In the final game of the Bernie Bickerstaff era, the Los Angeles Lakers took on their bitter rival Phoenix Suns. Behind 31 points from Kobe Bryant and 22 from Metta World Peace, the Lakers did what they always do.
Defend their home court against their fiercest rival with a convincing 114-102 victory.
Earlier in the day, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had his Staples Center statue revealed. In honor of Abdul-Jabbar, the Lakers did their best "Showtime" impersonation by pouring on the points and controlling the glass.
Coach Bickerstaff now leaves the Lakers with the highest win percentage in franchise history. The pressure is on, D'Antoni.
So how'd tonight's win go down?
Overall Grade: C+
Darius Morris did not have a statistically brilliant evening. What he did, however, was pace the Lakers' offense and pack a powerful punch as an open-court athlete.
Something the Lakers have lacked since current Phoenix Sun Shannon Brown left Los Angeles.
Morris made a beautiful no-look pass to Jordan Hill off a dribble-drive in the second quarter. The former Michigan Wolverine continued to make those types of plays all night long, working the ball to his teammates and playing selfless ball.
Exactly what the Lakers needed from their point guard.
Morris finished the game with five points, six assists, an offensive rebound and one steal. He was also responsible with the ball, turning it over just twice despite being faced with an active defender in Goran Dragic.
A quality performance by Morris, which solidifies his status as the best choice for Steve Nash's backup.
Overall Grade: A
Entering tonight's contest, Kobe Bryant had averaged 42.0 points in his previous three home games against the Phoenix Suns. Although he wouldn't match that scoring total, he'd remind the Phoenix franchise of the torture he's put it through for nearly two decades.
So how did it all go down?
During the first quarter alone, Bryant dropped in a three-pointer and had a three-point play that quieted a fierce Phoenix rally. When his shot ran dry, he then proceeded to drive the lane and score from in close.
This set the tone for the rest of the game, as Kobe finished the quarter with eight points.
Kobe played very well in the second quarter, coming in just in time to counter a Phoenix rally. He dropped in six quick points and helped shift momentum back in the Lakers' favor.
Although Bryant struggled to find the bottom of the net for the majority of the third quarter, he turned it on during the final three minutes. Bryant scored nine points in that span of time, putting up 11 for the quarter and creating separation between the two teams.
Entering the fourth quarter, Kobe sat at 25. Could he reach that magical number of 42?
Kobe came in at the 8:07 mark, scoring four points in his first three minutes back on the floor. Bryant dropped in two more and then went cold from the floor, as he looked to pad the stat sheet against his bitter rival.
All in all, an outstanding performance by Kobe as he paced the team to victory. Thirty-one points, six assists, two rebounds and a steal.
Overall Grade: A
The first quarter was all about Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace. Together, the trio scored 31 first-quarter points on 12-of-18 shooting.
MWP had 11 of those points, including three key three-pointers to counter an intense Suns push.
During the second quarter, MWP put an end to a streak by the Suns which put them ahead, 55-54. World Peace made a great move to the basket and dropped in two points, thus weathering the storm and providing the Lakers with a lead they would keep for the remainder of the second quarter.
But how about the defense?
World Peace continues to get better with age on defense, allowing his mental fortitude to make up for his decline in athleticism. A perfect display of such improvements came as MWP ran to southpaw Michael Beasley's left shoulder on a pocket three.
This forced Beasley to adjust in midair and push the shot well to the right.
As we entered the third quarter, World Peace drained his fourth three-pointer of the game. Minutes later, he hit his fifth three of the evening, bringing his point total to a season-high 21.
MWP added a free throw and continued to pad his stat line defensively, wrapping up a beautiful performance. You can say what you will about his being the fourth star on the team, but tonight, he played like a leader.
Twenty-two points, six rebounds, three assists, three steals and one block from Metta World Peace.
