- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
- 0 Shares
LOS ANGELES -- It can't be that easy, can it?
One day after the Los Angeles Lakers gave up a season-high 63 points in the first half against Phoenix, they held the Portland Trail Blazers to a season-low for any Lakers opponent with 30 points in the first half en route to a 103-92 win Monday.
Play one of your worst games of the year, have Kobe Bryant throw the team into the eye of the storm of controversy by squarely pitting The Players versus The Management and presto change-o, play one of your best games on the year?
No. It's not that easy. It's not that simple. It wasn't a completely new Lakers team. But there was a change.
Sure, the Lakers' 13-2 home record provided comfortable surroundings, and yes, their loss to the Suns was on the road where they've only gone 5-11 so far, but to manhandle a 17-15 Portland team on the second night of a back-to-back after being controlled by a 14-19 Phoenix team?
It was more than home cooking. It was more than some vengeance for that 107-96 loss by the Lakers up in Portland on Jan. 5.
It was Gasol throwing an alley-oop behind his head to Andrew Bynum in the second quarter and having a chuckle with Bynum about how it didn't quite work out but still landed the Lakers' All-Star center on the free throw line.
It was Bynum throwing a baseball-style outlet pass to Bryant late in the fourth quarter that left the pair hugging at halfcourt as Portland called timeout to relent to the loss and sub in its bench.
It was the Lakers assisting on 23 of their 38 baskets (60.5 percent), but even more impressively, on eight of their 12 buckets in the first quarter (66.7 percent) when they opened up their 29-7 lead to start things off.
Lakers coach Mike Brown said the ball was "hopping" from player to player all night and ball movement and player movement working in perfect harmony with one another, but Brown wasn't conducting this song.
It was more trust than play calling. It was more about teammates wanting each other to succeed than worrying about their own stats.
You can loop Brown in with The Management, at least on this night when Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak issued a pregame statement to address Bryant's remarks while Brown said he didn't plan to sit down with Bryant or Gasol to talk about the situation because he didn't feel like it was part of his duty as a coach.
So, The Players won this one.
Gasol didn't have his best night, finishing with 16 points on 5-for-13 shooting and 12 rebounds, but his double-double was his 10th straight -- his longest double-double streak since being traded to L.A., which should say a lot right there about how he's not letting the trade speculation sabotage his production.
Kobe finished with a game-high 32 points and made a textbook fadeaway jumper with 6:32 remaining in the fourth quarter to put the Lakers up by 14, sticking his tongue out to Reggie Miller sitting courtside with the TNT broadcast team.
Steve Blake scored 17 points off the bench, including a 5-for-6 mark from 3, accounting for his best scoring night since joining the Lakers.
Bynum had 14 points and 19 rebounds and was all smiles postgame despite just getting seven shot attempts.
"After that terrible loss we just came out and played free," Bynum said. "That's what happened, we played free."
They also played together, which was just as important.
"We have to understand we're all in the foxhole together," Bryant said. "We're going to go out there and perform."
As up-and-down the Lakers' 19-13 start to the season has been, they've managed to operate pretty well when pressure has been applied. Bryant tears a ligament in his wrist during the preseason? No bother, he's in uniform Christmas Day. Metta World Peace openly questions Brown's rotation? Coach and player hash it out before the next game and World Peace responds with one of his best efforts all year.
Gasol finds himself the subject of incessant trade rumors?
Well, judging by Kupchak's statement, the resolution to that issue won't come from The Management anytime soon, so The Players are left to take care of one of their own.
"At the end of the day, other than the 14-15 guys we have wearing a uniform, everybody else is on the outside, so to speak," said co-captain Derek Fisher. "Our success and what we're going to do as a team and accomplish as a group lies on the players at the end of the day. We can't put it off on our coaches, we can't put it off on management, we can't put it off on the condensed schedule. We just have to continue to hold ourselves accountable. Pau will be fine and we'll be fine as a group. We feel like we have the pieces to be not just a good team, but a really good team. We just have to keep pushing and moving forward."
Then maybe things will get easier.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
Bryant's statements didn't throw the Lakers off their game against the Blazers.