Lakers’ key is locking down
So the Lakers do play defense.
It was surprising, maybe even staggering, but there the Lakers were, holding the league’s second-highest-scoring team, the Golden State Warriors, more than 20 points below their scoring average.
There was solid one-on-one defense, quick help when someone happened to slip through, and even recognition when to double-team and when to go it alone.
It meant a 102-85 victory Sunday over the Warriors and perhaps the reunion of momentum with the Lakers, although their two-game winning streak has been against Boston and Golden State. Tonight’s game in Utah will be a more realistic gauge.
Then again, anything that’s not a loss after a six-game losing streak can be viewed only as a step forward. Warriors fans merely wanted to step out of Oracle Arena.
With 6:46 to play, the crowd began exiting en masse during a pair of Warriors free throws, perhaps because it was almost time for the Academy Awards, or perhaps because Aaron McKie had just made a 19-footer from the baseline that put the Lakers ahead, 92-67.
Yes, Aaron McKie.
By that time, it was interesting only to gauge which was louder -- the “M-V-P” chants for Kobe Bryant from a surprisingly vocal Lakers contingent or the subsequent boos from those trying to drown them out.
Meanwhile, Maurice Evans scored a career-high 26 points, Bryant matched it with 26, and the Lakers improved to 32-25.
The Warriors average 105.8 points a game, and “for us to hold them to 85, that’s a pretty good job,” Bryant said. “We’ve had a couple days here since the All-Star break to really work on our defensive schemes. The last two games, we did a pretty good job.”
There were other differences Sunday, including one installed during timeouts by Coach Phil Jackson. Instead of standing up and talking while players sat and caught their breath, Jackson pulled up a chair and perched himself directly in front of them.
“I just wanted to get their attention and make sure that they’re on the same page,” Jackson said. “I felt there was some distance, that they were pulling away from each other during timeouts.”
Instead, the Lakers pulled away from the Warriors, moving to 7-0 against them over the last two seasons.
Jackson continued to ride the veterans, making 31-year-old Shammond Williams the first guard off the bench and inserting the 34-year-old McKie in the backcourt for the start of the second quarter.
Williams had seven points, and McKie had two points. Rookie Jordan Farmar was scoreless in 11 minutes, and Sasha Vujacic played only seven minutes.
Evans got the start and made the most of it, making eight of 13 shots and eight of nine free throws in 36 minutes. The Lakers are 4-0 when Evans starts.
“Some media guys were saying I was inconsistent,” Evans said. “When you come off the bench, sometimes it’s harder to get involved. You have to try and make an immediate impact. It’s just a different situation when you start.”
Evans was averaging 8.3 points in 22.3 minutes and shooting a career-low 42.8% entering Sunday’s game.
Lakers reserves also played well, with Brian Cook scoring 11 points and Ronny Turiaf adding a degree of feistiness that didn’t necessarily show up in his stat line (six points, four rebounds, two blocked shots).
All that would be helpful to the Lakers tonight in Utah. Things didn’t go so well for them the last time they were there. Jackson was fined $25,000 by the league for criticizing referees a day after the Lakers lost a frenetic 114-108 decision to the Jazz in November.
After that game, Jackson said the league “throws out some referee corps that you’re dubious about to start with and, you know, the game ends up like that.”
He was more careful with his words Sunday.
“You have to be able to play a physical game without losing your cool or getting caught up in the physicality of the game that Utah plays,” Jackson said.
KEYS TO THE GAME
* Maurice Evans had a career-high 26 points and tied a career high with four assists. He made eight of 13 shots, eight of nine free throws and did not commit a turnover.
* For once, it seemed, the Lakers weren’t the team with the lower free-throw percentage. The Lakers made 19 of 26 (73.1%) and the Warriors made only nine of 21 (42.9%).
* The Lakers also had the better numbers from three-point range, making seven of 21 (33.3%) while the Warriors made only two of 19 (10.5%).