Cleveland Cavaliers vs. LA Lakers: Postgame Grades and Analysis for LA

Bryant KnoxFeatured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2013

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. LA Lakers: Postgame Grades and Analysis for LA

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    Nothing helps boost a team’s confidence like a matchup against one of the worst squads in the NBA.

    The Los Angeles Lakers played host to the Cleveland Cavaliers Sunday night, and a 113-93 victory finally broke a six-game losing streak that had plagued them since the New Year. This game was in L.A.’s control from the beginning, and the team never gave up the lead after stealing all momentum in the opening period.

    Energy and efficiency is what gave the Lakers the edge early. They were passing the ball well, they were swarming on defense, and they were taking advantage down low with Dwight Howard back in the lineup. With four-and-a-half minutes to go in the first, Los Angeles had 23 points, but they would catch fire and finish the quarter with a 37-20 lead.

    The Lakers began the second with four bench players and Earl Clark on the court. Momentum evened out to open the period, and it would eventually shift in the Cavs' favor. With L.A. turning over the ball, Cleveland effectively turned those opportunities into transition buckets.

    Los Angeles took a 12-point lead with them into halftime, but lackadaisical play made fans uneasy. Luckily for the Lakers and their home crowd, the starters did their damage yet again in the third, and they were able to take an 86-69 lead into the final 12 minutes.

    The final period was much of the same. Cleveland tried to get back in it with energy, but that energy never quite translated into production. The Lakers made this their night early, and the Cavs were never able to climb their way back in it.  

    Many are going to claim that this win comes with an asterisk. The Lakers won a game against a struggling opponent, and few are going to believe they’re ready to compete with the top teams out West just yet.

    But if this win gives the Lakers the confidence they need to turn things around with half a season to go, that’s nothing but good news for fans in L.A.

Point Guard: Steve Nash

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    Steve Nash is the kind of player who can impact a game without scoring, and he proved that yet again Sunday night.

    The 38-year-old point guard only scored 10 points in this game, yet he was an integral part of the offense the entire way through. Having taken just four shots—and making three of them—Nash was constantly looking to set up his teammates.

    With Dwight Howard back in the lineup, the game plan was simple—get the big man the ball. Nash did this as well as anyone on the floor, and he's a big reason the center's return was such a success.

    Nash finished the game with nine assists, but the nice part about that number is that he was doing most of his damage in half-court sets. We know that Nash likes to play fast, so seeing him adjust his game to Howard's strengths is a good indication of what the duo is capable of as they continue to progress as teammates.

    Grade: B+

Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant

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    The Los Angeles Lakers may have started this game looking for their returning center, but that didn't mean that Kobe Bryant was going to sit back and watch the big man do all the work.

    Bryant came out and attacked the Cleveland defense in efficient fashion. He found the perfect balance of scoring and passing, and he took advantage of double-teams by dumping the ball down to Howard for a number of easy looks.

    Shooting 9-of-14 from the field, Bryant displayed the kind of shooting that fans in L.A. love to see. He finished with 23 points, he was taking smart shots and he even knocked down three of his four attempts from long range.

    Defensively, Bryant was guarding Kyrie Irving most of the way. It wasn't exactly the game of one-on-one that we're all waiting for, but it was still a battle between two of the league's premier guards.

    Irving had a good game, especially in the first half, but it's safe to say that Bryant had the edge from start to finish.

    Grade: A-

Small Forward: Metta World Peace

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    Metta World Peace was relatively quiet throughout the contest, but he will be credited as one of the players who officially brought momentum back to the Lakers in the third quarter.

    After a bit of a dry spell in the second, this team needed an energy boost to begin the second half. MWP is the one who sparked that boost, and he did it with his defense.

    Finishing the game with four steals, it's obvious where World Peace's strengths were in this one. He created multiple fast-break situations, and he helped push a 12-point lead back up to 20 partway through the third quarter.

    Grade: B

Power Forward: Earl Clark

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    You can't say enough about what Earl Clark has done for the Los Angeles Lakers as of late.

    To start the game against Cleveland, Clark was working hard on the block. He was pulling down rebounds, chasing down loose balls and scoring when given the opportunity.

    Defensively, he played as well as we've seen him play. He had three blocks by halftime, and he was rotating well when Cleveland looked inside.

    But Clark did more than just make hustle plays—he made smart plays, too. One of the things you like to see from a Lakers reserve is good decision-making, and you know that you're going to get that from Clark, whether he's playing with the starters or the reserves.

    With Pau Gasol still out, the power forward stepped in as the starter and finished with 13 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

    Grade: B+

Center: Dwight Howard

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    Dwight Howard made his return after missing three straight games to injury, and he made it clear early that he was ready to play. 

    With no Anderson Varejao in the lineup for Cleveland, Howard was looking to be physical early. He took advantage of the young Tyler Zeller from the get-go, and he was scoring virtually every time he touched the ball.

    The big man was able to play well because of his physicality, but an even bigger reason for his success was that the Lakers were looking his way. The mismatches were there, and with his teammates looking for him, he was able to take full advantage.

    Howard only recorded one block on the night, but he was constantly altering shots with his massive frame and excellent timing. He finished the game with 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting, and he also pulled down an impressive 14 rebounds.

    If Howard is able to play this well moving forward—and if he's able to stay healthy—there's nobody in the league who can compete with him on a nightly basis.

    Grade: A

Sixth Man: Antawn Jamison

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    Antawn Jamison played an efficient contest against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    In 28 minutes, the forward shot 5-of-7 from the field, including 4-of-5 from the three-point line. He finished with 16 points, and he was an impressive plus-14 in the plus-minus category.

    Aside from the numbers, what fans in L.A. like to see is his energy. Most of his points came from behind the arc, but his willingness to put the ball on the floor and attack when needed helped create plays.

    He won't get much credit for those kinds of plays, but they're the little things that help any team in the league.

    Jamison has gotten lost in the shuffle when this team is healthy, but when he gets the opportunity to play, it's performances like this that show he can still be a valuable piece when called upon.

    Grade: B

Bench

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    The Lakers bench has been a frequent topic of discussion this season for all the wrong reasons, and while the players didn't play a horrible game Sunday night, they are the ones who began to let Cleveland establish momentum.

    It never fully flipped in the Cavs' direction, but it took the starters taking control in the third period to truly make this a blowout.

    In the bench's defense, it played an efficient game offensively. It finished the game in strong fashion and scored a combined 37 points.

    The problem is, you have to remember that most of those points came in garbage time, as no one player stepped up during the second-quarter drought. Finishing strong is what counts in a game like this, but you'd like to see them play as well with the game on the line as they did late in the contest.

    Grade: C