1. Kobe Bryant looked solid in his mask in the Lakers’ 104-85 victory Wednesday over the Minnesota Timberwolves. The mask extended from his hairline to the top of his lips with two holes for his eyes. But it hardly appeared to significantly hurt his vision. Bryant’s 31 on 11-of-23 clip and seven assists featured what you’d expect from Bryant. Some midrange and elbow jumpers. Some swing passes and bounce passes inside.
But Bryant also offered more. He drove to the basket. He even finished on a fast-break. Bryant threw down a one-handed hammer dunk. Bryant showed the same amount of aggression wearing the plastic mask, if not more.
There were some drawbacks, though. He committed five turnovers. Bryant went zero-of-four from three-point range. And on the bench, it appeared his neck bothered him. But that’s splitting hairs. It’s impressive enough Bryant returned to the court three days after suffering a concussion, and passing the numerous skill tests to prove he’s asymptomatic. It’s also mind-boggling Bryant still maintained his high output despite those setbacks. This will be an ongoing challenge, but Bryant proved once again he’s suited to overcome it.
2. The Lakers looked more organized on offense. Here’s one third-quarter sequence that epitomized the Lakers’ ball movement. Bryant kicked out of a double team to Derek Fisher, who made a quick swing pass to Metta World Peace. Instead of taking an ill-advised three-pointer, World Peace threw an entry pass to Pau Gasol, who quickly drew an And-1. The Lakers’ 48 assists all happened thanks to effective off-ball cutting, swing passes and, it appeared, some elements of the triangle offense. If the Lakers follow these principles, it will become normal for World Peace (eight points), Fisher (seven), Matt Barnes (nine points), Troy Murphy (seven) and Steve Blake (eight points) to complement the Big Three. It will also enable Gasol to post 15 points after a slow start.
3. Andrew Bynum looked healthy. What knee problems? After feeling discomfort in his surgically repaired right knee last week against Oklahoma City, Bynum received a Synvisc injection during the All-Star break. Though it was part of what the Lakers called a routine maintenance procedure to lubricate joints in his knee, Bynum still only played six minutes in the All-Star game for precautionary reasons.
He showed immediately that was hardly a concern, posting 13 points on six-of-nine shooting and 13 rebounds. Some notable plays include a baseline drive past Darko Milicic for a two-handed dunk and a lob from World Peace.
4. The bench had sharper chemistry. Blake went on a second-quarter stretch where he scored all of his eight points. Barnes made both great passes and provided defensive energy. Murphy appeared effective on closing out on defensive rotations in the paint. The lone sore spot involved Andrew Goudelock’s shooting (one of seven). But barring any injuries, it appears this rotation remains in stone.
5. Mike Brown needs to rest his starters more. OK, so the Lakers appear energized after the All-Star break. No need to sap that energy level right away. Even if the minutes allotted to Bryant (33), Gasol (31), World Peace (24) and Fisher (20) are below their season average, a double-digit win needs to earn them even more rest. The Lakers’ 33-15 third quarter finally exposed Minnesota’s inability to play without Kevin Love, who sat out because of sore ribs. But with the Lakers nursing an 89-79 lead with 6:26 remaining, Brown inserted Bryant, Gasol and World Peace into the game, while Fisher came in two minutes later. Bynum played the entire fourth quarter until the 3:49 mark, while Gasol left at 3:34. And Bryant, Fisher and World Peace didn’t sit until the last 2:46. Simply mind-boggling.