Here are a few aspects of last night’s 93-91 victory we will examine:
Rebounds – We always talk about rebounds, and today is no different. The Lakers absolutely dominated the boards against the Phoenix Suns on Saturday (out-rebounding the Suns 54-36) but still lost. They didn’t quite match that dominance last night, but still got the job done with a 46-35 rebounding advantage. Rebounds don’t always equate to a victory, but for the Lakers, out-rebounding the opposing team is almost always a necessity as they feature two dominant seven-footers.
Pau Gasol/Andrew Bynum – When Andrew Bynum went down with an ankle injury, Pau Gasol stepped up. Similarly, now that Kobe Bryant has been missing time, Gasol has been stepping up. On Saturday versus the Suns, Pau put up 30 points and 13 rebounds and last night he had 25 points, nine rebounds, and four assists. Both Gasol and Bynum must step up in Kobe’s absence, but it will be up to Gasol to carry the team offensively.
Bynum has struggled in Kobe’s two-game absence, connecting on just 39 percent of his shot attempts compared with his average of 57 percent on the season. He has been taking nine more shots per game in Kobe’s absence as well (22 attempts without Kobe compared with 13 with him). Gasol, however, has maintained his 52 percent average while attempting 10 more shots per game (23 per game without Kobe, and 14 with Kobe).
This can be attributed to Bynum’s continued progression. This season he came in ready to be the second option and has learned to play against double-teams throughout the year. However, now that defenses are focusing solely around he and Pau Gasol, his deficiencies are being exposed. He is learning very quickly, but is still learning. It is no secret that the attention Kobe draws from defenses and Gasol’s savvy play-making abilities have greatly benefited Andrew Bynum.
That is why it will be up to Gasol to carry the team for the remainder of Kobe’s absence. Gasol may not have been playing up to his standards early in the year for whatever reason, but he is still the second best player on this team. Not only that, but he must continue to assert himself when Kobe does get back, because when he is playing aggressive alongside Kobe and Bynum, this is a tough team to beat. Bynum will undoubtedly overcome his slumping shooting percentage, but should recommit himself to defense and rebounding first; and he appears to have done so as of late.
Defense – The Lakers recommitted themselves to defense after giving up 125 points to the Suns on Saturday. They didn’t play exceptional defense throughout, but were able to pull out the stops and come back from a deficit in the fourth quarter to prevail. They will have to continue to reassert their defense going forward into the playoffs.
Ramon Sessions – Ramon Sessions is proving to be exactly what the Lakers needed. Last night he got easy buckets, played the pick-and-roll to his advantage and attacked the basket, set up his teammates, and hit clutch shots. He is a capable player that the Lakers desperately needed, and has performed well in the absence of Kobe Bryant. He must continue to assert himself more and more offensively, however, especially if Bryant is out longer. The composure and balance he has shown thus far has been remarkable though.
Steve Blake – Blake has been criticized a bit lately for not hitting his shots or being aggressive enough. Last night, however, he played a very solid game. He drew at least two offensive fouls, made plays for his teammates, and hit a few key shots down the stretch. As long as he maintains his confidence and increases his overall aggressiveness, Blake will be a huge key for the Lakers going forward. Matt Barnes always does the intangibles to involve himself into the game. Perhaps Steve Blake can follow his lead as he did last night.
Road Win – The Lakers started out the year as a horrible road team, but have picked it up as of late. The fact that they won a game on the road without Kobe is a huge plus for them. The fact that they managed to come from being down in the fourth quarter to emerge with a victory is even more of a plus. The Lakers last night appeared motivated and looked like the veteran team that they are; Pau Gasol took on the challenge and stepped up, Metta World Peace was out there communicating and coordinating with his teammates on offense and defense, and the team collectively knew when it was time to quit playing around and play some defense.
At the end of the day, the Lakers beat a team they should have beat on the road. It was just good to see them pull together and finish strong at the end.