Here's the way Lakers fans should view this. Sure, the Lakers often looked sluggish during Wednesday's game, but the overwhelming majority of Laker Nation watched this game on TV for free. In the meantime, those hated folks in Utah actually plunked down good money to attend this contest and actually had to sit through it for five extra minutes.
That's the victory inside the victory, kids.
Here are four takeaways.
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Gasol looked tuckered throughout much of the game.
1) Back-to-back basketball remains a messy affair.
This isn't specifically a Lakers issue, of course. Look around the league on any given night, and teams look ragged while (relatively) fresh as a lily during this compressed season. But when one or -- in this case -- both teams are playing the second of consecutive contests, man alive, this stuff was U.G.L.Y. ... even with an alibi.
Back-to-back games by definition mean less practice time, which in turn creates ragged possession and poor chemistry. Plus, there's the fatigue. Andrew Bynum -- who at least made his presence felt defensively -- and Pau Gasol struggled to make shots Wednesday. (To be perfectly honest, Gasol was pretty ineffective on both ends of the floor.) Utah's misses often owed more to their own offensive deficiencies than crisp defense by the Lakers. And as I mentioned in today's "What to Watch" post, the Lakers have been a dominant team on the boards, while the Jazz don't count it among their strengths. That the Lakers remained in a dead heat on the glass all game reflected the lethargy largely on display throughout the game. It also didn't help that Matt Barnes, the team's resident energizer bunny, spent much of the game on the pine because of foul trouble.
Down the stretch, the Lakers managed to muster up enough fuel to push through, with Bynum getting a huge offensive rebound putback and block in the closing seconds. But they're lucky this baby didn't hit double OT, because they might have collapsed.
2) Darius Morris, come on down!!!
Fans have been clamoring for the rookie to finally make his season debut, and with Andrew Goudelock apparently back in Mike Brown's circle of non-trust, the coach finally freed the only Laker who had yet to play. The overall results? A bit of a mixed bag, but more good than bad.
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Morris did some good things in his debut while also revealing his age.
In the first half, he muscled his way into the lane for a layup, then ran a nice break to set up Metta World Peace at the rim. There also was a series of nice plays late in the third quarter. He did a nice job getting back in transition after Gasol was fouled trying to put back Metta's blocked shot. Morris then worked his way into the teeth of the defense and dished to his right to set up a Steve Blake 3-ball. On the final possession of the quarter, Morris drove right to the rim and dropped a 5-footer scored as a goaltend in the Lakers' favor.
Youngsters, however, often fall prey to doing too much, and Morris was no exception as the fourth quarter commenced. He picked up two charges and overdribbled the ball. But with Brown's options limited -- and his clear dissatisfaction with the rotation resulting in endless experimentation -- I wouldn't be surprised to see Morris get another shot, even when Jason Kapono returns. Brown has stressed the need for more ball handlers and shot creators, both of which the kid does better than the vet.
Then again, if Blake, who left the game in the third quarter with a rib contusion, misses any time, Brown probably has no choice but to call Morris' name.
3) Metta World Peace needs to get back in the lane, STAT!
And not simply because it would create fewer opportunities for him to launch the 3-pointers he's growing increasingly unable to make. (He is 0-for-12 in his past six games and hasn't drained one from beyond the arc since New Year's Day.) He needs to re-enter the space on the floor that once served as his wheelhouse. At his best this season as the second unit's point forward, he also was doubling as its battering ram. The lane was continuously bulldozed to the tune of layups, free throw attempts or well-timed passes. Excessive space, however, is not the recipe for success. The farther MWP has strayed from the painted area, the more returns have diminished.
4) Another dominating night from Kobe Bryant.
Forget the 40 points, the shoulda-been-a-game-winning jumper in regulation, the late dime setting up Gasol for a corner 3 (!) and his clutch freebies to ice the game. What blew my mind the most was his block against Devin Harris with 0.7 seconds remaining to steal the game. The minute the former Badger let fly, Kobe casually walked past him, stuffed the shot, then continued straight to the tunnel. I'm not sure he even broke stride from the moment the ball was inbounded.
As the kids these days would say, it was pretty "gangster."