The Lakers finally checked a notch in the win column Tuesday after going o'fer in new coach Mike Brown's first four games on the sidelines (two preseason, two regular season) and Pau Gasol put an end to a longer and just as dubious streak in the process.
Gasol scored 22 points, which may not seem like a tremendous total for a four time All-Star with a career scoring average of 18.8 points per game, but it had been a while since Gasol topped the 20-point plateau while wearing a Lakers uniform. You have to go all the way back to April 10 against Oklahoma City for the last time Gasol did it, which was 15 games ago (five regular season, 10 playoffs) for the Lakers. Gasol scored 26 in a loss against the Thunder. You have to go back even further for the last time he scored 20 in a win, 22 games to be precise, when Gasol went for 20 when Los Angeles beat Dallas on March 31st.
"[I was] just trying to be more active," said Gasol who had totals of 14 and 15 points in L.A.'s two losses to start the season. "Trying to make myself more available to my teammates and then just attack. I have to get more to the line like I did tonight and just be aggressive. Obviously they might throw different coverages here and there, but I just need to continue to be more aggressive and it pays off."
Gasol went 10-for-12 from the free throw line and shook off any discomfort he felt in his right shoulder after mildly spraining in while fighting through a screen Sunday against Chicago.
"It still bothers me a little bit, but it felt better [Tuesday] than it did [Monday] and it seems like it’s under control," Gasol said.
Now, the leaders of the Lakers' team -- Brown and Kobe Bryant -- would like to see Gasol take control more often.
"He has to. He has to," said Bryant who should know something about it after scoring 26 against Utah, his third straight game of 25-plus points while playing with a torn ligament in his right wrist. "He’s got to do it. He’s got to be aggressive. He’s got to take shots. We want to keep coming to him. He’s just got to look to score."
Brown said Gasol is a facilitator by nature from years of the Spanish National Team running its offense through Gasol in the post, and he even called Gasol's passing game "off the charts" for the three assists he picked up against Sacramento, but he'll certainly take the scoring version of the big man.
"He was very aggressive and we need that aggression out of him," Brown said.
Gasol was just as effective on defense, picking up five blocks and harassing Utah's Al Jefferson into a 2-for-16 shooting night.
"It gives me more confidence," Gasol said. "It gives me a path to follow and it feels good play at the level that you know you’re capable of playing and you’ve been playing for a long time. Now it seems to me that I found a good path and I just got to stick to it."
Gasol wasn't the only player to break out on offense for L.A.
Metta World Peace finished with 14 points, giving him 33 points on 13-for-23 shooting in his last two games after going for just four points on 2-for-6 shooting in the season opener.
"I think Metta is starting to show you what his value can be with that second unit, not only as a scorer but a couple times when I watch that second unit, I think they’re UCLA or something like that because at the free throw line, Metta is calling them together and they have their little college huddle going on and then they break and then they go play great defense," Brown said. "So, Metta is taking on a leadership role with that second unit. He’s showing the ability to score, which is what we need from him with the bench we have."
World Peace seemed touched to hear Brown compliment his leadership abilities, but called Steve Blake the true leader of the second unit, adding "I just try to help out as much as I can."
He helped Lakers fans out of their seats with 4:06 remaining in the second quarter when he threw down a one-handed hammer dunk to put L.A. up by 13.
"That took all my energy," World Peace said with a smile. "I won’t be doing that again."
World Peace playing the backup small forward and Devin Ebanks starting at the 3 has squeezed Matt Barnes out of the rotation. The feisty veteran has played just 13 minutes on the year -- all in the second half against Sacramento -- and picked up DNP-CDs in the Lakers' other two games.
The Lakers listed Barnes as probable for Tuesday's game, citing hip bursitis, but Barnes said "I'm fine, I'm healthy," in the locker room afterward.
Barnes declined comment when asked about the fans starting a loud "We want Barnes!" chant with 4:45 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Lakers up by 25.
It was fitting that Brown's first win as Lakers coach came from such a strong defensive effort seeing as he spent twice as much time in training camp on defense than he did on offense.
The Lakers held the Jazz to just 29-for-90 shooting (32.2 percent) for the game and in their last six quarters at home, dating back to the second half against Chicago, have held teams to just 41-for-148 from the field.
"I thought our guys obviously did a really nice job defensively. They came out and really set the tone for the game on that end of the floor," said Brown. "To hold a team to 32 percent and 71 points in an NBA game, I don’t care who you’re playing, you’re doing something right on that end of the floor."
The Lakers earned a well-deserved day off Wednesday after having a practice (sometimes two-a-days), game or scrimmage for 19 straight days under Brown dating back to the opening of training camp on Dec. 9. For some players, the uninterrupted work day streak dated back even longer to Dec. 1 when NBA facilities first opened up to players after the lockout was lifted.
"The guys are going to get their first day off," Brown said. "I guess that’s a good sign for them to be able to relax a little bit. Fish [Derek Fisher] brought up a good point to our group, telling them that, 'Hey, take tomorrow to relax, recuperate and get your bodies right but also make sure you’re starting to mentally get prepared for our next game,' which is the Knicks."
The good times might be just beginning for the Lakers, who will receive Andrew Bynum back in the lineup on Dec. 31st against Denver after he serves the final part of his four-game suspension against New York.
"I think we can win without him," Brown said. "Now, would I like to go the whole year and the playoffs without him? Heck no. I don’t want to do that."
Brown said Bynum needs to be there to give the Lakers their identity.
"When you look at those two skilled 7-footers, that’s what differentiates this team, in my opinion, from the rest of the league," Brown said. "Now, on top of those two 7-footers, you have Kobe Bryant, who, when the game is tight, he can go win it for you."
Required reading: Brown and the Miami Heat's Erik Spoelstra have a lot in common, from playing against one another in college in the West Coast Conference to both having coached LeBron James.
Where the pair differs is in patience in how long they were allowing their team to come together before they expect results.
Jason Kapono got his first playing time of the season, jumping ahead of Andrew Goudelock as Bryant's backup and scoring five points on 2-for-6 shooting in 17 minutes.
Kapono spoke about the challenge of staying ready on Monday in Sacramento.
"As a player, you’re paid to be ready to play no matter what coach tells you," he said. "No matter what, you just expect to play because it’s pretty hard to go into a game thinking that you’re not going to play and then having to slip the switch. So, if you stay on top of it and get ready for a game to play, then if you don’t play, then fine. You swallow it and move on to the next game."
Quote of the day: "We should be 3-0 right now. My goodness." -- World Peace, lamenting how the Lakers blew an 11-point fourth quarter lead against Chicago and lost by nine in Sacramento after cutting the Kings' lead to just two points with 4:24 remaining.
Stats of the night: The Lakers are 20-4 all-time against the Jazz at Staples Center ... A night after the Lakers went 1-for-16 on 3-pointers, they held Utah to 1-for-13 from 3 ... L.A. shot 37 free throws to the Jazz's 17 ... Troy Murphy had a very Dennis Rodman-like line of 11 rebounds, six fouls and zero points in 32 minutes ... My Twitter account, @mcten, surpassed 10,000 followers during Tuesday's game. Thanks, guys.