Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers demonstrated their dominance of the Los Angeles rivalry with their victory over the Clippers on Wednesday night. It was a fascinating display of ball movement, with very little defense thrown in. With this win, the Lakers should feel good about their chances down the stretch and heading towards the playoffs.
Obvious, I know. But it’s worth emphasizing the value of Andrew Bynum and Ramon Sessions getting touches, particularly when Bynum has it going the way he did Wednesday night. When Sessions handles the ball, it takes a load off of Kobe and puts less stress on his body.
A telling (but positive) moment happened late in the fourth quarter. The Lakers had a breakaway and Kobe, instead of driving to the basket and attempting a contested layup, waited for Bynum to get down the court and get in position, then fed him the ball. Bynum then was able to draw a foul and go to the line. If Sessions and Bynum can continue their level of play, then Kobe can have a few more minutes off here and there, which can only be a positive as the Lakers head towards the playoffs.
The Lakers’ advantage in the paint is growing as Sessions becomes more comfortable with the offense. Bynum and Pau Gasol can take over a game single-handedly, as Bynum showed when he dominated DeAndre Jordan to the tune of 36 points on 13-of-20 shooting.
However, Sessions’ ability to penetrate and distribute from the lane makes the Lakers’ length even more dangerous. Every time Sessions gets past his primary defender, a big has to step up and help, leaving a window into which Sessions can slip the ball. Then, Gasol and Bynum can use their multitude of post moves to create a good shot.
The Lakers are better with Matt Barnes in the game than with Metta World Peace. At this point in his career, World Peace is a physical defender capable of guarding pretty much anyone, as he demonstrated when he took on Chris Paul at the end of the game. However, on offense, he lacks the quickness he once had.
When Barnes is in the game, the Lakers offense flows much better. Barnes is quick and active off the ball, allowing Sessions and the two elite passing big men to find him for layups.
When their offense is clicking, the Lakers are nearly unstoppable. In the first half, they were getting numerous layups and uncontested jumpers. By halftime, they had scored 63 points and had 30 points in the paint.
However, in the fourth quarter with the second unit on the floor and Steve Blake running the show, the offense became predictable and stagnant. Blake isn’t the scoring threat Sessions is so defenses don’t respect his penetration, which doesn’t open up the lane for the bigs or draw defense from the wings and allow space for open jumpers.
Despite Bynum’s dominance all game, the Lakers finished with only 18 points in the paint in the second half. But in the playoffs, minutes for the starters will go up and minutes for reserves such as Blake will go down, which will benefit the Lakers a lot, given their strengths in the starting lineup.