Los Angeles Lakers: Detroit Pistons
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- The Los Angeles Lakers came into their three-game trip with only one win away from Staples Center all season.
They'll return to L.A. with three times that many.
Not a perfect trip, but mission accomplished overall.
The Lakers went 2-1 on the jaunt, getting back above .500, at 9-8, for the first time since their opening-night victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
How it happened: L.A. took a one-point lead into halftime before the Pistons came alive in the third quarter, outscoring L.A. 32-21 to take a 10-point cushion into the fourth. The Lakers' bench unit of Jordan Farmar, Nick Young, Xavier Henry, Robert Sacre and Shawne Williams cut it to two midway through the fourth quarter, when coach Mike D'Antoni put some of his starters back in. That's when Detroit's Brandon Jennings went on a personal 6-0 run to put the Pistons back ahead by eight.
Farmar responded with five straight of his own to bring L.A. to within three points with less than three minutes left. Young found Williams in the corner to tie it with a 3-pointer, 99-99, and Farmar made a pull-up jumper with 1:25 to go to give L.A. the lead. Young and Jennings exchanged buckets and Pau Gasol made a free throw, setting up Jennings' 3-point attempt with 16.7 seconds left to try to tie the score.
Farmar was called for a foul on Jennings' release, leading to three free throws for Detroit, which needed all three to tie. Jennings missed the first two and made the third, cutting L.A.'s lead to two.
Then it was Farmar's turn to miss two free throws, setting up Pistons' possession with 15.2 seconds left, trailing by two. Rodney Stuckey missed a baseline fadeaway jumper with 8.0 seconds left, but the ball skirted out of bounds off the Lakers, setting up another chance for Detroit.
Josh Smith drove the ball in from the top of the key and Young set up to take a charge, drawing the offensive foul and giving L.A. the unorthodox game-winning defensive stop.
What it means: With Kobe Bryant seemingly close to getting back in the fold and the Lakers now winners of five of their past six games, L.A. is clearly a team with momentum on its side.
Hits: Wesley Johnson scored a season-high 27 points (two off his career high 29), shooting 9-for-11 from the field and 6-for-7 from 3 to go with 6 rebounds and 2 assists.
Williams had 20 points and nine rebounds.
Gasol had 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Steve Blake had 10 assists.
TLC was the halftime show. Yes, they're still chasing waterfalls.
Misses: A game after scoring a season-high 26 points, Young shot just 3-for-12.
Jordan Hill played just 14 minutes, collecting 2 points and 4 rebounds, before suffering a sprained left ankle.
Chris Kaman did not play for the fifth straight game, with the past three coming by coach's decision.
Stat of the game: The rest of the Lakers other than Johnson shot a combined 27-for-69 (39.1 percent).
Up next: The Lakers head back home with an off day Saturday followed by a home game Sunday against the red-hot Portland Trail Blazers (13-3). The Portland game is followed by an important week in terms of Bryant's comeback status. L.A. has no games from Monday until Friday night, and Bryant said he planned to use the week of practice to ramp up toward a return.
“The play needs to be reviewed because he definitely threw a punch,” Knight told reporters after the game. “It felt like he threw a punch. That’s why I reacted the way I did.
“The play was over and he grabbed me around the neck. If someone grabs you around the neck, you’re not just going to let that happen. You do what you need to get that person off you.”
World Peace and Knight tussled under the hoop with 1:43 remaining in the second quarter while going for the rebound after Greg Monroe was called for a shooting foul on a shot attempt by Pau Gasol. Play was stopped and an official timeout was signaled so the referees could assess the situation, no doubt bearing in mind the “Malice at the Palace” incident that World Peace was involved in as a member of the Indiana Pacers in 2004.
"He's a small guy," World Peace said after finishing with eight points and nine rebounds in the win. "(Knight) was trying his hardest to keep me off him. He worked hard, man. That kid, I don't know where he's from, I don't know what school he went to, because he was guarding me and I was crashing the boards. He's a tough kid, man. He tried to keep me off the glass and he did a good job. That's all I can say. He's a tough kid, very great. He's a tough point guard or shooting guard or whatever he is."
