Florida may be the Sunshine State for somebody, but it sure ain't the Lakers. Here are a four takeaways from the game.
1) Kobe did everything humanly possible as a scorer and playmaker to keep the Lakers in this game.
Without his scoring, any chance at an eventually thwarted comeback bid would have been impossible from Jump Street. Kobe Bryant racked his 30 points on 11-for-22 shooting, with shots falling from everywhere on the court. Catch-and-shoot buckets at the elbow. Drives to the cup. Seven trips to the line, all converted. At the same time, scoring is more or less breathing for Kobe, and exactly what people have come to expect from The Mamba. As great as he can be facilitating, people sometimes manage to be surprised when he's expert along these lines. And tonight was one of those nights.
It was a fantastic show of play-making from Kobe, who should have walked away with more than his eight dimes (which still ain't all that bad). Reading the floor like a man with 20/10 vision, Bryant was surgical in his ability to find teammates in the right spots, with the favor not returned enough. There was one pick-and-roll with Troy Murphy that took what felt like 10 minutes to develop as the power forward sloooooooowly leaked to the corner. Backing toward halfcourt with two defenders looking to trap, Kobe patiently waited out the action, then skipped a pass to Murphy for the three-ball. Not an easy play to make, but Kobe hardly broke a sweat.
There was also a classic "Kobe possession." In the fourth quarter, after feeling he absorbed too much contact from Jason Richardson, Bryant backpedaled with the ball, turned away from J.Rich a few seconds to scream at referee Kane Fitzgerald, then drilled an absolutely wet stand-still 3-pointer.
I laughed hysterically, and in a game like this one, any release is appreciated.
2) Metta World Peace can't guard Von Wafer
I don't mean this as a grand, hyperbolic "Dude couldn't even guard Von Wafer" blanket statement. The man formerly known as Ron Artest quite literally demonstrated this lack of ability during the first half on nearly consecutive possessions. More disturbing, the sequences were darn near identical. Wafer, between the circles extended along the right side, crossed over MWP to get space, then blew past him off the dribble, once for a score and the other to set up Dwight Howard at the rim for free throws.
As Land O'Lakers regulars know, I'm as big a Wafer fan as they come. (Beyond me, BK, Von's family, and a few Florida State diehards, how many of us can there really be?) I find him a wonderfully entertaining blend of energy, unintentional comedy, athleticism and hair-trigger gunning. But even as someone who'd put a Wafer fathead in my living room if my wife would allow it, a joke is a joke. It's one thing when MWP fails to slow LeBron James, as was the case in Miami. But when you're carrying Von Wafter's lunch? That's a problem.
It's also indicative of the issues accompanying Metta on the floor these days. He's no longer able to shut guys down defensively like the days of yore, and in the meantime, the reasonably effective game plan of him in the lane as a point forward/battering ram has apparently been abandoned for whatever reasons. That now the case, MWP's back to floating, then missing shots from beyond the arc. Which raises the question of why Mike Brown is playing Metta -- who didn't remove his warmups in the second half -- unless he's curious to see if someone can actually shoot a negative percentage from downtown.
I can't imagine Devin Ebanks would be considerably worse on defense, and in the meantime, his outside shot was falling during the early season when he was in the rotation. At the very least, his speed might create opportunities for easy buckets in transition. And if the concern is "losing" Metta, given what we're seeing with him "found," I'll take my chances. But something has to give, and soon.
3) The Lakers' starting frontcourt was a mixed bag
Before the Lakers headed out to Florida, Andrew Bynum downplayed the persistent comparisons between him and Howard, declaring Superman a more proven player. This game did nothing to disprove the "proven" sentiments. Just like in Miami, Bynum picked up two quick fouls, both in succession while guarding the Orlando center. A third foul was picked up almost immediately upon reentering in the second frame. This penchant for attracting whistles set the tone for Drew's entire game. Ten boards were collected, a pair of shots blocked and a few other decent moments were scattered around. But for the most part, Drew's presence was an afterthought in a matchup with all eyes on him.
As for Pau Gasol, the night was a mixed bag. Defensively, he had some nice possessions forcing Howard into misses, despite some obvious fatigue. But after a very decisive offensive game against the Heat, he reverted back to waffling during the first half, drifting in and out of the action. (On a related note, can we call it quits on the "Pau Gasol as a three-point specialist" era? I realize El Spaniard's really no worse than any other brick-laying options on the Lakers, but the main byproduct seems to be increased distance from the basket). During the second half, his energy picked up, along with his touches. There appeared to be a more concerted effort to run possessions through Gasol, and along with his engagement, the overall smoothness of the offense picked up, make or miss.
It's a must Brown find more ways to utilize Gasol in this offense. He may not have Drew's "thirst to score," as Kobe put it, but he's far more capable of helping the wheels turn for everyone else. Plus, to be bluntly honest, this team can't afford games without Pau making an impact.
4) The second half featured much more off-ball movement than we've seen in a while.
The Lakers also looked, for the first time in a while, like a team even remotely on the same page executing an actual game plan. Coincidence? I doubt it. Considering how few players on the Lakers have who can create off the dribble, points will have to be generated through crisp pacing and a lack of stagnation.