Throughout the hype surrounding Phil Jackson's potential return to the Los Angeles Lakers—which ended with the Lakers actually going with Mike D'Antoni—it appears as if we've missed out on one important fact. Interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff presently has a 1.000 win percentage.
For the second time in as many games, the Lake Show have emerged victorious. After starting 1-4, the Lakers bounced back by defeating the Golden State Warriors 101-77.
Tonight, they followed said performance up with a 103-90 victory over the Sacramento Kings.
The Lakers were led by Dwight Howard, who posted 23 points, 18 rebounds, three blocks and two steals. Kobe Bryant chipped in an additional 20 points, six rebounds and six assists, while Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol each scored 18.
But beyond the numbers, how did they fare?
Overall Grade: C
Steve Blake has done virtually nothing to secure himself the status of second unit point guard upon Steve Nash's return from injury. Instead, he has done the exact opposite as second-year guard Darius Morris has stepped up to steal that distinction.
In fact, Blake hasn't even done enough to garner more minutes than Morris. For the second consecutive night, the former Michigan Wolverine outperformed Blake and saw the floor more often.
What hurts Blake's stock even more is that he's now out due to an abdominal strain. If he misses any time at all, the likes of Morris and Chris Duhon could take his spot in the rotation.
In 14 minutes of play, Blake tallied two points, four assists, two rebounds and one steal. Although solid numbers, Blake continues to be exposed on the defensive end against quicker opponents.
In turn, Jimmer Fredette and Isaiah Thomas scored at virtual will.
A weak performance when it appears to matter most for Blake as an individual. He may remain a rotational option, but his minutes are almost certain to dwindle.
Overall Grade: B+
Statistically speaking, Kobe Bryant had a solid night. The Black Mamba finished with a grand total of 20 points, six assists, six rebounds and one steal to just two turnovers.
With that being said, Bryant had his worst shooting performance of the season at 6-of-15 and returned to his old ways of isolation basketball. For that reason, his grade can go no higher than a B+.
When you also weigh his weak defensive effort, Bryant's grade drops to a B. Fortunately, Bryant once again led the Lakers in assists.
His ability to pace an elite offense has once again taken precedence.
Kobe left far too much separation between he and his assignment throughout the duration of the night. Whether in zone or man defense, Kobe appeared to be out of place as he tried to do too much and create points off of turnovers.
With just one steal, you can see how poor that turned out.
Despite the negatives listed, Bryant did play very well. He once again led the team in assists with six and contributed two three-pointers and a perfect 6-for-6 shooting from the charity stripe.
The Lakers come away with the win due in part to Bryant's all-around game. His return to isolation basketball weighs this effort down significantly, however, as Bryant finishes with a B.
Overall Grade: A-
What can we say about Metta World Peace?
For every head-scratching performance that leaves us wondering why he took so many ill-advised shots, there's an outing in which MWP shines amongst the stars. Tonight was one of those nights, as the player formerly known as Ron Artest was on fire.
Artest finished with 18 points, five rebounds and one steal on 6-of-11 shooting from the field. He dropped in four three-pointers, threw down a rim-rattling alley-oop and allowed his defense to dictate the pace of his offense.
He also finished with no turnovers, no fouls and a +/- of positive-17. So what is there to complain about?
This wasn't a superstar performance, but there is no way around how efficient World Peace was. He contributed from the opening minute, played within his abilities and offered a safety net to the stars when the defense began to collapse on Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant.
An excellent performance by Metta World Peace.
Additional Note: MWP looks to be in the best shape of his Lakers career.
Overall Grade: A-
Pau Gasol may not have had a phenomenal statistical outing, but he was consistent and powerful down low. This is not to say that Gasol outmuscled Jason Thompson, but instead to acknowledge that he did what he does best.
Surveyed the floor, got his teammates involved and stepped up for points when his team needed him to.