It was the first flagrant foul of the season for the sometimes volatile World Peace, who was suspended for seven games last season for an elbow to the head of Houston Rockets swingman James Harden, who was playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder at the time.
"They got tangled up and they determined that he was a little bit more aggressive than the other other guy," said Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni. "It happens."
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Mike D'Antoni stared idly out onto the court where Steve Nash was putting up jumpers at the end of practice Saturday and muttered, almost wistfully, "You know, these are the games that he never lets us lose."
He was referring to the Lakers' game against the decidedly sub-.500 Detroit Pistons, remarking that the guy who won two MVPs under his watch in their days in Phoenix together does whatever it takes to make sure his team takes care of business.
There have been very few easy games for the Lakers this season; even recent wins against cellar dwellers like New Orleans and Minnesota became nail-biters because of poor execution down the stretch.
On Sunday, Nash did his part with 11 points, 10 assists, a clutch jumper with just more than three minutes remaining to double L.A.'s lead from two to four and later a defensive rebound with 2.7 seconds left that should have sealed the game as he went to the foul line. But the man who missed two foul shots in 41 attempts all season long inexplicably went 0-for-2 from the line.
No, this was more of a survivor win as a collective unit than Nash leading them to the promised land.
It might never be as easy as D'Antoni simply having faith in Nash to rally the troops, but the Lakers simply have to win games by any means necessary these days.
If it's ugly, so be it.
How it happened: For the fourth straight game, the Lakers ran out to a double-digit lead with relative ease and for the fourth straight game, they saw that lead disappear faster than a magician's assistant. The Lakers led by as many as 18 in the third quarter, but Detroit came all the way back to tie it in the fourth. Four straight missed free throws from the Lakers in the final minute gave Detroit a chance, but Kyle Singler couldn't convert an inbounds alley-oop to Andre Drummond at the buzzer and L.A. held on.
What it means: Pau Gasol can still play like an All-Star when he's featured like an All-Star. Gasol started at center with Dwight Howard sidelined with his shoulder injury for the second straight game and filled in quite nicely, following up his 22 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks against Minnesota with 23 and 10 against Detroit. For a guy who has struggled to find a rhythm all season long, Gasol must be engaged over the final 34 games as L.A. tries to turn its 22-26 record into a playoff-qualifying mark.
Hits: Kobe Bryant had the dual plays of the game with a nasty dunk on Brandon Knight in transition and a crucial and-1 layup late to help fend off the Pistons.
Misses: After grabbing the defensive rebound following a frantic possession by Detroit in the final minute, Earl Clark (17 points, 10 rebounds) was put on the foul line with a chance to extend L.A.'s one-point lead to three and boinked both.
Metta World Peace was called for a flagrant foul for tying up Pistons guard Knight in a headlock in the first half. It was a charged moment at The Palace as the Detroit fans have no doubt remembered what happened when World Peace came to town with the Indiana Pacers in 2004, but thankfully, it didn't escalate from there.
Stat of the night: The Lakers had just 0.4 seconds left on the clock before halftime when Bryant connected with Clark for an inbounds alley-oop dunk that put L.A. up 62-51 heading into the locker room, bringing back fond memories of Derek Fisher vs. the San Antonio Spurs.
What's next: L.A. has gotten its road trip back on track, going 2-1 through the soft part of the seven-game jaunt. Now the Lakers travel to New York City to play the Brooklyn Nets for the first time since they moved from New Jersey, followed by a rivalry game against the leaving-it-all-out-there-without-Rajon Rondo Boston Celtics, a game in Charlotte where the Bobcats always play them tough and finish it off with a game against the defending champs in the Miami Heat.
They're having about as much luck holding on to double-digit leads late in ballgames these days as kids have grabbing on to greased pigs at the county fair.
An 18-point lead against New Orleans was cut all the way to one before L.A. held on to win by five. A 13-point lead against Phoenix was completely erased and then some as the Suns made a fourth-quarter comeback to win by six. A 29-point first half lead against Minnesota was whittled all the way down to four before the Lakers woke up and went on to win by 11.
