Game Report: Lakers defeat Trail Blazers: 104-87
Unlike the Lakers’ previous game in Denver, things looked promising right from the start tonight.
The Lakers ripped out of the gate, with Steve Nash orchestrating the offense and Dwight Howard anchoring the defense. And while Nash did most of his damage in that important first quarter, Howard brought his energy and results all night long, and at both ends of the court.
Howard put the Blazers in foul trouble early, and he finished with 21 points (7-13 FG and 7-13 FT), 14 rebounds and 3 blocks in less than 30 minutes of play. In his post-game walk-off interview with Mike Trudell, he spoke without bravado about the Lakers’ dependence on his energy level, and admitted he just didn’t have it in the Denver game.
Howard mentioned that he has been having trouble with the second game of back-to-backs this year (e.g. the Denver game), which has been noticeable, and is likely a result of his continuing rehabilitation from back surgery. It would seem to me that such games might be opportunities for Coach Mike D’Antoni to sit Howard, or at least reduce his minutes significantly.
As a team, the Lakers moved the ball very well tonight, assisting on an impressive 29 of their 40 baskets (73%), and committing just 11 turnovers.
Pau Gasol had another strong and versatile game, scoring 15 points (shooting 6 of 9, including 2 of 3 from beyond the arc), grabbing nine rebounds, dishing out five assists, and blocking three shots. He was a team-high +26 on the night.
Steve Nash came out of the gates blazing, and was instrumental in getting the Lakers a sizeable early lead. He cooled off a bit, finishing with just six points (shooting 3 of 7), but dishing out ten assists on the night against only two turnovers.
Kobe Bryant led the team in scoring with 27 points (shooting 9 of 18), and added five rebounds, four assists, and two steals. However, his streak of scoring at least 30 points came to an end at ten games, primarily because the Lakers’ lead was so commanding that D’Antoni rested him the entire fourth quarter.
It’s worth noting that Kobe played a minimum of 40 minutes in each of those ten games in which he scored 30. Tonight he played only 31 minutes, which was welcome news for all Lakers fans with their eyes on the big picture.
D’Antoni played Robert Sacre, Devin Ebanks, and Earl Clark for the game’s final 4:38. To be honest, they showed me very little, and didn’t seem to be treating their first playing time in weeks nearly as seriously as I would have had I been in their shoes.
It was interesting that Antawn Jamison did not receive any minutes tonight. After the game, D’Antoni said that Jamison is out of the regular rotation for the time being, and that he has too much respect for Jamison to make him play garbage minutes.
I am reminded of a comment Steve Nash made this past May or June, when he was a free agent. He was asked whether he was willing to play for the veteran’s minimum to join a title contender. Nash replied that while money was not the most important factor, that it was still important. And the reason he gave was that if they didn’t pay him, then they may not feel the need to play him.
Antawn Jamison could be suffering right now from having signed a one-year contract for the veteran’s minimum. If the Lakers were paying him more, they may have given him a longer look.
Finally, there was a clear Play of the Night in this game. Midway through the fourth quarter, Jodie Meeks drove to the hoop but was blocked. He got the rebound and put it up, but was blocked again. In his pursuit of the third rebound he fell to the floor and stretched to barely keep the ball from rolling out of bounds. From his butt, he passed the ball to Chris Duhon, then sprang up and shuffled to the corner, accepted the return pass from Duhon, and nailed the three.
D’Antoni quipped after the game: “I told him he almost got a triple-double on that play.”
Lakers’ Player of the Game
The honour tonight goes to Dwight Howard. He showed great energy at both ends of the floor en route to 21 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocks in less than 30 minutes of playing time. And although he shot only 7 of 13 from the line tonight, he was 4 of 4 when the Blazers employed “Slight-A-Dwight.”
Also, I enjoyed his thoughtful post-game interview with Mike Trudell.
Tonight’s Top Two Tweets in my Twitter Feed
“I think my favorite stat is minutes played for Kobe, Dwight, Pau, and Nash. Indicates a whole lot went right tonight.” – @BallReasons, post-game tweet
“Big s/o to Pau Gasol, tho. People saying he doesn’t fit the new Laker system and should be traded, but he adjusts his game and produces.” – @nemosmooth, mid-game tweet
Tuesday, January 1 vs. the Philadelphia 76ers, 7:30 p.m. PST