The Lakers return from a historic road trip, Pau’s first game at Staples, the first test of Kobe’s now-overblown infamous pinky, revenge for a silly loss to the Hawks on the road.
There were a lot of storylines to watch in this game—the least of which being the debut of Bibby in a Hawks uniform.
The rust was kind of there in the firstst, with one turnover a blatant bad pass by Gasol and another over-pass to Kobe from Lamar on the break, but that’s it. It was shaken quickly via defense, both in transition and in the half court set.
Once they shook off that tiny amount of squeakiness, the Lakers showed some serious team hustle on all fronts, creating rebounds, passes, seams and plenty of open chances all over the place. That defensive hustle got their shots going and the entire team involved in more than just the box score.
Jumping onto teams like this is a good lesson for the Lakers to keep taking to heart. Its starts like they had tonight that will serve a giant double purpose, no matter who the opponent. First, you dictate the pace and second, you get your rhythm in gear before the other team even knows what hit them.
What you had to just love watching was the Lakers not only creating turnovers from the Hawks, but also cashing on a vast majority of them. And when the Lakers did score off turnovers, they were emphatic. There wasn’t any indecisiveness on breaks or off of turnovers, which is a solid sign of this team getting into a groove – as a team. The pressure was put on early in the half court sets and it pushed Atlanta into some seriously sloppy play.
The Lakers obviously enjoyed some home cookin’, because that kind of energy for a whole game hadn’t been seen in quite a while. You watch this game and have to wonder how the Lakers dropped a game to these same Hawks.
Odom – Again, he’s taking the shots given to him, which for most players is no big deal, but for Lamar it’s a big deal. He was working into the lane immediately, with the lay-up on Smith and the driving cut down the lane for the dunk in the first. I liked seeing Lamar push his way into the low post tonight. He often squirms around defenses taking seams given to him, but there was a little fight in him tonight. With guys like Smith around, you have to play strong in the paint and Lamar did well doing just that.
The key to Odom’s game tonight was anticipatory positioning. He looked like he had gotten the hang of reading where his teammates will be and where balls will come off the rim to. The rebounding from Lamar was gorgeous to watch. He cleared space and got virtually every board with two hands whether contested or not. It was textbook board work from Lamar tonight.
He was pushing it into Smith’s chest from the outside all the way to the hoop offensively. Aggressive contact initiated by Lamar like that got Smith on his heels in a hurry, making him expend a lot of energy running from outside to inside trying to keep up with Lamar.
Walton – Much better defense from Luke tonight. His lateral movement was livelier. Though his offense is still just out of character right now. Its still forced and starting from too deep to be effective.
Farmar – Strong drives was the order of the day for Jordan. The push he had against Law in the second quarter along the baseline for a soft reverse lay-up was great. The steal and dunk in the second wasn’t terrible either. They were both good to see not only for the score, but because it showed that the All-Star break indeed gave Jordan his wind back. He was looking ragged before the break, but tonight Farmar was back to his off-ball activity and smart offensive play that’s made him one of the better back up PG’s in the NBA.
Farmar did a good job of budgeting his three-point attempts tonight, only taking open or structured threes.
Gasol – Along with Bynum running the floor well when he’s out there, Gasol is another big for the Lakers that runs the floor ridiculously well. It starts with the tap with Gasol and there was no slowing down for him the entire game. Pau’s control under the hoop was remarkable, even in heavy traffic situations. When he got himself the board or in position there was no wasted movement in the block.
What was and is great about Gasol, aside from everything else is that you rarely catch him off guard. If it’s a quick or sudden pass, he doesn’t lose sight of it. His awareness is at a super high level.
One defensive hitch for Pau is when he has to run with his man from the high post to the block. He should be calling for help, or the Lakers should rotate over to help him quicker. He doesn’t have the elevation to make up for the space he loses with a slower side step.
Radmanovic – I loved his perimeter defense on Williams. He did a good job staying in front of him. He gave up space on lateral dribbles, but Radmanovic did well keeping his man pushed a bit more to the outside than the outside. This was the most impressive defensive performance from Vladi since he’s been a Laker. I loved watching the full court pressure he put on the Hawks. It was relentless hustle from Radmanovic.
He also did well keeping on eye on passing angles from the high post. Though a bit sluggish getting to spots sometimes, he was paying attention in this one, which for Vladi is a big key to him getting more involved with the team.
Karl – Being the last guy off the bench isn’t easy, but you had to like Coby’s energy tonight. That throw-down he did was a fantastic strong finish and some sweet enthusiasm for a guy that rarely sees time in a game. It was good to see him come in ready.
Bryant – Pinky? What pinky? The funny thing about all the talk of Kobe’s finger was that the guy who’s actually hurt has said since day one it was no big deal. Now believe him or not, if he feels he can gut it out with it for the rest of the year, then nobody else’s opinion really matters. When Kobe got that bouncy trot in his step outside, you knew he was feeling fine. Yet again, he did a fantastic job playing a quiet game in the fist half, letting the rest of the team get their rhythm and find their way.
By the way Lakers, head fakes do wonders against shot blockers. There were far too many soft takes or unaware takes to the rim. If you give one small fake to adept pogos like Smith, more than likely he’s leaving his feet opening a pass or a shot.
It may seem like nitpicking with a blowout like this, but the Lakers have got to stay on top of teams, even when up by 40 or so at home at all times. Certainly the first half was amazing to watch, but that kind of hustle play cannot stop until the final buzzer – against any team. There can be no letting up. It not only seals games up, but it lets your starters rest (especially with a big game versus the Suns tomorrow) and it sends a message to other teams that once you get up on them, you won’t relent.
Also the Lakers have to be careful of not getting carried away with the crowd and the energy ion the court. The hustle, play and movement were great, but you can’t let the excitement lead you to playing out of control. Just like with Ronny, balance energy and control.
Well, Atlanta got their taste of payback tonight. Next, it's onto the Suns and Shaq’s debut.