Why has it been happening?
"I think the biggest thing is, and we talked about it, we have a habit when we’re scoring easily to let down defensively," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said after practice Saturday. "That’s kind of a universal thing, it’s not just us, but instead of being up 20-25 [points] and knocking them out, you’re only up 12 or so."
Kobe Bryant blamed only one of the lapses on the Lakers and credited their opponents for the other two.
So those are the additional stakes in play as the Lakers try to get off the schneid: My ability to continue living in Los Angeles County.
For more perspective on the Pistons, I sent five questions to Patrick Hayes, who covers the team for the TrueHoop network's Piston Powered blog.
Land O' Lakers: With the season now underway, what have been your biggest takeaways of the Pistons? Do you think they have any ability to surprise this year?
Patrick Hayes: The Pistons appear to be taking advantage of all of the youth on the roster by looking to run more on offense after being one of the slowest-paced teams in the league the past three seasons or so. In the season opener against Houston, although the defense was bad, the Pistons did come up with 12 steals, which helped their transition game. Most of the players on the roster will never be confused with good defenders, but they do have a lot of length, even at the guard position, and quickness, so being disruptive in passing lanes could be a new skill displayed this season.
As far as ability to surprise, I'm not convinced. I think they'll be improved and more fun to watch, but I don't necessarily think that will automatically lead to more wins. They'll be in the conversation, along with three or four other teams, for the final playoff spot in the East if everything goes perfectly. My guess, though, is 30-35 wins.
With the Lakers now boasting among the splashiest starting fives in league history, naysayers are quick to cite the 2004 Lakers as a worst-case scenario.
Three members of the last big four in L.A.
The comparison is inevitable, but also lazy. Yes, there are commonalities. Both teams featured four big names, each of which is a lock or near-lock for the Hall of Fame. Both teams were built by Mitch Kupchak and the Buss family with the blueprint of "championship or bust." But a deeper look makes it pretty obvious that there are massive differences. Most negatives surrounding the 2004 squad were part of a specific backstory, one not shared by the 2012 team. Below are four huge factors favoring the 2012 big four.
1. The coach and players are on better terms.
The discord between Kobe and Phil has been documented to death by now, most famously in "The Last Season," Jackson's diary of the tumultuous 2004 season. (Ironically, Phil was prompted to return in part to amend his largely negative portrayal of Kobe.) But the Mamba wasn't the only player failing to see eye to eye with The Zen Master. Payton sulked over his role in the triangle, and The Glove was often a tough customer when happy as a clam, never mind when he was surly. Those misgivings spilled onto the court and resulted in a watered-down version of Payton.
This year's incarnation, however, features no such conflicts. That's not to say everyone has bought into Mike Brown, no questions asked. Some prominent holdovers, notably Kobe, Gasol and Metta World Peace, expressed skepticism about their new coach throughout 2012, and I imagine Brown still hasn't truly proven himself. However, there's a difference between disenchantment and defiance, and the player who openly chafed most at Brown's authority -- Andrew Bynum -- is now the starting center in Philadelphia. Players and coach may still be feeling each other out, but outright hostility doesn't appear to be looming.
For the inside track on the Wizards, we tracked down Kyle Weidie, who runs Truth About It for the True Hoop Network. Here are his responses to four question about D.C.'s squad.
These two don't make for a quality frontcourt or taco.
Kyle Weidie: Building around a guy like John Wall requires long distance shot makers, and seeing as the Wizards have an NBA-5th worst eFG% of 46.1, team management hasn't provided their franchise face what he needs. This area hasn't been addressed through the draft in years, and veterans like Rashard Lewis, Roger Mason and Mo Evans aren't cutting it. Nick Young, who leads the Wizards with 38.2 percent three-point shooting, hijacks too many possessions for an ideal spot-up partner.
