Balanced Lakers Blast Clippers, 117-79Six Lakers scored in double figures and all 12 players contributed at least four points in a 117-79 rout of the L.A. Clippers. Kobe Bryant led the way for the Lakers with 16 points. He also had eight rebounds, three assists and two steals but it was hardly a vintage performance for the 2008 MVP considering his 5-12 field goal shooting and game-high five turnovers. Pau Gasol authored a nice all around effort (13 points, nine rebounds, six assists), while point guards Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar each scored 15 points. Al Thornton led the Clippers with 16 points. Baron Davis had 11 points, seven assists and four turnovers while shooting 4-13 from the field in his Clipper debut; he had a strong first quarter but was largely invisible the rest of the way.
The Lakers only led 30-27 after the first 12 minutes, in part because of the easy transition baskets that the Clippers scored after Bryant's four turnovers. As Hubie Brown said of Bryant's miscues, "That is a rare stat." At halftime, Bryant gave this explanation to Heather Cox: "I had to adjust to the little guys stripping (the ball) down low. I was angry at myself in the first quarter; I know that about this team." Apparently, Bryant made the necessary adjustment because he only had one turnover after the first quarter. Much like he did in Tuesday's season opener versus Portland, Bryant spent most of the game focusing on rebounding, pushing the ball and getting his teammates involved. On Tuesday, the Lakers needed Bryant to provide a key third quarter scoring outburst but against the Clippers such heroics were not required. In fact, Bryant sat out the entire fourth quarter and in the final 12 minutes the game often looked like a contest between the Harlem Globetrotters and the Washington Generals as the Lakers delivered several fancy passes and on one occasion the crowd giggled as Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza passed the ball back and forth on the perimeter in the halfcourt set but no Clipper made any attempt to guard either of them (Odom eventually eschewed the open jumper to drive to the hoop).
I don't think that the Clippers are quite as bad as they looked; they will play better once Marcus Camby returns and their various new players (including Davis) become acclimated to Coach Mike Dunleavy's system. However, even though this season is only two games old it is worth wondering just how good the Lakers really are. We won't know the answer until the Lakers face some better teams and deal with the adversity of an extended road trip but they are playing with a lot of energy and intensity, particularly on defense. Their bench is receiving a lot of credit and while that praise is certainly deserved it is important to recognize exactly how Coach Phil Jackson is setting up his rotations: until garbage time begins, the bench players are not left on their own--at least one starter is on the court with them, much like Jackson used to use Scottie Pippen to anchor the Bulls' reserves during their title runs (the Lakers don't have a player who is equivalent to Pippen but Jackson is applying the principle of using a starter to anchor the bench). Hubie Brown noted that as much as possible Jackson keeps two of his three top big men (Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom) on the court together at all times. As I have mentioned, that trio will likely never play together but Brown is correct that by rotating them in and out the Lakers constantly have a formidable inside duo: when Bynum is at center either Gasol or Odom can play power forward and when Bynum is on the bench Gasol can shift to center with Odom playing power forward.
The extensive garbage time provided ample opportunity for Brown to offer his thoughts on a wide range of subjects. Here is his take on Bryant's impact on the U.S. Olympic team's gold medal performance: "His hard work rubbed off on a lot of people. That was the number one thing...Then, let's face it, in the last eight minutes of the game against Spain for the championship that's when Kobe Bryant steps up and gets it done for you."
Although I will be participating again in the Blogger MVP rankings that will first appear in a couple weeks, I really think that you can't get a good bead on who truly deserves the MVP until the season is at least half over and most of the teams have taken a full tour around the league (that is also why it is silly for college football to publish a top 25 list so early but that is a different story to be discussed at a different time). However, I will be very interested to see what verdict the official MVP voters come up with at the end of the season if the Lakers win 60 or more games but Bryant's scoring average dips to the low 20s. When Bryant won back to back scoring titles he was widely acknowledged to be the league's best individual player but he was not voted the MVP because his team did not win 50-plus games; if Bryant leads the Lakers to the best record in the NBA but his individual numbers decline as he sits out during fourth quarter blowouts will the voters apply the same criteria that they used against him in 2006 and 2007 or will a new standard be invented? My methodology will not change: I have consistently said that the MVP should go to the league's best and most complete all-around player, with the only exception being when there is a post player who is so dominant that his value overcomes the relative narrowness of his skill set; in other words, I would have voted Shaquille O'Neal as the 2005 MVP due to his inside dominance even though he did not have the most complete skill set.
posted by David Friedman @ 7:22 AM