Another night when the NBA might have to resconsider the whole "I love this game!" theme it has run with over the years, but once again on their home floor, the Los Angeles Lakers managed to win.
L.A. runs its record to 10-5, with tough games at Miami and Orlando upcoming.
Here are seven takeaways ...
1. The Lakers finished with one 3-pointer, but it was a very, very important one.
Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle did everything he's supposed to do. The ball was inbounded high on the floor to Kobe Bryant, matched up against Shawn Marion. Jason Terry quickly came over to double. Bryant made the pass back to the right wing to Derek Fisher.
Say what you will about Fisher and his place in this league (and you have said a lot), if there's a spot you want him on that wall, where you need him on that wall, this is it. Lakers fans have seen this movie before, and it's a good one. Fisher's triple capped an outstanding fourth quarter for the old man. Nine points on 3-for-4 shooting, plus a pair of free throws and a critical steal.
Don't ignore the whole one 3-pointer thing, though. It's indicative of an outside shooting problem that isn't getting better.
2. Kobe Bryant had a bad game offensively, the Lakers won anyway.
After four straight 40-plus games, it's fair to forgive Kobe an off shooting night. Just 7-for-22, only one free throw attempt, and seven assists (nice!) against four turnovers (less nice). Many of the shots weren't much different than those he's made on other nights, but overall the shot chart did change. Via ESPN Stats & Information, only three of Bryant's 22 shots came within 10 feet, for four points. During the previous four games, he had scored 77 of his 172 points inside 10 feet, free throws included. To his credit, Bryant did little forcing offensively and when the time came had three dimes in the fourth, including the critical dish to help win the game. I certainly don't recommend this strategy (73 points!) any more than relying on Kobe to do all the heavy lifting, but had Bryant struggled mightily and the Lakers had their doors blown off, it would have been worse.
The Lakers have a long way to go on that side of the ball. Bryant didn't get much help from Pau Gasol, who finished with eight points and didn't have a field goal in the second half (though he did contribute -- see below). Andrew Bynum did his part, and Fisher came up big down the stretch.
But 73 points is 73 points.
3. Andrew Bynum had a good night against the double team.
When Carlisle elected to guard him man up, primarily with Brendan Haywood, Bynum dominated. His position was consistently deep on the block, using both the left and right hands to convert. He moved well without the ball, converting a nice alley-oop pass from Josh McRoberts, and diving to the rim after a nice two-man sequence between Bryant and Gasol forced Bynum's man away in help. But more than anything, the positive takeaway from his 17-point, 15-rebound night wasn't in how he scored, but what he did recognizing the double-team. It started early, when in the first quarter he found himself triple-teamed on the left block, spun baseline and threaded a nice bounce pass to Jason Kapono in the corner for a long jumper.
He would make a few other nice plays out of the double, once throwing a nice cross-court pass to the far corner to Fisher, then again to Kapono, both for 3-pointers. Neither went in, but that's not the point. When he didn't pass, Bynum was far more successful recognizing the direction second defenders were coming, spinning away from them to create clean shots. None bigger than his bucket with two minutes remaining, as he spun baseline on Lamar Odom with Shawn Marion charging down from the elbow to help, putting L.A. up by five.
Bynum's learning curve against the double is central to the team's development offensively. He's struggled to make the adjustment, and there will certainly be more bumps along the way, but Monday's game was a positive step.
4. Do not interpret the last note as an endorsement of L.A.'s offense Monday night.
In the first quarter, the Lakers scored 15 points, more than double their output in the third. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Lakers were shooting 32.8 percent as a team, hadn't made a 3-pointer in eight tries, and only managed 10 free-throw attempts. Gasol and Bryant were a combined 7-of-25 from the floor, for 16 points. Kobe missed each of his six shots in the third, and Pau missed his pair. And while there were some oddly fluid moments of excellent execution, for the most part had they played outdoors in the rain on a dirt court, things couldn't have been much muddier.
A lot of it can be chalked up to straight missing shots, which always makes things look bad, and while the NBA did grant them a rare day without a game Sunday (woot!), the Lakers look no less tired on Monday than they did against the Clippers on Saturday. The difference is Dallas doesn't have anyone who jumps like Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan.
That the Lakers won while scoring 73 points is a credit to their defense. Generally, it's a recipe for losing.
5. Josh McRoberts is one of the most important players on the team.
Maybe it makes Lakers fans uncomfortable, but save their "big three," McRoberts might be their most difficult player to replace. He provides an element of athleticism and energy off the bench nobody else can replicate. His offensive game is definitely limited, but he can finish off the break, moves well off the ball (very cool reverse dunk off lob from Metta World Peace), pass (witness the lob to Bynum in the first half), and must lead the team in floor burns.
Bottom line, he plays hard, all the time, which dovetails nicely to my next point.
6. This team plays hard, all the time.
Not always well and often inelegantly, but hard. That's a good start. Had they let up at all Monday night, they'd have lost.
Pau Gasol made up for a bad offensive night with very good defense on Dirk Nowitzki.
Some shots Dirk takes are, quite literally, unable to be defended. When a 7-footer steps back, fades away and releases at the top of his reach, what do you do? So with that in mind, he's going to get his buckets. But throughout the game, and particularly down the stretch, when Pau was matched up against Dirk he made last season's NBA Finals MVP work for every inch. In the fourth quarter, Nowitzki made only one shot, and was called for a critical travel with 38.7 seconds remaining, as Gasol did a great job closing on a step back, and not drawing contact on a fake. Dirk shuffled his feet, and the Lakers got the ball.
As illustrated above, on the other end Pau didn't look good. He missed four of his first five shots, and after a couple clean plays in the second didn't have a field goal in regulation. For most of the night, he looked uncomfortable in isolation and sluggish.
Still, he found a way to contribute.
7. The Staples crowd did right by Lamar Odom.
Standing ovation, and a long one, when he entered early in the first. Good work, Los Angeles.