Washington's other glaring need is an offensive block player. The Wizards are desperate for an intelligent, space-eating player to run the half-court offense from the post. I'm not sure who thought JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche could form a united frontcourt tandem. The two mix as well as a cottage cheese, jellybean and raw herring taco.
Lakers lose, 88-85 in OT. We break it down, including:
- A monster game inside from Andrew Bynum, and strong work as well from Pau Gasol.
- Tough sledding for Kobe Bryant, who finished 8-of-26 from the floor.
- Why the Lakers were so unproductive offensively, losing on a night where they held the Pistons to 78 points in regulation. Certainly 13 points from players not named Bynum, Gasol, or Bryant didn't help.
All of this, plus the cat!
Even had the Lakers won, there would have been very little to like. In a loss, there's even less.
Here are four takeaways:
1. Andrew Bynum was the best player on the floor.
Andrew Bynum was a beast Tuesday in Detroit. The result for Lakers was beastly.
In overtime, he scored the team's first four points, moving well away from the ball to take nice deliveries from Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol for buckets at the rim. Bynum demanded attention from the Pistons the entire night. Unfortunately, he didn't get the ball enough to make Detroit pay, particularly as overtime wore on.
Instead, as it too often did during the game, L.A.'s offense drifted toward the perimeter. It's a shame such a dominant performance from their All-Star center went wasted.
2. The Lakers' defense was strong.
After the game, Lakers coach Mike Brown was irritated by the work they did on Rodney Stuckey, who scored 34 points and found his way to the rim with regularity. They also had trouble securing the boards, allowing multiple second and third opportunities. But overall, the Lakers held Detroit to less than 40 percent from the floor, put a lid on Greg Monroe (two points, 1-of-10 shooting) and held the Pistons to 78 points in regulation. Gasol and Bynum used their length well, altering countless shots. In the half court, particularly, Detroit struggled to score. Were there breakdowns? Sure, particularly in transition, but this is the NBA. Teams are going to score sometimes. Overall, these are numbers that should have the Lakers winning by 15. Instead, they struggled to get into overtime, and then lost in the extra period.
3. The Lakers' offense was not strong.
Not that there weren't solid individual performances other than Bynum. Gasol put up a tidy 20 points to go with 10 rebounds, and he was excellent as a facilitator as well, completing three lobs to teammates en route to six assists. (He did, however, turn the ball over late attempting a behind-the-back pass to Bynum, then passed up on a jumper and/or lob opportunity for Bynum, instead passing to Metta World Peace on the perimeter. Some nice plays in OT helped take the sting away.) But overall, against a subpar defensive team, the Lakers were too easily shut down, unable to press their advantage in the post as consistently as they should, in part because they couldn't (and occasionally wouldn't) put the ball down low.
A lot of the blame goes to outside shooting, which was poor. The Lakers hit only 13 percent of their 3-pointers, missing 19 of 22. Shot selection was a problem, and turnovers hurt them at times, as well.
Kobe Bryant was only 8-of-26 from the floor and struggled all night with his jumper (in either of the two masks he wore), more than a few of which sent the Pistons the other way for good looks at the rim. He did stick a huge shot at the buzzer to send the game to OT, but Bryant took a questionable shots in the extra period and overall was a negative factor offensively. His 22 points on 26 shots is flat out bad, particularly when Bynum and Gasol are so dominant down low. But on any given night, when two of the big three play well, it should be enough. Particularly against a team like Detroit, particularly when they hold the opposition to less than 80 points in regulation.
Which brings me to ...
4. Tuesday's game was the embodiment of everything lacking in L.A.'s supporting cast, offensively.
Metta World Peace picked up a late steal and bucket, which was nice, but it was half of his output on the night and represented 15 percent of the points scored by anyone other than Bryant, Bynum and Gasol. Thirteen points from six players, five of whom played more than 20 minutes on the night. That's awful. Metta's run of solid contributions offensively ended, and nobody (save perhaps Andrew Goudelock, who scored five points in 10 minutes) did anything.
If the Lakers are going to win with regularity, this can't happen, which points to the need for management to shore up the supporting cast if the Lakers are going to make a championship run this season. It is, to say the least, acute.
