It was a huge win for the Lakers on Friday night in Denver, kicking off their critical six-game Grammy road trip with an energetic, gritty effort against the Nuggets. As Derek Fisher told me earlier this week, winning early on a swing like this, particularly against a high-end team like the Nuggets, changes the context of the whole run.
Suddenly, the possibilities of the trip seem a lot more promising.
Here are six takeaways
1. Andrew Bynum.
As our colleague Dave McMenamin noted via Twitter, usually guys pump out the statement game after getting snubbed from the All-Star Game, not after being voted into the starting lineup. In his first game since earning his first berth into the NBA's mid-winter classic, Bynum was a force. Early, he pounded Timofey Mozgov in the post, earning deep position repeatedly and being rewarded with touches he used wisely. By the end of the first quarter, Bynum had nine points on 4 of 5 from the field, and at the half was up to 15 points (7-for-9), with 4 rebounds, 2 blocks, an assist and a steal. Not bad for 17 minutes' work.
As the game went on, Bynum started seeing not only double-, but even triple-teams as George Karl threw the kitchen sink at him, defensively. Generally speaking, Bynum responded well. At one point in the third, he made a nice, aggressive move thanks to nifty footwork and the decision to preserve his dribble. One good pivot, a hard dribble, and he was at the bucket. More important, he continues to develop better instincts on how to pass out of traffic, whether on a kick-out, over the defense, or down into the post, as he did for Metta World Peace in the fourth, creating a good scoring opportunity.
Final line: 22 points, 10-of-13 shooting, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks.
Once again, Kobe's shot and the Denver air didn't agree, but made some great passes.
At one point, Kobe Bryant's shooting line dropped as low as 2-of-12, and he finished 7-of-23. He missed a few inside (where, and I don't often type this sort of thing, he earned himself more whistles than he got), a few more at midrange, and three of his four 3s. But what Bryant couldn't do with his shot, he absolutely got done with the pass. Early, Bryant dictated the flow of a very effective Lakers offense, setting up Bynum for a lob, Pau Gasol for a jumper and an easy finish at the rim off the high screen and roll among his four first-quarter dimes. He and Gasol were a great combination in a few first-half sequences on the side pick and roll, as well.
In the third, Bryant tried to get himself going, but by the fourth was once again creating big buckets for teammates, critical dishes to Bynum (again on the lob), then to World Peace in the left corner, and later to Fisher on the opposite side.
He finished with a team-high 9 assists, and with 6 rebounds and a pair of steals tossed in, Bryant obviously found ways to kick in.
3. Metta World Peace's defensive upswing continues.
After a horrible start, the Lakers continue to see signs of World Peace rounding into form. The first came last week against the Clippers, as he was an Artestian force of nature, playing a key role in the win despite scoring only 3 points. Tonight, MWP was again a defensive star. He spent much of the night hounding Danilo Gallinari, who came into the game averaging 17.6 points but Friday managed only 6, making only 1 of 9 shots.
On Denver's final possession, World Peace stuck with a scorching-hot Al Harrington as he tried to penetrate off the left wing. With Metta glued to his hip, Harrington was forced into a tough step-back triple, which he clanged off the front of the rim.
When he defends as he did Friday, it doesn't much matter what other numbers MWP puts up. Just for good measure he tossed in a few, anyway. Seven boards, an assist, a block, and 7 points rounded out a very effective evening.
4. The Lakers won the glass.
Led by 17 from Gasol, who quietly put together a strong game (13 points, 4 assists, and a block in addition to the boards), the Lakers shored up their rebounding problem, which was a major focus heading into the trip. They were plus-seven overall, and more importantly, limited the Nuggets to only five offensive rebounds, a huge improvement over the past few games and a major component to a very strong game defensively against an explosive Denver team.
5. Andrew Goudelock continues to get it done.
Those waiting for the league to catch up to L.A.'s 46th pick in last summer's draft will have to wait at least one more night. Once again, Goudelock provided the scoring boost badly needed off the bench, scoring 13 points on 6-for-10 from the field. As he has done since being reinserted into the rotation against the Clippers last week, Goudelock displayed plenty of aggressiveness and confidence offensively. He scored with the (if not) patented (getting close to it) floater off the dribble, with the 3-pointer, and with the pull-up jumper.
He even capped off the first half with a little runner, giving the Lakers a boost heading into the locker room. It's hard not to like what the kid is doing, and for the Lakers, they have to worry about what happens should the production ever fall off given the profound impact Goudelock's scoring has had on the team's offense, generally.
6. The officiating was awful.
I mean, awful.