Who knew Dallas would come to town, and a Lakers-Nuggets game would break out!
I kid (sort of), but in what could very well be a preview of the Western Conference Semi-Finals, the Lakers sent a very, very strong message to the Mavericks, outscoring them by nine points in the third quarter and 15 in the fourth, turning a tight game at halftime into a blowout.
While the chippiness of the second half- five players found themselves in the showers early by the time the game was over (along with three ejections in the crowd on a crazy night for the Staples Center red coats)- will dominate the news Friday, the final score, and how the Lakers decimated the Mavs down the stretch, should really be the story. Dallas is a very solid team worthy of L.A.'s respect, but still seem lacking in answers for what the Lakers can do down low. Nothing about tonight's game leaves the impression they could beat the Lakers in a seven game series.
"We just wanted to put our stamp on the game and let everyone know we're here to win," Andrew Bynum said after. Fair to say the Lakers slapped enough postage on the proceedings to send it over a couple oceans.
Here's how it broke down...
1. The Third Quarter. Up by three at the half, the Lakers came out of the break and did a true number on the Mavs. In the process of outscoring them 28-19, L.A. held the Mavs to 35.3 percent from the floor (six-of-17), and forced three turnovers. Kobe Bryant worked over Roddy Beaubois on the perimeter, drawing a pair of shooting fouls en route to six free throws for the quarter (the last coming after drawing contact on Jason Kidd on a baseline jumper off the dribble). Bynum earned four more free throws and blocked a shot.
But where the Lakers really changed the tone of things was on the glass. At the break, Dallas was plus-seven on the boards. The Lakers ate up the entire margin in the third, outrebounding the Mavs 17-8. Perhaps more importantly, they turned Dallas into a one-and-done squad, allowing a grand total of zero offensive boards after giving up seven in the first half, leading to nine second chance points for Dallas. Obviously that number dropped precipitously after the break.
Second chance points are impossible to come by when a team only gets first chances.
2. Turnovers. One big reason the Lakers have piled up wins since the break, now 16 in 17 tries including eight straight, is the care they've taken with the ball. Thursday was no exception. L.A. finished with a very stingy seven giveaways, including only three in the first half. Low turnover rates mean more time spent in a structured, halfcourt defense, where the Lakers have thrived. On the night, the Mavs had only nine points off turnovers, and only three in the second half.
3. Lamar Odom. If tonight's game really served as a showdown for this season's Sixth Man of the Year Award- for the record reducing a year-long award to a single game is completely absurd- Odom should be clearing space on his mantle. Before his ejection Terry was only two-for-nine from the floor, with a pair of turnovers, admitting later to losing his cool out of frustration. "Emotions got the best of me tonight. I apologized to the team. You just can't let that happen in big games," he said.
Odom, on the other hand, flat out exploded after a reasonably quiet first half, at least from a scoring standpoint (two points, though he had five boards and a pair of assists).
In the third, Odom added five more points and a pair of boards, capping off the quarter with a three before kicking off the fourth with two huge triples, pushing L.A.'s lead to 18 before a minute had gone by. That's nine straight points to you and me. He finished with 16 points and 11 boards, proving again how integral he is to the Lakers' collective success. "He's been playing like that all year," Bryant said. "For him, I'm sure it was kind of a challenge to be that Sixth Man of the Year. Terry has been a phenomenal sixth man for years, but I think this is [Lamar's] time."
No argument, here.
4. Matt Barnes. The standard cliche about guys like Barnes says the do all the stuff not showing up in a box score. Thursday, despite a relatively modest stat line- four points on only four shots, plus three rebounds and a steal- Barnes proved how true it can be. He was extremely active all night, helping force a turnover on Terry early in the second quarter, and creating shot opportunities for himself with well timed cuts to the hoop. Late in the third, Barnes snuck inside on a missed free throw from Bynum, slapping the ball off Shawn Marion's face to keep possession with the Lakers, eventually resulting in a bucket for Shannon Brown.
I can't necessarily endorse the way he charged into the fourth quarter dust up after Terry cheap-shoved Steve Blake- it could very well cost him a game, since the NBA frowns on those who escalate things- but at the same time it's hard to blame him. That was some seriously weak sauce from Terry.
5. Andrew Bynum. Six-for-nine from the floor, plus six-of-eight from the line for 18 points. Bynum was extremely aggressive inside, gaining position and looking for his shot against any defender, or combination thereof- the Mavs threw at him. He started strong, taking Tyson Chandler with a nice move on the block, finishing with the righty hook off the glass, then did great work accepting a Kobe fastball from the perimeter, controlling the ball despite plenty of traffic inside, then turning it into a bucket.
From there, he continued to force the issue, showing more assertiveness than he has, even during his strong run after the break. But, as is now the case with Bynum, his contributions inside defensively and on the glass were vital. 13 rebounds and a pair of blocks. Even when he found himself on Dirk Nowitzki along the perimeter, Bynum moved his feet well.
Tonight did nothing to dampen his ever-growing confidence.
6. Oh Yeah, Those Guys. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol were both strong. Bryant found his way to the line 15 times as he piled up 28 points, adding five assists and two steals, one being among the most athletic I've ever seen as Bryant intercepted a sideline pass, tipped it into the air, then kept it in bounds before landing in the front row. Gasol was big inside on the offensive glass, earning a fair number of his 20 points on tip ins and follows off his six offensive boards.
Ron Artest also played well, hitting a couple big threes on his way to 13 points, while adding four rebounds and a team-high six assists. This to go with his strong influence on the other end. No word yet on whether Mark Cuban plans on taking him out for ice cream.
The Lakers dismantled the third-best team in the Western Conference. Flat out tore them apart as the game went along. Filling out this category is an exercise in nitpicking.