Words won't be minced. The Pistons are a bad team. Yes, second year center Greg Monroe --who could receive Most Improved Player of the Year votes -- and rookie point guard Brandon Knight could emerge a foundation worth building around. But unless they can jump forward in time five or so years, gain seasoning and veteran savvy, then go back to March 6, 2012 to stop the Lakers (like "The Terminator," but with basketball), they can only elevate a crummy Detroit squad so much. The Lakers are a far superior team, which makes this a game that should feature 5-10 minutes of garbage time from Devin Ebanks, Jason Kapono, Josh McRoberts, and Luke Walton.
Then again, being so outmatched, in its own right, makes the Pistons potentially dangerous. The Lakers are coming off a victory against Miami, which makes a battle in Detroit feel anticlimactic by comparison. The game should be pretty one-sided, but those expectations could turn this into a legitimate game. A sham will do just nicely, thank you very much.
The Piston cannot stop Hamed Haddadi. They can only hope to contain him.
Land O' Lakers: I realize there are many to choose from, but if you had to put your finger on the single biggest reason the Pistons are struggling so mightily this season, what would it be?
Patrick Hayes: Yeesh ... like you said, tough question. I'll go simply with defense, though. Heading into the season, the reality was everyone knew the roster had major deficiencies. Lawrence Frank has done a good job with restoring some semblance of locker room harmony and he's given young players Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey and Jonas Jerebko plenty of minutes, but with Frank's defensive pedigree, I hoped the Pistons would be more competitive at that end of the floor sooner. There are many games where opponents simply do whatever they want offensively with no resistance.
For Raptors forward Amir Johnson, who grew up mainly in East L.A., but also Harbor City and Watts, being an athlete came naturally. The game of basketball itself, however, required work, and getting his high school into gear took even more. His freshman year was split at two schools (Pacific Hills, Narbonne), neither of which featured him on the court. From there, he enrolled in Verbum Dei, where he enjoyed a solid inaugural season of high school ball. He then transferred to powerhouse Westchester -- famous for producing, among others Trevor Ariza -- but allegations of recruitment violations resulted in a 2004 postseason ban. Johnson was also forced to sit out his junior year.
That left Johnson making up for lost time during his senior year, but he made the most of it. California's Mr. Basketball. A state title in 2005. And a strong enough showing that, despite still operating at a raw level, he got drafted straight out high school in the second round of the 2005 draft by the Detroit Pistons.
Amir Johnson's high school career featured turbulence, but ended with a state championship at Westchester in 2005.
Andy Kamenetzky: Which parks did you play at regularly growing up?
Amir Johnson: I actually played in a church league. It was a Baptist church in Inglewood. My mother and my father [signed me up]. I wasn't really into basketball like that. My first sport was track. I was a good track and fielder and I was really into it. I kind of got into [basketball] a little bit more and more.
AK: I imagine a church league atmosphere is different than a park or a rec center court.
Johnson: I just wanted to play. I just wanted to have fun. I was just a kid, just running around. I didn't really know how to play the game. I was bouncing the ball, then shooting around. It was fun for me.
AK: When did you first start taking it seriously?
Johnson: I was about 12 years old. My father started putting me in a lot of travel leagues. That's when I started learning the game a little bit more. My first travel league team was [with] ARC. That's when I first started getting into it a little more.
AK: Was there anybody on that team who either made it to the pros or played at a high level in college?
Johnson: Mike Mercer. He was pretty good. I think he made it to the pros.(AK's note: Mercer never reached the NBA, but has played in Canada.) Bryce Taylor. He was on the team. There was a couple of other guys, they're overseas now.
We traveled down to Florida. There was a big tournament, I think we made it to fourth place or third place. There were, like, 100 teams.
AK: You sat out your freshman year at Pacific Hills because of academic eligibility issues, correct?
Johnson: I wasn't really academically ineligible at Pacific Hills. It was mainly I transferred schools because of our travel. We couldn't get there because it was so far from where we lived. I was with the JV team back then. I felt like, because I'd been playing travel ball, I was ready for the next level. So I kind of went to a different school after that my ninth grade year.
