The Lakers might have themselves a nice little team here.
Amidst the constant and mind-numbing clamor for his head in a FedEx box to some other destination, Pau Gasol decided to reassert himself despite plantar fasciitis and make a case for unpacking his suitcase by playing his game.
The Lakers started with plenty of Dwight early and often. His 21 points, 14 boards, and 3 blocks energized the team and opened up lanes for everyone else. Kobe chipped in 27, 5 boards, 4 assists, and 2 steals. Gatsby only scored 6 points, but set the table for 10 assists. But, the night belonged to Pau, as he hit 2-3 from distance for 15 points, grabbed 9 boards, handed out 5 dimes, and blocked 3 shots. He didn’t top the stat sheet, but he filled it up in every way possible, which is his job.
Gasol showcased his versatility and made plays from all over the court with confidence, igniting his teammates from the bench, with the game out of reach, to celebrate his play. Punctuated by a show and go drive to the basket that looked like a mash up of Kareem and Hakeem as he showed left and shot the hook with his right, Pau reminded the world why he is one of the best in the world. He can do it all. He can lob the ball to Dwight. He can hand the ball off from the elbow to Nash for a layup. He can block shots. He can drain threes. He can provide a unique skill set to an incredibly talented lineup with two bad knees and a gimpy foot.
When he rolls, the Lakers win rings. Two as of last count.
Aside from their maligned power forward, the Lakers brought their defensive hats with them, holding Damien Lillard to 11 points on 4-17 shooting, and gifting the Staples crowd with one more round of tacos before 2013 with the 104-87 win. They held the Blazers to 41% shooting from the field and just under 16% from three, a complete one-eighty from the Halloween defensive fright-fest of 50% and 45% respectively during Lillard’s ROY coming out party of 23 and 11 dimes.
“Consistency” echoes throughout the halls of the El Segundo practice facility as the Lakers wait until the New Year to lace ‘em back up and hit the hardwood. Now that the team is back at full-strength, they can iron out the details of a defense for more than 2 quarters. They are building to it. But, if they start with their overwhelming advantage inside every night, exalting their twin towers on offense, then the D will persist. The activity will endure because the confidence of scoring always gets those help side feet moving.
The key to any O’Brien run is the cliché – defense. It does win championships. The key to getting big men, paint patrollers, pivot players, to guard the rim is to get them some easy looks that go down. Everyone plays harder when they scratch the scorebook. With Nash back in control, that happens consistently. At one point, the Blazers doubled Nash and he passed the ball moments before Dwight even turned from his screen. The ball hit him square on the hip and Dwight paused and looked at the pass, as if to say, “What is this?” Now, he will come to expect it. Now, it will happen with regularity. Now, with such effortless passes on offense, he will be compelled by such wonderful gifts to demonstrate his talents on the defensive end.
Defense is effort. Not the regular, 9 to 5 kind, but the push through all sorts of obstacles like fatigue, chronic pain, aching joints, and muscles kind that only shows up on the highlight reel when spectacular in fashion. Fans don’t see fighting through screens unless the other guy drains a three because of its absence. The fans don’t see a help rotation unless someone gets dunked on because of its absence. The fans don’t see tenacious, straight up man-to-man unless the defender gets crossed and lambasted for its absence. The Lakers again reached the .500 plateau because they put forth the effort by stopping their opponent.
Can they do it again? If they want to see the other side of the .500 fence, they are going to have to, every night.