. The fact that Blake is having such an effect on the offense when he really is no more than a serviceable backup point guard only makes you wonder more how good this unit would be with a solid point at the helm (cough) Ramon Sessions (cough).
- Andrew Bynum -- The other element in the Lakers' attack was Bynum's utter domination of Portland's frontcourt, abusing his man with his bulk and strength in deep post position or even facing up from the block and showing some nice moves on his way to the rim. Most impressive, however, was some of the sweet passes he has been throwing about lately, a nice contrast from the Bynum who struggled with double teams and similar. His sweet bounce pass to a cutting Troy Murphy -- see it broken down beautifully at Forum Blue and Gold -- was one in particular that stood out, and if Bynum is joining Pau Gasol as another big on the team who can throw passes to cutters, shooters, and help the offense hum, the Lakers will have a dangerous core indeed going forward, assuming Bynum's teammates deign to acknowledge his existence and get him the ball. Last note was Bynum's domination of the interior per usual, as he made life extremely difficult for LaMarcus Aldridge, a solid offensive option in the post, with his length and lateral agility.
- Kobe Bryant -- My honest guess is that the highest praise Kobe Bryant can bestow upon another player is to adopt a part of their game into their own. Well, apparently that is the case for Dirk Nowitzki, as Kobe has added his one-legged stepback jumper to his repertoire, and showed it in full force last night as he wrecked Portland's wing defenders over the course of the game. Moreover, last night saw witness to a Kobe with noticeably more bounce in his step. He was taking defenders off the dribble towards the rim, confusing defenders with misdirection and footwork along the way, and in general, attacking the heart of the Portland defense. This is a much more endearing Kobe than the one who has been scoring on long twos off curls and screens lately, and a source of dribble penetration is something that this roster has been lacking for essentially the entire year. Defenses more sturdy than Portland's will make this much more difficult on Kobe, but he benefits the offense as a whole far more if he is driving towards the hoop than nailing in jumpers from the free throw line extended.
- Honorable mention goes to Metta World Peace, who took Nate McMillan's bizarre strategy to play Hack-a-Peace in stride and nailed most of his free throws. Credit as well to the crowd for recognizing the ploy and supporting MWP with a nice "World Peace!" chant. In a rocky year for MWP, keeping his cool in that situation when other players would have taken offense was something nice to see.
- Derek Fisher -- Can I take a pass from writing anything more here? Unless he goes on a wild streak of productive games, the only positive things we might have to say on Fisher for his play on the court might be his commemorative piece after his minutes get replaced by a trade deadline acquisition. (knock on wood)
- Andrew Goudelock -- It may seem odd for a shooting specialist, but Goudelock has appeared much more effective inside the arc lately, specifically because of his nice floater. Teams are chasing him off the line more aggressively and he is getting open less in spot-up situations. This is a fairly normal reaction for a rookie whom teams now have tape and scouting material to examine, but it behooves Goudelock to adjust to the way defenses are now playing him. One instance was in garbage time when he faked a shot from behind the arc, dribbled past his defender and nailed the open 18 footer. The more he mixes things up in such a manner and always leaves the threat of his drive open to force opponents to lay off, the more success he will experience.
- Jim Buss -- By now, we have all read the report from Ken Berger at CBS Sports on the apparent dysfunction of the Lakers' front office. As Laker Nation is probably disintegrating into apoplectic rage and preparing to subject Jim Buss to the McCourt treatment, allow me to provide a few caveats. First, an incompetent front office does not make the Chris Paul trade. More accurately, not only would they have been unable to -- a FO without contacts with other GMs orchestrated a complex three team deal? -- but it is doubtful that even if they did, they would have structured it in a manner that benefited the Lakers' short- and long-term prospects. The short-term ones are obviously that Mike Brown needed a real point guard to run his offense, something Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak, and co. were painfully cognizant of when they hired him. They're not ignorant of the needs of this roster and made a calculated and savvy move to correct that hole with, well, the best point guard in the league. Moreover, due to the manner in which it was structured the Lakers would have received a $8.9 million trade exception -- yes, exactly the same kind of one the Lakers have right now -- as future flexibility, and as the most pertinent long-term consideration, helped the Lakers' overall payroll. A front office led by the newest incarnation of James Dolan and Isiah Thomas simply doesn't do that. Next, while Berger is definitely one of the most reliable NBA scribes in the business, he, along with all other writers, wrote this on testimony from a source. Someone leaked this information to Berger, and as a result, that source inherently has an agenda they wish to accomplish by doing so. Obviously, the goal is to embarrass Jim Buss, so you have to take into account that the source has an obvious bias in trying to portray the situation as badly as he (or she) possibly can. Who gains from this? Could be Kobe, miffed as he has been lately at Pau's trade situation. Could be the remnants of Phil's people -- in other words, Jeanie Buss -- who is resentful of Jim Buss taking on a larger role in the organization. Or it could be Mitch Kupchak attempting to reclaim some element of organizational control. This isn't to say that there isn't a (big) kernel of truth to what Berger is saying, but that whomever is telling him this has an incentive to crank up what they perceive as the flaws in the current organization. As such, while there are a lot of extenuating factors that say that we're not the complete shitshow that Berger is saying we are, we at least have an image problem that Jim Buss needs to rectify. To his credit, after the Mike Brown hiring, which was derided from several sectors, he sat down with T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times and gave a clear and comprehensive interview on how things went down and what were his views on the team's future. In this case, that's probably not advisable given that Berger's article throws out a lot of accusations, but a counter leak to another journalist claiming that things are not as they seem is probably in order. In the end though, this is a results based business. As with the chemistry among the players, problems in the organization get smoothed over by winning. If the Lakers have a solution for their problems at the point and at small forward after the deadline, then what can we really say about the front office? (Besides the fact, that a dude with the name "Chaz" is in the FO is hilarious and awesome. And before you think he's just a Jim Buss flunky, he's been on the scouting staff for several years, so saying he's a random dude is probably not the right track.)
- (Dis)honorable mention to Billy McDonald's apparent use of "Fresh Snow!" as a catchphrase after someone hit a three (h/t Chris). I was not personally aware of this since I was suffering through Reggie Miller's inane broadcast on TNT, but perhaps that was a better idea in retrospect.