I finished out my ninth grade year at Narbonne High School and that's when my grades started to go downhill. Then I transferred to Verbum Dei. My grades went up and I finished out my tenth grade year there. I was more focused. There was no distractions. I focused on my grades and my game and it helped a lot.
AK: Could you feel yourself growing as a player at Verbum Dei, even with just one year of high school ball?
Johnson: Absolutely. I guess I had some people come see me play and they thought I had talent. There were coaches that helped me work on my game. It felt like I was getting better and I could get pretty good, so I listened to whatever the coaches had to say and I worked on it.
AK: What kind of player were you at that stage?
Johnson: I knew I could run and jump. That was the only thing. I was just, like, a major athlete. Run the floor. Catch the ball. That's pretty much where I was standing. I had to work on my skills. I had a soft touch, [but] I didn't have no jump shot. I had to work on that stuff. I was definitely an athlete.
The Lakers unquestionably needed a good game and got one, but more chatter postgame was centered first around Kobe Bryant, who passed Dominique Wilkins for 10th on the NBA's all-time scoring list. Then, it was back to Artest, Phil Jackson, and their confrontation during a recent practice. We heard from both Jackson and Artest before the game, with Jackson downplaying the significance of the event and Artest avoiding any details about what happened until he spoke first to Jackson. Artest did express some hurt the story made it to the media, repeatedly emphasizing how important it is to him his fairly new reputation as a good teammate and citizen stay intact.
You can read the story, here.
After the game, I asked Jackson what it said that Artest felt it so important to go him before talking to us, and later in the clip below P.J. addresses the question of how and why events such as this- an incident they'd have preferred stay behind the El Segundo Curtain- get out.
Artest, Jackson suspects, "feels probably betrayed" by someone saying something to the media.
Click below for more videos, including Jackson, Bryant, Odom, Gasol, and Bynum.
The third category is how I'd peg a fall to the 11-23 Pistons (playing the second end of a back-to-back) on Lakers soil. Frankly, anything short of a decisive trouncing, even acknowledging the Lakers' funk, would be disappointing. But a loss would leave them staring up at rock bottom.
For a quick look at the Pistons, who are struggling on a multitude of levels, we turned to Patrick Hayes of the TrueHoop Network's PistonPowered blog.
Whatever "Q" is saying to Rodney Stuckey, chances are the point guard didn't appreciate it.
Q: Detroit has lost 14 of 21 since the Lakers left town on Nov. 17. What is the recipe for a winning game from Detroit? Is there a specific player or combination you see as critical for the Pistons to have a shot at upsetting the Lakers?
Patrick Hayes: The Pistons' locker room issues seem to be affecting the on-the-court chemistry. Rip Hamilton recently lost his starting spot to Ben Gordon and was not particularly happy about it. Gordon and Charlie Villanueva hinted strongly that the coaching staff does a poor job of making in-game adjustments. John Kuester (understandably) didn't exactly appreciate that. Tayshaun Prince and Rodney Stuckey have had public disagreements with Kuester this season as well.
But just when the Pistons look as though they're going to completely pack in the rest of the season, they tantalize with really efficient stretches of competent play against good teams. They beat Boston and Atlanta rather convincingly. They were leading Oklahoma City most of the game before blowing a lead in the final minutes. They've had two heartbreaking losses to Chicago in games when big leads were lost, and they played very well against Utah last night.
Reasons for Lakers fans to be optimistic, however, are abundant. The Pistons have routinely followed good performances with bad ones. Opposing bigs, even mediocre ones, have been able to get whatever they want this season against Detroit's small front line, and the Lakers certainly have far from a mediocre frontcourt, so Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and/or Andrew Bynum all should have big games if L.A. is focused on getting them touches. (Odom and Gasol combined for 40 points and 26 boards the first time the teams played.)
