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Sunday, December 19, 2010
Lakers 120, Raptors 110: At the buzzer

By Andy Kamenetzky

Before the game, I mentioned concerns about a sloppy, unfocused effort from the Lakers as everyone is ready for a trip back to L.A. Didn't take long for this game to move along before my concerns were validated. Am I 100 percent sure thoughts of home were the primary cause for distraction? No, but the timing is certainly suspect. Shannon Brown even told KCAL's John Ireland in his televised postgame interview he was eager "to get back to that great weather."

Is the joke on him or what?

But hey, the Lakers did go home with the W and a 5-1 road clip, right? It's about the final result, not style. Which is nice, because aesthetics were often lacking.

Three good

Bench
Typically speaking, performing outside your own turf can be tough sledding for bench units. Reserves often feed off the energy of a crowd, a task made more difficult on the road with the patrons not on your side. More often than not, the starters will be counted on to provide the biggest push, especially in the final game of a long roadie. But a generally sloppy and careless tone set by the starters -- everyone had their individual moments, but the work in tandem left something to be desired -- prevented any luxury of relying on the first five. Thankfully, they didn't bother trying.

Phil Jackson opted to go five deep down his bench looking for a spark, and wasn't let down for his faith. Fifty-seven points as a collective, and each member of the pine crew continually found ways to make big plays and reestablish separation after a series of unsettling Toronto runs.

Andrew Bynum led all Lakers reserves with 16 points, half of which were accrued at the line. His explosiveness and timing isn't quite back, evidenced by a lack of ability to finish while fouled. But the activity was fantastic. Throw in seven rebounds and this was definitely the best Drew has looked since returning from injury.

Speaking of "best games so far," Luke Walton also enjoyed his best effort of this season. A few wonky passes aside (he probably didn't want to feel left out), it was a well-rounded showing on both sides of the ball. He even made hay twice in transition, the first time taking a rebound coast-to-coast. Without question, the sequences were more a damning indictment of Toronto's transition defense than a sign of Luke discovering his inner Russell Westbrook. But Walton enjoys plays at the same rate of a lunar eclipse, so we'll allow him to drink in the glory.

As for the Killer Bee's, Matt Barnes, Steve Blake and Shannon Brown are core counted on to be catalysts, and all three answered the bell. Fourteen points from Shannon, plus a spectacular block from behind on Leandro Barbosa to wipe out a turnover from Walton. Barnes snagged nine rebounds, indicative of the non-stop energy we've come to expect. The dozen points were also a plus. Blake drained a pair of treys and shook off a sluggish first half to help fuel a second half rally.

Games like these remind you what a luxury it is to have a quality bench, and the Lakers do in fact possess one.

Ron Artest's early offense
I realize I'm starting to stretch a bit at entry No. 2, but like I said, this wasn't the best of contests for the Lakers. Liberties are needed to fill space. But all joking aside, I did like seeing Artest, a player whose offensive struggles have been well-documented, get going early. Ron got the ball rolling with a long two just inside the arc, but also found success bulldozing his way to the rack. Six first quarter points, plus a nice play teaming up with Derek Fisher to trap Jose Calderon into a turnover.

Artest didn't get on the board again, or even do much afterward, but I think early success will help build confidence and snap this slump. Along those lines, his opening minutes pleased me.

Overall offense

I'm not saying it's a ginormous accomplishment, considering the hosts aren't exactly known for their ferocious lock down. And the prolific output featured as many terrible sequences as highlight reel worthy moments. But bottom line: 52 percent shooting and 120 points is 52 percent shooting and 120 points. Hard to complain too much ... especially with so much else to legitimately gripe about.

Three bad



Turnovers
Six in the first quarter alone made clear a game of careful care wasn't in the works. Seventeen after the final buzzer confirmed this. With five turnovers, Lamar Odom was especially sloppy with the ball early one, coughing it up three times in the opening 12 minutes alone. But most everybody got into the act, and typically, the gaffes weren't of the "forced" variety. Self-induced mistakes drive coaches insane, and I have to imagine tomorrow's film session will include much of the phrase, "[Insert a Laker], you know that was a pretty stupid pass, right?"

Second half defense
The Raptors consumed halftime Gatorade and orange slices while sitting on a meager 41.9 shooting percentage from the field. They ended the game with a 47.1 clip. You don't need to be a mathemagenius to know this indicates a final 24 minutes of defense on the slacker side. DeMar DerRozan grew up in L.A. and was allowed the privilege after intermission of lighting up the team of his youth. Twenty points in the third quarter, with just three inside the arc. And beyond the Compton native, there was too many easy looks allowed, whether off drive-and-kicks or in transition.

Focus
With everything previously mentioned, is it surprising to learn the Lakers didn't exactly exhibit the most dialed in of body language? The newly acquired and activated Joe Smith expressed a lot of excitement in the KCAL pregame show about joining the Lakers, and seemed itching to get some run. This should have been a game where he made his debut. Instead, he'll have to wait for Tuesday against the Bucks, which doesn't offer nearly the same opportunity on paper for a newbie.