Gasol finished the game with 18 points, five rebounds, four assists and two blocks. He also hosted a game-high +/- of positive-20, which offers statistical evidence to the claim that L.A. plays it's best basketball with Gasol on the floor.
So what are you going to criticize him for, biased fans?
Gasol may have only had five rebounds, but Dwight Howard and Jordan Hill combined for 25. What Gasol did, meanwhile, was make the perfect outlet passes to get the Lakers out and running in transition.
Without him, the likes of Darius Morris would not have made such a significant contribution.
Look for holes, if you'd like, but Gasol was exceptional against the Kings. This is the type of basketball that wins championships.
Overall Grade: A+
For all of the detractors who believe Dwight Howard could not mesh with the Los Angeles Lakers, please refrain from speaking. Do yourselves a favor and take a step back to acknowledge the monster we know as D-12.
23 points, 18 rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals are all the evidence you need to know that this experiment is beginning to work to perfection.
Howard dominated this game from the opening tip, as he finally displayed the reckless abandon that made him a three-time Defensive Player of the Year. From his relentless attack of the glass to his timely decision-making in the paint, Howard eliminated the threat of Sacramento's limitless slashers.
In turn, the Lakers forced the Kings into a heavy reliance on their mid-range game. A recipe that will spell disaster for most.
On the offensive end, Howard's 23 points came by virtue of his six offensive rebounds and seven made free throws. Although he also missed six, a 53.8 conversation rate is all the Lakers could really ask of D-12.
One point every time is enough to keep the Lakers clicking on offense. And no one was on their game quite like D-12.
An MVP-caliber outing by Dwight Howard.
Overall Grade: C
Antawn Jamison is one of the most skilled offensive players in the NBA. He can shoot the lights out, put the ball on the floor and attack, and even score with his back to the basket.
Against the Sacramento Kings, Jamison continues to deceive the younger generation into thinking he's no offensive threat at all.
Jamison finished the game as the only player to receive more than one minute of action and not score a point for the Lakers. In 11 minutes of play, he shot 0-for-2 from the floor and tallied two rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block.
That jaw-dropping block came on a driving Marcus Thornton dunk attempt. That steal came on a play in which Jamison knocked the ball loose and relentlessly dove to the ground to poke it ahead to a streaking Darius Morris.
So the defensively-inept Jamison is doing nothing on offense and all he can on D? Seems backwards, does it not?
Truthfully, his contributions are not enough to save his grade from sitting at mere average. Morris is looking more like the sixth man than Jamison, although the 14-year veteran has provided great energy over the past two outings.
A weak grade but a quality effort.
Overall Grade: B
Darius Morris and Jordan Hill have emerged as one of the best second unit tandems in the NBA. Between Hill's ferocious attack of the glass and Morris' game-changing athleticism, the Lakers appear to be at their best with the duo on the floor.
So where do we begin?
For Hill, his signature highlight came on an offensive rebound and putback slam during the second quarter of L.A.'s 103-90 victory. Such play was consistent throughout the evening, as Hill finished with eight points, seven rebounds, five offensive boards and one block.
Beyond the stat sheet, however, was the way Hill kept opponents out of the paint by playing with his arms above his shoulders and his back stuck out. The quintessential box out helped lead to a domination of the glass.
As for Morris, he continues to be the Lake Show's spark plug.
Even prior to Steve Blake's abdominal strain, Morris provided an athletic boost on the perimeter which helped counter the quickness of Aaron Brooks and Isaiah Thomas. For the second consecutive game, Morris also proved he could change games with his outside shot.
Despite converting just 1-of-3 attempts, Morris drew defenders out every time he touched the ball. This opened the door for his seven points and three assists, as well as the individual matchups for Dwight Howard and Jordan Hill.
Unfortunately, the Lakers' second unit also combined for nine of the team's 17 turnovers. They committed seven fouls and saw 7-of-21 shooting from the likes of Morris, Hill, Jodie Meeks, Antawn Jamison and Chris Duhon.
Their impact was large but production inconsistent. An even B.