The Los Angeles Lakers were a pleasure to watch tonight.
After giving up 47 points in the first quarter to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday, the Lakers surrendered only 38 points – in the first half – to the Pelicans tonight.
Coach Mike D’Antoni went with a new starting line-up, comprised of Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson, Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake, and the starters brought good energy and set the right tone from the very beginning.
In fact, in Jordan Hill’s first start of the season, he set a career high with 21 points (7-12 FG, 7-8 FT) and added 11 rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block. His 21 points and 11 rebounds were game highs as well.
Hill showed great chemistry with Steve Blake, which resulted in Blake dishing out 10 assists on the night, the most by any Laker in a game this year.
Pau Gasol, who scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds, gave his team an early psychological boost by hitting his first two shots while being defended by Anthony Davis. The young phenom had blocked Gasol five times last Friday night in New Orleans, but Gasol schooled him early tonight first with some complex footwork leading a lay-up, and then with a hook shot after establishing good position in the paint.
Davis, who set a career high with 32 points against the Lakers last week, got into early foul trouble and finished with a very pedestrian 15 points and just five rebounds.
But tonight’s win was not solely due to the starters, as the bench continued its inspired play this season. In fact, it was the bench that blew the game open early in the second quarter.
Nick Young and Xavier Henry led the second unit by scoring an efficient 17 and 15 points respectively, while Jordan Farmar and Chris Kaman each had very impressive “triple-singles,” with Farmar recording nine points, seven rebounds, and eight assists, and Kaman recording eight points, nine rebounds, and six assists.
How balanced were the Lakers tonight? Twelve players scored at least one point, 12 players grabbed at least one rebound, and nine players recorded at least one assist. The starters scored 60 points in 126 minutes, and the bench scored 56 points in 114 minutes. Everyone contributed tonight.
The great energy the Lakers brought to Staples Center tonight led to great ball movement, as the Lakers recorded a very impressive 33 assists on 44 baskets (75%), and that great ball movement in turn led to great shooting percentages, with the Lakers shooting 56 per cent from the field, and 55 per cent (11 of 20) from beyond the arc.
But the energy also manifested itself on defense. Not only the did the Lakers hold the Pelicans to just 62 points through three quarters (before things got a bit sloppy), but they outrebounded the Pelicans by a substantial 53-31 margin. And the Lakers’ perimeter defense was great as well, as they managed to keep the Pelicans from hitting any three-pointers until the final three minutes of garbage time.
This was a game full of highlight reel plays from the Lakers, with great passes from Blake, Farmar, Kaman and Gasol leading to pretty finishes all night long. But there was no sharing the ball on the night’s very best play, which was when Henry got the ball at the top of the arc, put it on the floor, and elevated for a huge slam over Jeff Withey near the end of the third quarter.
It was good to see Robert Sacre, Ryan Kelly, and Elias Harris receive floor time at the end of tonight’s game. They are clearly outside of D’Antoni’s rotation, but tonight’s big lead provided them with an opportunity to play in front of the home crowd.
While the win improves the Lakers’ record to just 4-5, it’s worth reflecting on the fact that three of the Lakers’ four wins have been fabulous to watch. Lakers’ fans have been treated to the opening night shocker against the Clippers, the last-minute Steve Blake heroics against Dwight Howard and the Rockets, and tonight’s complete team effort in dismantling the Pelicans, a team that had beaten them only four days earlier.
Neither Kobe Bryant nor Steve Nash played tonight. Bryant is, of course, still recovering from tearing his Achilles tendon last April, and Nash is scheduled to miss at least the next two weeks as he tries to recover from the irritated nerves in his spinal cord.
Whereas Bryant is clearly on the path to recovery, Nash’s path to good health is much less certain. After suffering and playing through the nerve damage last season, Nash dedicated his entire summer to improving his health, but that hard-earned good health began to deteriorate after just a week or two of training camp. If four months of rest did not solve Nash’s back issues, then there is little reason to think that two weeks of rest – or even two months of rest – will help.
I have followed Nash’s career daily since 1999, and I consider myself one of his greatest fans. While I of course hope that he can return and once again play pain-free in the NBA, my greatest hope is that he’ll be able to play pain-free with his kids and his grandkids in the decades ahead. I hope he doesn’t do anything in the next year or two to jeopardize that.
After the game tonight, the Lakers hopped on a plane for Denver, where they will have the daunting task of playing the second game of a back-to-back at 5,280 feet above sea level. As there is a very real chance that the Denver game could be an ugly one, Lakers’ fans may want to savor tonight’s masterpiece of a game a little longer than usual.
Lakers’ Player of the Game
Many Lakers had strong games tonight, but the Player of the Game was Jordan Hill, who had a game-high – and career-high – 21 points, and a game-high 11 rebounds in his first game as a starter this season.
Based on Hill’s performance tonight and the good team play overall, I suspect D’Antoni will leave him in the starting line-up for as long as he continues to play well.
Tuesday, November 13 at 6:00 p.m. PST at the Denver Nuggets
This is an article by Craig Lawson. You can follow him on Twitter: @stevenashchroni