A simple reason for a rare Lakers victory was the return of Nick Young, the self-proclaimed “Swaggy P” always one step and two laughs ahead in life.
“It’s like my swag just rubbed off on everybody,” he said after bringing some desperately needed scoring to the Lakers.
But the story was more than Young, more complex than the return of one in a 114-109 victory Tuesday over the Atlanta Hawks.
It started with a long meeting at the team hotel after the Lakers arrived here Monday night. The topic was their defense. Lack of it, really.
Thought-provoking questions were lobbed from Coach Byron Scott to the players. Are we asking you to do near-impossible things? Are you thinking too much about this defense?
Players shook their heads and committed to improvement after being rallied by none other than Ronnie Price, a training-camp signee whose contract was only partly guaranteed.
It’s not a joyful occasion to allow 109 points in an NBA game, though the Lakers were giving up an average of 112 before the night began and rolled over two days earlier, surrendering 136 to Golden State.
Their effort against Atlanta was “much better than it had been the last three or four games,” Scott said.
So was their balance, another plot line through a brutal start for the Lakers (2-9).
Kobe Bryant had 28 points on 10-for-18 shooting, Carlos Boozer had 20 points and Jordan Hill scored 18. Young had 17 points and Jeremy Lin added 15.
“I thought it was excellent,” said Bryant, who made more than 45% of his shots for the first time this season. He also become the fourth NBA player to score 32,000 points, now perched 291 behind Michael Jordan.
Seemingly nothing comes easily for Bryant nowadays, or without criticism, so he was asked if he heard the chatter that his shot volume was so high this season because he wanted to pass Jordan.
“There’s always something, especially with me,” Bryant said. “First, it’s ‘I can’t come back and play.’ Now it’s, ‘Well he’s not playing well enough.’ Well you just said I’d be in a wheelchair and I wouldn’t be able to play at all. I won’t even waste my time trying to shut people up.”
Young was the opposite, eager to stimulate debate by happily putting himself No. 1 on the list of greatest shooters of all time.
“It might be me at the top,” he said. “Me, Ray Allen, Reggie [Miller], then I might throw in one of the players from Golden State. It depends.”
Um. Larry Bird?
“He’s, like, top five right now. He’s probably No. 5.”
What about your coach?
“Byron could shoot? I didn’t know that.”
That might earn some extra sprints at practice. But the ebullient Young, who is nowhere near the top five and knows it, will probably be forgiven.
Paul Millsap had 29 points for the Hawks (5-5), who were in deep trouble with a 17-point second-quarter deficit, the Lakers’ early defense a key factor.
“When you’ve got bigs that aren’t talking loud and clear, it makes it real tough on guards,” Scott said. “Our bigs have to be much more vocal. Then our guards will stop looking behind to see if a pick is coming and we can have a little bit more trust there.”
The trust was there on offense for sure.
“Spread it around on offense, everybody felt a lot more involved,” Boozer said.
Young made six of 10 shots in his season debut. His first shot was a step-back three-point attempt. Of course. He missed.
But he was back from his torn thumb ligament. So were the Lakers for a well-balanced night.
Follow Mike Bresnahan on Twitter @Mike_Bresnahan