The Pistons are is a jump-shooting team, so if more than one of their scorers (Hamilton, Gordon, Prince, Stuckey, Villanueva) has an off night, they can't generate enough offense to beat a team like the Lakers. They'll get virtually no scoring from frontcourt rotation players Ben Wallace and Jason Maxiell, but when the guards are active and shoot the ball well, they are competitive. Also, Tracy McGrady looks healthier than he has in years. He's not explosive anymore and won't attack the basket, but he's rapidly become Detroit's best point guard. The offense has run really smoothly two of the past three games with him starting in place of Stuckey, who was out with an illness.
AK: As I noted in my Week in Preview, T-Mac at the 1 is a subplot I'm quite interested to watch play out.
From here, I offer two elements specifically regarding the Lakers. At the risk of sounding like a team whose games don't mean as much to it as its opponents' games, this contest really is more about the two-time defending champs than the Pistons.
Read Andy's postgame report here, and relive it all through the Lakers Live! replay. Below is Wednesday's Lakers Late Night replay, in which we touch on...
-A game that wasn't nearly as close as the score would indicate, and the score indicated it wasn't that close.
-An easy, breezy 33 points for Kobe Bryant, part of a blueprint night for the Lakers as a whole, when it comes to how to deal with weak teams. No starter hit the 33 minute mark, a major boon particularly for Pau Gasol.
-Season ending knee surgery for Greg Oden, and how it impacts the Western Conference.
-Friday's game in Minnesota. Will the Lakers put on a better show than they did when the teams met at Staples? (Yes, they will)
Plus, where "Sashapova" stand in the NBA Power Couple pecking order now that Tony Parker and Eva Longoria are apparently getting divorced, and Andy's pride in having once dated a tall woman.
Wasting little time bumping their cushion to a dozen points, the Lakers worked on both sides of the ball to render the Pistons an ineffective challenger. As is typically the case, Kobe Bryant lent a hand with the scoring duties, leading all players with 28 points. Not just content to simply shred Detroit's defense, Kobe also messed up their offense, swiping the ball five times and laying the foundation for 22 homegrown turnovers. Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol grabbed ten and eleven boards respectively, the latter good for his seventh consecutive double-double. Even Andrew Bynum, whose recent funk has been anything but the kind that gets one on their feet and dancing, got into the act. 5-5 from the field (16 points), seven boards, a trio of blocks, and most importantly, a decided uptick in the energy department. The only down note: A fourth quarter where the reserve unit's sloppy play required Kobe, Pau and Ron Artest to shift from "ice down" to "suit up" mode, which displeased both Phil Jackson and Lamar Odom.
MORE LAKERS NEWS
- If Phil Jackson's unwillingness to commit to coaching beyond this season is supposed to distract the Lakers, LO says try again. And harder.
- The last month or so has witnessed Jordan Farmar play some of the best, most "system obedient" ball of his Laker career. And as Forum Blue and Gold's Kurt Helin notes, that drastically alters the "potential trade bait" status Farmar owned entering this season.
- Last season, the "bridesmaid" Lakers made no secret of keeping steady tabs on Boston's progress. As "brides," however, not so much.
- Donnie Walsh has agreed to seek partners for a Nate Robinson swap. Good luck with that one, my man. CBA expert Larry Coon predicts that transaction will be easier said than done. ESPN's Chris Sheridan wonders if a buyout could be another solution.
- In the meantime, go ahead and call it a comeback, because Jonathon Bender hasn't been here for years. And is now back in the league and helping the Knicks win.
- The Mavericks are putting the system on trial, formally protesting that a tech was incorrectly assessed on Erick Dampier.
- Back when such a thing was allowed, it wasn't easy making the jump from high school to the pros, particularly as a big man.
- Nobody can figure out why Dwyane Wade is struggling hard at the moment.
- Like the dude who invented fire, Gerald Wallace had no idea how that heated spark would change Tyson Chandler.
- For Tom Petty and Blake Griffin, the waiting has been the hardest part.
- And finally, it's got nothing to do with the NBA per se, but in case anyone was wondering, Courtney Love remains an excellent parent.