For one night at least, the panic has simmered down for the Lakers (1-3) and their fans after the team captures their first win of the season against the hapless Detroit Pistons (0-3), 108-79. The win may have come against a team who is also struggling with their own identity but the way in which the Lakers played the game is what's most important.
The acclimation of the hybrid Princeton offense has been widely used as the biggest reason for an 0-8 finish of exhibition games and an 0-3 start of the regular season. But underneath the surface lies the team's inability to put the effort on the defensive end and the disturbing rate of committing unforced errors on offense that truly prevented the Lakers from winning more games.
The Lakers came out of the locker room focused on energy and bent on following a different plan to get things rolling. The team went to Pau Gasol early before giving Dwight Howard his share of touches. It worked. The job both players did on offense pretty much laid the foundation of the ballgame for the Lakers.
Gasol didn't shoot the ball particularly well (6-16) but it was his aggressive play on offense that kept the Pistons from concentrating their defensive effort on Howard inside. Greg Monroe rarely saw help in stopping Howard from doing whatever he wanted to do in the paint. Monroe did try fronting him but lack of pressure on the passer and zero help from his teammates in the paint foiled that idea. After that, Piston coach Lawrence Frank decided to put on a zone defense. But the Lakers seemed to have expected that strategy and defeated it by simply getting the ball in the middle to Pau, who was given options to either score or lob the ball to Howard underneath the rim. Either way, the Lakers capitalized with points on the scoreboard.
Gasol ended his night with 14 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 blocks. Dwight was the high-point man for both teams with 28 points on 12-of-14 shooting and chalked in 7 boards, 3 swats and 1 steal.
But it wasn't just Pau and Dwight.
Metta World Peace came out sharper with 18 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and a steal. Just like his teammates, Metta was under control and determined on both sides of the floor. He was scoring, passing and hitting the boards on top of doing what he does best...playing solid defense.
For the 2nd straight game, Steve Blake took over the driver's seat for the injured Steve Nash and put forth a briliant outing. He only took 4 shots and converted 2 of those from distance, but it was his 6 assists and 5 steals (matched his career-high) that helped keep the team on top of the game.
He didn't score 40 points but Kobe Bryant was still efficient on offense making half of his 10 attempts for a mild 15 points. You'd think that once he sees the team clicking on offense and defense that he didn't need to do much to help the team get their first win. Not so fast.
Staying true to his words that no one wants to win more than he does, Kobe simply helped the team in other facets of his game. He finished with 7 rebounds and led either team with 8 assists.
Overall, the Lakers played their best game since the start of training camp. While it wasn't exactly perfect, it was still beautiful to finally watch this team play like a team on both ends of the floor. The key here is will this team continue to stay hungry and focused regardless of the team they play against and arena they're in?
A lot of things did work out for the Lakers against Detroit — Blake having an impressive defensive night; Howard staying out of foul trouble (didn't pick up his first until the 4th quarter); Metta shooting well, and of course, turning the ball over only 15 times versus 20+ in any of the previous games.
I do question Mike Brown's decision of putting the starters back in with 8:30 left in the 4th quarter after the Pistons cut a 29-point lead down to 24. It's a clear indication that Brown has very little faith in his bench and doesn't seem to be too concerned about their progress as a unit compared to the starters. And if Brown doesn't trust his bench players, then he shouldn't expect them to learn to become a better individual player any time soon. If that happens, the Lakers will have a tough time coming together as a solid team from top to bottom.
This is going to be something to keep an eye on as the season moves along.
Player of the Game
Dwight Howard: Expect D12 to be the man of the hour for the Lakers for much of the season. He's averaging 23.3 points, 9.8 rebounds, 68.6% field goal, and 2.5 blocks per game despite still trying to get himself to shape. Wow, that's scary.
Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012
at Utah Jazz
6:00 p.m. (PST)
EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City, UT
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN/1330 KWKW
Game Highlights (by NewLakersHD)