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Lakers prove they are bipolar, trump Pelicans in Nash's absence

In a complete reversal from their play in previous games, the Lakers appeared dominant on both ends as they blew apart the Pelicans.

Harry How

It seems bizarre that apparently the only thing standing between the Lakers looking like world beaters rather than bottom feeders was a shakeup in the rotation after Steve Nash went out, but that's pretty much all we have to go on right now. Everything appeared to snap just into place: Jordan Hill was free to rack up his first career 20/10 night, Pau Gasol appeared rejuvenated, and Steve Blake looked fantastic running the offense without Nash present to split touches with. The move of Wesley Johnson to the starting lineup appeared especially inspired, as Wes, Hill, and Pau controlled the boards for the entire night and were outrebounding the entire Pelicans team for most of the contest. With the reserves not losing a beat from past games, the Lakers were seemingly firing on all cylinders.

Is this something sustainable? After getting wrecked by Minnesota, most Laker fans had probably resigned themselves to a year of tanking since the talent deficit was becoming increasingly apparent. That might be slightly alleviated with the team's most effective players getting more minutes and in better lineups, but it still holds that the team depends an awful lot on stellar execution and offensive flow to create shots sans players who can engineer opportunities out of the ether. Teams only perform over the head for so long, as we saw in the quick downturns that occurred after dramatic wins against the Clippers and Rockets, and this is especially true on the road. The Lakers were 28th in offensive efficiency before playing the Pelicans and the law of averages usually wins out in the end.

As with most things, however, time will tell and with the likes of Julius Randle, Jabari Parker, and Andrew Wiggins playing in the background of last night's game, Laker fans probably shouldn't pull themselves out of the race to the top of the draft just yet.


  • Jordan Hill -- If there's a reason the Lakers might play their way out of the top seven or so, it is Hill, who impressed upon being inserted into the starting lineup. He did most of his damage on the roll, constantly drawing defenders into the paint to open up the rest of the offense. It's hard to emphasize how important this is in D'Antoni's offense and Hill has probably been the most effective roll man on the team so far this season. Outside of this, Hill made himself available for passes around the rim and was successful on a few post opportunities, even against a defender as imposing as Anthony Davis. For quite a while, Hill has had a sneakily good post game that he hasn't exactly gotten a lot of opportunity to display, something that naturally changed this game. Combine this with his usual work on the boards and on defense and you have a very successful debut for Hill in what should be a long tenure in the starting five.
  • Steve Blake -- Blake was the engine that made the rest of the offense run and you could be excused for thinking he resembled Nash in some sequences as he probed the defense, made pinpoint pocket passes as the ballhandler in the pick-and-roll, and accrued ten assists against only two turnovers. Last season, Blake's improvement was tied to his aggressiveness and freedom in the offense, both of which he's now being afforded in Nash's absence, not only because Nash isn't there to run the offense but also since the rotation has more or less fixed itself with only two point guards present. Although this certainly runs counter to most projections before the year that Jordan Farmar would be a far more effective steward of the offense, Blake has made quite a statement that he deserves his current spot at least at for the moment.
  • Nick Young -- These are the good games that we imagined from Young when he was signed in the offseason, although to be fair to him, he seems to be making a concerted effort to get somewhat better shots near the rim. For that matter, he seems to be doing his best to try to fit in within the context of the offense, or as close to that ideal as Nick Young can get. The number of times he hijacks the offense to chuck a contested long two are surprisingly going down, and he's getting a lot of his points on cuts, in transition, or via catch-and-shoot opportunities. D'Antoni has further made this easier by moving Young to the bench unit, where he can hunt shots freely without feeling a need to get the ball to Pau on the block and be the team's primary wing defender. There will inevitably be times when this rosy vision is shattered by a painful stepback jumper, but Young deserves his props for how he's played thus far.
  • Jodie Meeks -- Say hello to the team's scoring leader, who continues his remarkable comeback season after a disappointing year being the designated sharpshooter for a much more talented squad. The grand majority of this can be linked to the honestly shocking work Meeks did over the summer to improve his handle and finishing ability since it's hugely benefited the rest of his game. The Meeks of last year was downright useless whenever he was chased off the line, but this season's Meeks can calmly take a few dribbles for a midrange shot or even get to the rim if he has a lane. This in addition to his sudden usefulness in transition situations has made him one of the team's better scoring options on the wing, a downright unthinkable scenario before the year.
  • Xavier Henry -- Henry finally broke out of the mini-slump he's been mired in for the past few games, announcing it emphatically with arguably the dunk of the year over former Kansas teammate Jeff Withey. More than that, however, was his success in spot-up situations from behind the arc that keyed his return to form, as like Meeks, it allowed him to set up his drives to the rim, where he notably had a lot more success finishing than he normally does when he tends to hunt contact over a clean finish. Those drives did result in quite a few miscues, although Henry also bounced back in the possession count by getting three steals of his own.
  • Pau Gasol -- It was probably cathartic for Pau to get an early bucket against Davis, who thoroughly dominated him the last time the two teams met. His form in the post looked better in general, probably signifying an improvement from the respiratory infection that has hurt his play recently. This noted, most of Pau's success was found in hitting the wide open midrange shots for him from about 17 feet and driving to the rim from the high post. The constant refrain is that he needs to get more touches in the post, but at the same time, the latter kinds of opportunities are the ones he is going to have to take advantage of in this offense. Pau could also help his case by not acting like a statue on defense; his poor performance on that end, something that unfortunately has not been an anomaly this season, stood out on a night on which there was pretty solid effort in that regard from most everyone involved.
  • No one -- It was that kind of night. The Lakers were so dominant on both ends that it would be reaching of the worst sort to put someone here. Treasure these performances since they're probably going to be few and far between this season.
This is part of the "Beast or Burden" series covering recent trends from the Lakers' games. Players who performed well relative to expectations are placed in the "Beast" column and those who did less so are indicated in the "Burden" section. It is intended to be a means of reviewing the team's progress and how individual players are contributing week to week. Read previous columns in this series here.

Follow this author on Twitter @brosales12.

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