The Lakers started their post-trade deadline era in the same way they finished the pre, as a dominant squad on their home floor. Led by Kobe Bryant's 28 points and double-doubles from Pau Gasol (17/11) and Andrew Bynum (15/14), the Lakers built a lead against Minnesota and never let the game get away.
They won by five but were in control the whole way. Here are five takeaways ...
1. Ramon Sessions showed why the Lakers wanted him.
Sessions received a nice ovation checking into the game, and even got cheers the first time he put the ball on the floor. Literally. People clapped because Sessions dribbled. So you can imagine how excited they got when he crossed half court, penetrated, and hit a little floater in the lane for his first two points in purple and gold. Later, he put a wicked crossover on Wayne Ellington on the left wing, beating him clean and finishing at the rack, and followed that with a burst in the open floor, beating three Wolves on the break for another two points. Twice Sessions came over screens on the right wing and fed left to Matt Barnes for 3-pointers. In the second half, he penetrated and made a slick pass to Barnes, cutting through the paint for easy points, and later earned free throws against J.J. Barea going coast to coast in transition.
Moral of the story? Sessions gives the Lakers an element they haven't had in a long, long time, namely a point guard who not only has great speed in the open floor and can distribute effectively but forces opposing teams to respect his ability to finish in the lane. He creates easy points, something not easily found for the Lakers this year.
Final line: 7 points, 5 assists (against 3 turnovers), 4 rebounds in 19:26 of playing time. Not bad for a guy who hasn't practiced with the team yet.
2. Generally speaking, L.A.'s ball movement was great.
Eight players finished with an assist, and five had multiple helpers. Overall the Lakers had 21 dimes on their 33 field goals. Sessions and Steve Blake combined for 11 against only three turnovers. Bynum did some effective work passing out of double-teams in the post, as did Gasol (nothing new there). Best of all, they made extra passes without over-passing. While overall the mark from the floor wasn't anything special (41.2 percent), any deficiencies can't be blamed on stagnation.
3. Outside shooting was a plus.
Friday was the rare game for Kobe in which he was far more effective from beyond the arc than inside it. Kobe stuck five of his eight triples, but made only 4 of 12 2-pointers. It helps that most of his hoists from downtown came in rhythm, on clean catch-and-shoot chances, and his proficiency along with a few trips to the line left him with a tidy 28 points on 20 attempts from the floor. Barnes, who had a great game overall with 17 points, 3 boards, and a pair of steals, hit 3 of 4, and as a group the Lakers were a red-hot 45.5 percent (10-of-22). When they shoot that well, the Lakers are a tough team to beat.
4. Josh McRoberts provided good minutes.
Playing time has been hard to come by for McRoberts, no question, so he's always going hard when the opportunity arises. Tonight it paid off. In only five first-half minutes, McRoberts grabbed five rebounds, including two on the offensive end, one resulting in a dunk putback off a Metta World Peace miss from the corner. He also threw down a nice lob from Barnes on the break. With Jordan Hill now on the roster, McRoberts will need to do this sort of thing if he wants to get off the bench. Friday, his contribution was tangible and could earn him a little more burn.
5. The Lakers got it done defensively.
There were some really screwy breakdowns, including some miscommunication on pick-and-roll coverages, and the Lakers were again too loose on the defensive glass (albeit against a very good rebounding Minnesota squad), allowing 18 ORB's leading to 21 second-chance points. But overall, the product was pretty good. The Wolves were held to just 40.2 percent shooting as a group, a number boosted a little down the stretch when the Lakers let Minnesota shoot and were just trying to avoid fouls. Kevin Love scored 27 points but needed 24 shots to do it. Not a major problem. The Lakers had 7 steals, and more importantly blocked a whopping 12 shots. That's a lot of balls never making it to the rim.