Overall Grade: B
As expected, Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace provided the perimeter-scoring spark for the Los Angeles Lakers. Just as Mike D'Antoni prepares to install a system in which Pau Gasol will be delegated to the perimeter, he displayed some shooting skills of his own.
Gasol finished the first quarter with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the floor. Every one of those shots was a jump shot.
From there on out, Gasol disappeared. He didn't score a single point in the second quarter and dropped in just two during the third quarter.
But don't assume his offensive disappearance meant he wasn't contributing at all.
Although the Lakers' defense was poor, they played opportunistically. Gasol was a key member of this attack, helping control the glass and alter shots.
For the game, Gasol finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. He grabbed two offensive boards, spread the floor with his shooting and finished on the interior during the second half of play.
Gasol paced the Lakers early and stepped back to facilitate for the remainder of the game. This is the type of performance L.A. needs from Gasol.
Overall Grade: A-
As Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol handled the scoring load, Dwight Howard took over defensively. Such was the case for two quarters, but it swiftly ended when D-12 exploded for 11 points in the second half.
This came by virtue of Howard beginning to work the paint and the glass.
Howard displayed a much wider array of low-post moves than we're used to seeing from the athletically gifted big man. He used glass on a pair of hook shots to pick up points, also targeting the backboard square while connecting on an and-one.
For the game, Howard finished with 18 points and six offensive rebounds. This type of opportunistic play is exactly why the Lakers traded for him, as Howard does not need a play called for him to dominate.
Howard also took over Gasol's role as he started the second and fourth quarters with the second unit. In turn, we got a look at what Howard did in Orlando, where he led those teams to four 50-win seasons.
How's that for a second-unit leader?
In the end, Howard posted totals of 18 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks. He dominated defensively, took over the opening minutes of the fourth quarter as a scorer and provided the quality play which uplifted the second unit.
An excellent outing from D-12.
Overall Grade: B
Jordan Hill may not have jumped off of the stat sheet, but he played very well on both ends of the floor. The Lakers involved him offensively more than we're used to seeing and Hill responded, scoring 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting.
That includes a mid-range jump shot which beckoned the question of whether it was Hill or Pau Gasol who took it.
Hill continues to play tenacious interior defense and relentlessly attack the offensive glass, finishing the game with 10 points, five rebounds, one block and one steal in 20 minutes of play. He also grabbed four offensive boards, which displays how important he is to the Lakers' offensive attack.
Whether or not Mike D'Antoni takes advantage of that remains to be seen. Tonight, however, we know for a fact that Hill is comfortable and confident in filling in as sixth man.
Hill may not have padded a stat sheet like Pau Gasol, but he earns this solid "B" by doing the dirty work. Something that the Lakers have long needed from their reserves.
A very strong performance from the former Arizona Wildcat.
Overall Grade: C+
The Los Angeles Lakers' second unit may have its question marks, but it continues to improve.
Jodie Meeks was up to his usual sharpshooting ways, contributing seven points on 3-of-5 shooting in nine and a half minutes of play. This level of efficiency offers reason for optimism in Los Angeles, as Meeks is tailor-made for a Mike D'Antoni offense.
Although his minutes were low, Meeks' ball-handling and passing were quite impressive. Aside from being incredibly agile on the perimeter, Meeks pushed the ball in the open court and made crisp passes to teammates.
That includes a pinpoint bounce pass to Dwight Howard for a pick-and-roll finish.
As for Antawn Jamison, he continues to take a back seat to Jordan Hill for the role of sixth man. With that being said, Jamison played very well, putting up five points and grabbing six rebounds in 16 minutes of play.
Although the statistics do not display it, Jamison actually played quite well defensively. He deflected multiple passes and applied quality on-ball pressure.
With Chris Duhon also contributing 17 effective minutes, the Lakers' second unit finished a solid night. Meeks, Jamison, Duhon and Jordan Hill all had a positive plus-minus.
Twenty-two points and 17 rebounds from the bench tonight.