The 2012 NBA season opened for the Lakers on October 30th with an opponent sans its leader and a key front court player. A Dallas Mavericks team without Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman should have allowed the Lakers to debut their new center and skilled power forward. Dwight and Pau played their roles well, but 19 missed free throws and 37 points from the Mavericks bench hindered the Lakers ability to start off the season on a high note. Unfortunately for some, it continued to go down hill from there.
Two coaches and nearly a month later, the Lakers proved that they refused to repeat the mistakes of their recent past. A lackluster and lifeless front court performance against the league leading Memphis Grizzlies left little confidence for the second night of a back-to-back, especially for a team yet to win on the road. As Pau sat on the bench in the 4th quarter, fueling annual rumors about his imminent departure, Antawn Jamison, his back up, found his offensive rhythm. Signed in the off season to provide much needed scoring for the much maligned Laker bench, Antawn struggled to find his place on the court.
Historically, Jamison would get touches while flashing through the paint for his patented flip shot, which ultimately led to an array of shots from the perimeter and a career average of 19 points per game. So far, he average less than 5 points per game, about the same as the number of minutes he had seen lately. So, D’Antoni played the numbers game and let Antawn take at least ten of Pau’s minutes to find his touch, eventually shooting 7-11 from the field and 2-5 from beyond the arc for 16 points and 7 rebounds in 26 minutes. Good move, coach.
Jamison, along with Kobe and Metta, dropped 19 points as the Lakers ran away from the Mavericks with a 68-point first half and never looked back. He even added 15 rebounds, a clear response to the confidence of finally seeing the ball go through the hoop. Metta continued his hot streak by going nuclear from three, hitting his first six shots, four threes, and scoring the Lakers first 10 points, 16 total in the Lakers 36-23 1st quarter. Kobe spent the 1st dishing 4 assists and didn’t even take a shot because he didn’t need to. On this night, the other guys took care of the business of scoring.
Pau’s rest payed off as well. He responded by hitting his first four shots, grabbing 9 boards, but, more importantly, showing more energy and better mobility on defense. In fact, all the Lakers flew around the court on defense, challenging every movement the ball made both around the perimeter and in the paint. Dwight provided 5 steals and 2 blocks, one erasing a sure layup from Roddy Beaubois as Dwight pinned it against the back board, starting a Darius Morris one man break for a layup. The Lakers used their activity in defense to get out into transition and keep the pressure on the Mavericks, as they had done on opening to “Slowtime,” as many dubbed them after the first meeting.
Tonight, Showtime 2 showed exactly how they hope to run teams out of the gym with D’Antoni at the helm. They plan to really do it with defense.