Lakers Standing Tall Again
This Lakers victory over the Heat -- and the cause for newfound optimism among the Lakers -- was born of such unexpected things as Metta World Peace scoring 17 points, and Andrew Goudelock scoring more points than LeBron, Wade or any other Heat player in the second quarter, and Pau Gasol playing the role of tough guy, stepping up to get in LeBron's grill after LeBron tangled with Troy Murphy at the end of the third quarter.
What was up with that? Especially with Pau?
"I was just a little tired of the elbows and pushing around a little bit," Gasol said. "I saw that he elbowed a little bit, or shoved, Troy. At one point, you have to say, 'It's enough.'"
That's the explanation for why the Lakers are where they are right now, back in the upper echelon of the Western Conference, winners of five of their past six games, back to the mindset they're accustomed to having in Lakerland.
"The light finally went off that we believe we can win it," Derek Fisher said.
That the Lakers had to get to that state gives you GPS navigation-style reverse directions to where they were. They were disconnected and in dire need of an identity. Players were griping about their roles in new coach Mike Brown's offense. It took them getting as fed up collectively as Gasol felt individually Sunday afternoon.
It took them getting to the point to say, it's enough.
That's essentially what Fisher told the team two weeks ago when he addressed the Lakers in the locker room following a win against Portland.
Stop worrying about what you are and aren't allowed to do in the offense. Stop fretting about who might or might not be here after the trade deadline. Do what you can with what you have.
"It's that simple," Fisher said Sunday on his way out of Staples Center. "As much talk that has gone towards what Mike is doing or not doing, I just thought it was important for us [as a] group to turn the mirror on ourselves. Regardless of what Coach is doing or not doing, agree, disagree, rotation, whatever it is, we have to block that out and make a decision that with this group of guys, what are we going to do? Are we going to maximize it and get the most out of it, or are we going to flounder around, win a game, lose a game and just flop around through the season?
"As a group, we all just made a decision to block out any outside distraction of any kind and buy in as a group."
Brown, in turn, ceded more control to the players, allowing them a freer run of the offense.
"I trust everybody on the floor to go play their game," Brown said. "And I think they feel it because I don't look as stressed on the sidelines as I did in the first few games of the year."
The Lakers have gone from a boring, middle-of-the-pack team to an interesting contender. The transformation has been fascinating. It was a matter of settling on an identity and playing to it. They discovered early on that Bryant could be back to Bryant, not the facsimile that limped through last season with a bad knee. He can still get 30 points at will, including the 33 he dropped on the Heat on Sunday in his first look at Wade since Wade broke his nose in the All-Star Game.
The question was who and what would fall in behind him. It turned out that Andrew Bynum upped his game to All-Star level. Goudelock has turned into an effective scorer off the bench. Gasol, through all the trade rumors, produces double-doubles regularly. World Peace is back in shape and has scored at least eight points in four consecutive games for the first time this season.
"We understand what we are," Bryant said. "We're a low-post team. We're not a screen-roll team. We don't do that. That's not what our strengths are.
"The real test for any championship team is to understand what your weaknesses are and cover those, and understand what your strengths are and play to those. I feel like we're starting to understand and support each other in that department."
The Heat -- especially without Chris Bosh -- played right into the Lakers' greatest asset: their big men tandem. The Lakers could go to Bynum inside on offense (he made six of 11 shots), and because Joel Anthony didn't pose a scoring threat, Bynum could roam on defense and disrupt the Heat all over the court. At one point, LeBron was looking at a double-team of Gasol and Bynum, a situation in which LeBron was more than justified for passing off.
Miami, meanwhile, isn't properly equipped to exploit the Lakers' point guards the way most other teams do. Yes, Mario Chalmers scored 15 points, but those were offset by Steve Blake's six assists. And the more you give the ball to Chalmers and Norris Cole, the less it's in the hands of LeBron and Wade.
The Lakers at their best can't beat the Heat at their best -- and this was nothing close to the best of Miami on Sunday. Bosh, who attended a family funeral Saturday, missed the game. Wade picked up his sixth foul with 5:14 remaining -- his first foul-out in 259 games -- after missing 10 of 17 shots.
There is one part of this victory that's applicable to the Western Conference foes the Lakers will face in the playoffs.
"With our system and our personnel, we need to control games, make sure we execute offensively, don't turn it over too much, allow the opponents to get out and get run-outs and easy points against us," Gasol said.
The Lakers did that Sunday. The 93-83 final score showed the game was played on their terms. It's what they will have to do against the Thunder or the Clippers if they even hope to see the Heat again this season. And they'll have to prove they can win on the road.
It's not accurate to say the Lakers looked like champions Sunday. It's just that they looked like the Lakers, now that they finally know what that means.
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
MVP: Nuggets guard Ty Lawson is one of the few men on the planet both faster AND quicker than Tony Parker with a basketball. Tonight he was everywhere. A near triple-double along with a big shot to seal the win.
Defining Moment: Late in the fourth quarter Lawson came out of nowhere and stole an offensive rebound on a free throw attempt. For every Spurs run, Lawson answered.
