Breathe a momentary sigh of relief, Lakers Nation. Yes, it was against the winless Detroit Pistons, but the victory will count just as much as any versus an impressive opponent at the end of the year. Let’s be honest about things, the Lakers hadn’t looked good against anyone prior to last night, so the level of competition is far less significant than the actual outcome. The defense, while far from perfect, looked better. The offense, while everyone in Los Angeles may have a negative opinion about it, produced the second 100-point performance over the first four games. Might not sound impressive, until you consider it took 21 games to reach the mark twice during the 2011-2012 season.
Coming on the heels of the news of PG Steve Nash potentially being sidelined for as much as one month, you’ll forgive me if I need to embrace the “silver-lining” of our circumstances. No, all was most certainly not perfect, but there were several very positive things to take from this game. Aside from the obvious (victory), the Lakers finally found a way to pound the paint and abuse an opposing team with weaker big men. Although Pau Gasol’s shooting percentage wasn’t great (6-16), the fact that he was able to get 16 shots on a night where Dwight Howard put up impressive numbers (as well) is significant. Might sound simple, but that rarely happened with any true consistency last season. The Lakers new-look twin towers seem to have developed a chemistry very early on.
While I’d like to see more than 12 (combined) rebounds out of Howard/Gasol, I couldn’t possibly deny the positive impact of 42 points and six blocks out of the starting C/PF combo. As much as folks would like to point out the Pistons’ record, these Lakers should be commended for still holding them beneath their season averages in FGs, three-pointers, points, and assists. Howard looks as though he is getting into basketball shape, and even remarked that he feels as though his ‘timing’ and tempo are returning to him. That, in itself, should be a frightening prospect for the rest of the league.
Another positive to take from tonight’s outcome was Kobe Bryant’s final stat line: 15 points (on 5-10 FGs), eight assists and seven rebounds. I don’t expect (nor would I prefer) for Bryant to limit himself to 10 shots on a nightly basis, but in the absence of Nash, the Lakers would definitely benefit from Bryant embracing the play-maker’s role he so often provided early in his career. Don’t get me wrong, when the chips are down, I still prefer the ball in Bryant’s hands for a last-second shot. I just realize this team is better served if Bryant picks and chooses his spots for when to assert himself offensively.
Thankfully, an older and even wiser Bryant seems to have accepted this reality as well. Ultimately, for these Lakers to be successful, Bryant is going to have to make such determinations on a nightly basis. As this is something he’s done much more of over the past 5-6 seasons, I don’t see it being an issue.
Next Page: Metta World Peace and Mike Brown