It was easy, then it wasn't, then it was, then it wasn't. In other words, it was a typical Lakers game. Just as it was Saturday against the Hornets, the Lakers made a game against weak competition a lot more dangerous than anyone would have liked, but again came out with a win.
It was highlighted by strong nights from Kobe Bryant, Ramon Sessions, and Pau Gasol, but marred by an ankle injury to Andrew Bynum, and more defensive problems.
Here are six takeaways...
1. Kobe Bryant bounced back.
Saturday's 3-of-21 shooting performance against New Orleans was the most egregious, but in reality Bryant has slumped from the floor for most of the last two months. He copped yesterday to some fatigue -- no surprise given the compressed schedule and his ultra heavy workload -- so it was good to see him come out and not only light up the Warriors from the get go, but sustain the quality stroke throughout the game. He finished the first quarter with six makes in 11 tries, was 5-of-8 in the third, and 3-of-5 over the final 12.
His shot was working from the perimeter, in isolation, on the elbow, and basically anywhere else he wanted it en route to 40 points. Add in five assists, including a couple stellar deliveries inside to Gasol, and it was an encouraging night.
2. Andrew Bynum's health is again a concern.
With about two minutes to play in the first quarter, Bynum turned his left ankle inwards underneath Golden State's bucket. He quickly (figuratively, not literally) went to the sidelines and after conferring with Gary Vitti proceeded to the locker room. Bynum received x-rays, which were negative, and was diagnosed with a moderate sprain. He'll be re-evaluated Monday.
Bynum's impact on Sunday's game was minimal -- no points, three rebounds -- and to say the least he's become something of a controversial figure around these parts, but make no mistake: The Lakers can't win without him. They can get by for a few games, though it would likely push Gasol's minutes up to about 59 a night, but anything long term would be a killer. No reason to believe at this point the damage is substantial, but any appearance of "Bynum" and "injury" in the same sentence rightly gives locals the willies.
3. The Lakers still don't put lesser competition away...
The Lakers were sluggish early, unable to put much of a gap between themselves and a game Warriors team. At the end of the first, L.A. led only by one. But in the second, with a layup from Bryant at the 3:08 mark, the Lakers went up nine as part of a 16-6 run. By the half, the lead was down to three, and would have been one if not for the jets of Sessions (see below). The Lakers played a very focused, third quarter, outscoring Golden State 32-22 and building a 15 point lead. By the seven minute mark of the fourth, that lead was down to one.
The Lakers did restore some order, making a quick push to extend the lead back to double digits, but again allowed Golden State to get within one possession in the final minutes. It's another example of a trend that has dogged the Lakers all year. Saturday, it almost cost them a game against the worst team in the conference. Sunday's margin wasn't quite so thin (they never gave up the lead), but was still far too close for comfort.
4. ...because the defense is still struggling.
The Lakers don't post 120 points very often. When they do, they should win going away, even against a good offensive team like Golden State. Sunday, they weren't nearly solid enough. Chalk up some of it to the absence of Bynum, who obviously makes a massive difference in the paint, where the Warriors chalked up 42 points despite not having any real post players to speak of. Troy Murphy did his best and was effective on the glass (11 rebounds), but he's not exactly a rim protector. Having him on the floor with Josh McRoberts hasn't been the norm, and the lack of continuity showed.
The Lakers also struggled defending the 3-point line. Richard Jefferson was left open too often and punished the Lakers, hitting all four of his attempts from distance. Nate Robinson, not exactly a deadeye shooter from beyond the arc, surprised with five triples in six tries, but the Lakers also caught a break in that Klay Thompson, a 43 percent shooter, missed six of eight.
For the night, Golden State was a hair shy of 50 percent from the floor. The Lakers have needed to tighten up for a while, and nothing about tonight changes the narrative.
4. Ramon Sessions was aggressive.
There were a couple plays neatly encapsulating what Sessions does with his speed and ability to penetrate, but the best probably came at the end of the first half. Following a free throw from Golden State's Charles Jenkins, Sessions inbounded the ball with 6.6 seconds left, got it back, channeled his inner Tyus Edney and went end to end for a layup with 1.8 to play. He was at the rack all night, as his shot chart demonstrates. Even his very rare misses were positive. In the third quarter, he attacked from the right wing, creating enough havoc in Golden State's defense that even though the layup attempt missed, nobody was there to keep Gasol off the glass. In the fourth, Sessions drove over a Josh McRoberts screen, and missed a floater. But since everyone in blue was looking at him, nobody boxed out McRoberts, who flew through the lane for a dunk.
The same aggressiveness got him to the line nine times, meaning his final line included 23 points on only 10 shots from the floor. His ball movement was also stellar, delivering the ball on time and on target for nine assists against a very manageable three turnovers.
5. With the post open, Pau Gasol took advantage.
11-of-17 from the floor for 26 points, plus 11 rebounds and six assists. Absent Bynum, Gasol was able to get down on the block for some easy points, then did some good work there with his arsenal of floaters and hooks. Add in a fairly pure jumper, and it was a strong night offensively for Gasol. The Lakers needed him to produce in a multitude of ways, and Sunday Gasol got it done.
6. In Bynum's absence, McRoberts and Troy Murphy produced.
Murphy hit a couple 3's, and had the aforementioned 11 rebounds. McRoberts' only points came on the big dunk off the Sessions miss, but he pulled down eight boards of his own and was very active. More minutes for those guys weakens the team in a multitude of ways, and neither can be expected to produce at All-Star levels, but it's not unfair to expect contributions in line with their respective skill sets. Tonight, Murphy and McRoberts delivered just that.