X Factor: Al Harrington and Kenneth Faried. Harrington burned the Spurs in the third quarter from behind the 3-point line while Faried was a whirl of energy and explosiveness.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Marcin Gortat played DeMarcus Cousins to a draw with his 14 points and 17 rebounds. Cousins, who managed 16 and 14 on Sunday, torched the Suns in a pair of Kings wins last season.
LVP: Isaiah Thomas could muster only eight points on 3-for-13 shooting with Steve Nash defending him most of the game.
That Was ... Predictable: For the third straight game, Phoenix fell behind by double digits at home. But just as the Suns did against the Timberwolves and the Clippers, they found a way to come back and win the game.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Kobe Bryant hit his first five shots to get the Lakers an early lead and then made three in a row in the fourth quarter to button it up. He finished with 33 points on just 23 shots, and the Lakers won for the eighth time in 10 games.
LVP: Getting his first start since 2009 in place of the missing Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem delivered a dud. He was 0-of-5 shooting and had just two rebounds in 20 minutes. Eventually, coach Erik Spoelstra just benched him.
X factor: Apparently the lights at Staples Center. After getting hit twice in the head during the third quarter, Dwyane Wade said the arena's lights were bothering him. When on the bench, he had a towel over his head. When on the floor, he committed four fouls in five minutes in the fourth quarter to foul out for the first time in 259 games.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Rajon Rondo. He missed a batch of shots at the rim but also controlled overtime and submitted a glorious triple-double: 18 points, 20 assists, 17 rebounds.
Defining moment: Knicks-killer Paul Pierce drilled a 3-pointer to tie the game with 4.9 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
X factor: The Knicks brutalized the Celtics in the paint in the first half but Boston clamped down in the second and forced New York into tough shots and turnovers.
Recap | Box score
MVP: DeMar DeRozan lives! He played a leg-melting 46 minutes and scored 25 points on 17 shots, all the while looking like the draft pick Raptors fans had wished for (as opposed to the guy they get most nights).
LVP: Nobody guarded the Warriors better than Nate Robinson, who went 2-for-12 and got a minus-9. Robinson dominated the ball to the point where it rebelled by repeatedly throwing itself against the rim.
Defining moment: Monta Ellis scored on a brilliant, beautiful, Houdini layup. Although the play counted, it illustrated a problem: Ellis doesn't seek the flop, GSW doesn't get fouled. Dubs lost again while getting fewer than 20 FTs.
3. Sunday's Best
Rajon Rondo, Celtics: Hard to overlook Deron Williams' 57 varieties of excellence for this honor, but Rondo's 18 points, 17 rebounds and 20 assists put him in company with only Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain.
4. Sunday's Worst
Warriors' mojo: A trip to Toronto is usually just what the doc ordered for Warriors shooters. Not this time -- Mark Jackson's charges managed just 75 points in an eight-point loss to the Raps. The Warriors went in averaging 120.2 points in their previous five games with Toronto.
5. Tweet Of The Night
6. Quote Of The Night
"I know we're all in this together, but it's great when he takes over like that. He's the smartest point guard I've ever been around. He's a brilliant player like that."
-- Celtics coach Doc Rivers, on Rajon Rondo
7. NBA Video Channel
Hitting A Wall
8. D-Will's Nets-Record 57 Points
MVP: Deron Williams. Just going to reference his stat line because nothing can be written better than that: 57 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 21-of-21 from the FT line. Brilliant performance.
Defining moment: Williams' 22 third-quarter points. As the Nets trailed 53-45 heading into the third quarter, Williams went from human to cyborg and simply could not be stopped, turning the tide of the game in the Nets' favor.
That was ... why I watch basketball: Heading into what most would consider a mundane game between two struggling teams, an individual performance like Williams' can break out when you least expect it and truly invigorate an entire audience.
9. Rose's 35 Elevate Bulls
MVP: Derrick Rose, despite the best efforts of Philly's Iguodala/Turner/Holiday triumvirate, scored an efficient 35 on a series of high degree of difficulty shots and generally looked like a reigning MVP. This Rose has no thorns. (*Groans*)
Defining moment(s): To borrow a line, the best thing about time is the nick of it. To wit: Rose beat the buzzer by a whisker twice Sunday -- both 20-footers, both beautifully executed, both momentum altering. He's got a knack for the big moment.
That was ... thought provoking: There's a not-tiny chance the Sixers will be the championship-aspirant Bulls' Round 2 playoff opponent. After a 16-point Feb. 1 loss and a five-point W that could have gone either way, that's looking like an increasingly disconcerting proposition for Chicago.
10. Paul's Good Enough
MVP: Chris Paul. Although he had some unusual errors in the clutch, the numbers don't lie -- 28 points, 10 assists, only two turnovers. He controlled the game offensively and led the Clips to a narrow win.
LVP: Sure his team won, but Blake Griffin struggled all night on offense and didn't make an impact defensively. A very disappointing effort from the star against Luis Scola's average-at-best defense.
That was ... sloppy: The Clippers and Rockets were clearly exhausted in the overtime period. The teams missed wide-open looks and struggled handling the ball, and Paul even clanked a late free throw.
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