Some things to take from the Lakers’ 103-97 victory Friday over the Denver Nuggets.
1. Lakers let up after a strong start. So, the Lakers didn’t have Kobe Bryant for the fourth consecutive game becuase of a sore left shin. Lakers Coach Mike Brown also left before the game for what the team called “personal reasons,” leaving assistant John Kuester to take his place. But it didn’t seem like that would have any bearing on the outcome.
The Lakers exhibited all the positive signs they showed during their 98-84 victory Wednesday over the San Antonio Spurs, including fluid ball movement and disciplined defense. All good enough to coast to a 30-19 lead in the first quarter. But as is the Lakers’ custom, they allowed Denver to cut away at multiple single-digit leads because they routinely ran the offense at too high of a tempo.
Before the game, Brown wanted his players to maintain a fine line between pushing the pace and rushing shots. That didn’t happen. They forced entry passes. Andrew Bynum took too long reacting to double teams. They committed 22 turnovers. All of that exposed the Lakers’ weak transition defense.
2. Matt Barnes is becoming the Lakers’ most reliable bench player. As soon as the shot dropped in, Barnes turned around and smiled. He had just nailed a rainbow 16-foot turnaround jumper before the buzzer sounded at halftime, but that’s not the only reason he should’ve been happy. Barnes’ 24 points on nine-of-11 shooting marked his season high in nearly two years with the Lakers and featured everything they expect out of him. That included a three-pointer that gave the Lakers a 94-90 lead with 2:30 left, hitting one of two free throws on the next possession and then making a running floater that gave the Lakers a 97-90 lead with 1:29 remaining.
Barnes made a silly mistake in drawing a technical after arguing a call following the three-pointer, but he provided everything else. Barnes contributed fastbreak points, off-ball movement and energy on defense and in transition. The Lakers’ last-place ranking in bench points seems misleading since they often play with the starters. But Barnes’ effort demonstrates how much of a difference at least a solid reserve performance can help offset other factors. With Bryant remaining out of the lineup and Bynum fighting double teams, the Lakers needed a secondary option. Barnes perfectly fit that description.
3. Bynum handled Denver’s double teams well. Everytime he touched the ball, the Nuggets swarmed him. That’s become the typical routine for the Lakers’ center, particularly without Bryant there to make defenders think twice about fronting the post. Bynum’s 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting looks good on paper. But it remains more impressive how he got them. Bynum scored 10 of his points on fastbreaks and six off teammates’ misses, and 11 of his points came at the free-throw line. And when he faced double teams, Bynum showed patience in passing the ball back out.
Bynum will continue facing these issues even when Bryant returns. But it’s a good sign that he didn’t allow that to temper his effectiveness in finding other ways to score. Pau Gasol also proved reliable by scoring 14 points on six-of-13 shooting with looks in the post and mid-range area.
4. Metta World Peace maintains consistency. It’s no longer surprising to see Metta World Peace dunk, throw a dime off a fastbreak and huddle his teammates together. It might still spark punchlines, but it’s not a fluke. World Peace’s 14 points on five-of-12 shooting marked the fourth time in the last five games that he’s recorded double-digit points. That partly correlates with more opportunities during Bryant’s absence. But it mostly correlates to World Peace’s strong conditioning and focus. I’m convinced he’ll keep this up the rest of the season.
5. Ramon Sessions struggled. Whether it was forcing entry passes, forcing shots or looking uncomfortable on defense, the Lakers point guard hardly provided what they needed. His seven points on one-of-seven shooting reflected his struggle in keeping a balance between running at fast tempo while ensuring the Lakers found quality looks.