Measured Improvement For Lakers In Win Over Nets
Posted by hiphopmama on November 25, 2008
New Jersey 93, LA Lakers 120
The Lakers settled themselves well after an iffy performance against the Kings on Sunday to deal with a Nets team that has given them problems in the recent past. It was, once again, a complete team performance, as a struggling Kobe Bryant saw his teammates step up and carry the load to get the Lakers to 12-1.
We had to work our way into the game, playing a competent first half but only really finding our rhythm in the second 24. Kobe was off all night, scoring only 12 points on 5-of-17 shooting, but the rest of the team slowly but surely found their games and the shots started falling. The defense tightened up as the night went on too, and the Nets finished the game on 34.5% shooting. Despite the low shooting percentage, it wasn’t overall our best defensive game, but it was a vast improvement from our defense against the Kings, especially in our ability to play some semblance of transition D. The Nets occasionally looked for early offense, but we got back much more than on Sunday and limited the chances. We still had too many slip-ups in that area, though. I can’t count how many times I watched our players run back on D without lifting their heads to find their man, so that someone ended up with either an open jumper or an open lane to the basket. The hustle was much appreciated, but some awareness is needed as well.
We finally broke the Nets’ backs in the late third and early fourth quarter (although I wasn’t able to see it because apparently my DVR decided I didn’t need to watch the last 20 minutes of the game). We outscored the Nets by 25 points in the second half, as our defense settled in and the offense did its thing. All 12 guys played again, and we had six players in double figures (Gasol: 26; Farmar 18; Bynum 15; Odom 13; Kobe 12; Vujacic 10). In all honesty, the Nets’ shooting struggles contributed at least as much as our defense to their fourth quarter performance, as they missed their first eight shots. By the time they found their form again, we had extended the lead past the point of no return.
In his post-game comments, Phil Jackson stated that they wanted to put the emphasis on the inside game against the Nets’ inexperienced front line, and I’d say they did a pretty successful job in that. Both Gasol and Bynum stayed down low and used post play to break down defenders like Yi and Brook Lopez, neither of whom has spent much time guarding the post at this level. Bynum seems to be gaining confidence by the day, resulting in more assertive post play and explosive moves to the basket. And Pau Gasol is beyond well schooled in playing on the block. As Stu Lantz pointed out multiple times, he always keeps the ball in the hand farthest from the defender, and he is very good at feeling out the man on his back to know which way to turn. He is also exceptional at facing his man up and taking him off the dribble from the mid/high post, as he did once tonight, burning Lopez with a quick first step and rounding him for a reverse slam before Brook could fully react.
Jordan Farmar is another player who continues to develop at a blazing pace. He was amazing tonight, scoring 18 points in his 24 minutes and adding 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 steals. He capped off his night with a spectacular alley-oop to Trevor Ariza, but he really impressed with his consistent hustle play (is it possible to use that word too much?). If he senses a lazy pass coming from the other team, he halts his run up court and dashes into the passing lane. If he sees an opponent taking a fast break bucket for granted, he accelerates to go for the steal or the block, even against 7-footers. On offense, he’s also very good at reading the defense’s readiness as he brings the ball up, and he will probe his way into the lane before either team has fully set itself up for the possession, often resulting in easy points for either him or an open teammate. He is clearly grooming himself for promotion to the first team, but he seems accepting of his current role backing up the vastly more experienced Fisher. And so he should, because even without the starting job he is averaging over 20 minutes a game, often in crunch time. If he stays patient and keeps improving at this rate, he will be someone we need to lock up sooner rather than later.
As for the Nets, they have a good, young team. Devin Harris will be a force to contend with for a while, and he played well tonight with 21 points and 6 assists. Brook Lopez is green but has the skills to develop into a solid center. The real revelation tonight was power forward Yi Jianlian. At an even 7 feet and 238 lbs, he is a formidable player in the making. He has an all around offensive game, with a nice stroke and incredible quickness for someone so big. I wouldn’t have believed he was 7 feet if I hadn’t looked it up myself after the game. He plays with the quickness of someone more like 6-9. This inevitably means that he’s a little soft, a la Dirk Nowitzki, but at 21 he has plenty of time to bulk up and learn the ins and outs of post play and interior defending. If the Nets can keep him and Harris, they have a good core to build around. Neither of those guys will ever be a true first option, but if they can replace Carter (who appears to be on his way out) with another go-to scorer, they have a shot at a solid line-up for years to come.
The Lakers have a few days off for Thanksgiving, but they’re back at Staples on Friday to host the Mavericks. Dallas is 7-7 and currently sits in fourth place in the Southwest, behind Houston, New Orleans, and San Antonio, only in front of lowly Memphis. Maybe they’re all feeling the pain from Mark Cuban’s poor financial choices. Whatever the case, it’s usually a good game when we face these guys, and I mean that in more ways than one. Not only is it usually an exciting, dramatic match-up, but we almost always come out the victor, which is ultimately more important. Despite the average record, the Mavs have won their last five games on the back of some big games by Nowitzki and Terry. I’m eager to see Pau and Dirk go head-to-head, as I didn’t get to witness it last year (if they did indeed play each other after the trade, which I assume they did). Seeing the disappointed look on Cro-Magnon Man’s face when we steal another one from under their noses is always pleasant, so I hope and pray we can do it yet again.