The Los Angeles Lakers entered their matchup with the Utah Jazz on yet another losing streak. They had lost four straight, but they managed to turn things around with a 102-84 win over the Jazz at home.
Coming into this game, these two teams couldn’t have been on more opposite paths in the month of January. The first month of the new year had seen Utah put together an 8-2 record (second-best in the league), while Los Angeles was the not-so-proud owner of a league-worst 2-10 showing.
Records aside, L.A. needed the win, and the Lakers proved that they were the more talented group Friday night.
The first quarter began and the Lakers were the team with the most energy. They were looking inside to Dwight Howard, they were swarming on defense and they were turning stops into points. They looked like a team with nothing to lose, and quite frankly, it was a good look for them.
After jumping out to an early 11-2 lead, Los Angeles was able to finish the first quarter ahead, 26-19. The team had the energy to begin the game, but Utah’s defense stepped up a bit to begin the second period.
The second half would start with L.A. up 10 points, but the third period would prove to be a competitive one. The tempo picked up on both sides, and the Jazz began creating open looks by attacking the shot-blockers of the Lakers.
The closing seconds of the third ended with a minor scuffle between Pau Gasol and Paul Millsap, and while it looked like the Jazz might benefit from a little extra energy, it was the Lakers who stole the show from that point forward.
The final period began, and it was all Los Angeles. The Lakers were forcing turnovers, their half-court play was efficient and their fast-break tempo was creating easy looks on the offensive end. An 18-point victory does little over the course of an 82-game season, but if one win can give them confidence, it could prove to be just what they need with the halfway point of the season officially in the past.
Steve Nash had a quiet game against the Utah Jazz, but quiet isn't a bad thing as long as efficiency remains high.
The point guard wasn't taking many shots, but he was making the ones he did. He converted six of his 11 shots, and he finished the contest with 15 points.
What's most surprising is how long it took him to truly get involved in the offense. He didn't have a single assist in the first half, and the shots he did take came mostly on broken plays.
Kobe Bryant played the role of floor general for a good part of the first quarter, and while you'd like to see Nash's skill set put to good use, you can't argue with the 2-guard playing incredibly smart basketball.
Kobe Bryant did exactly what he needed to do in the first quarter of this game.
He deferred to Dwight Howard.
Despite being a 15-time All-Star who will go down as one of the greatest players of all time, Bryant took just three shots in the opening period. He was impacting the game in ways other than scoring, as he had five assists and two steals.
Bryant was a facilitator through most of the first half, but when Howard became a No. 2 option after his first stint on the bench, that's when the shooting guard began to take over.
Despite finishing the game with just 14 points, Bryant found his shots when his team needed him to. This was one of his quieter performances, but a quiet win is better than a loud loss any day of the week.
Along with his impressive 7-of-10 shooting, the 34-year-old finished with nine rebounds and an unheard-of 14 assists.
Metta World Peace was the beneficiary of being in the right place at the right time throughout the opening minutes of this one.
The 33-year-old forward isn't going to make a ton of plays on his own these days, which is why his spot-up shooting is one of his best assets. It can be argued that he takes too many shots from deep, but he has to be a threat if the Lakers want to open up the middle of the court.
If you're a fan in L.A., you like what World Peace has to offer, but the problem is when he plays inefficient basketball. Despite playing more minutes than any other Laker in the first half, he exited the second quarter having shot just 2-of-7 from the field, including just 2-of-5 from long range.
The second half, however, would prove to be better for the small forward. He finished the game 5-of-11 from the three-point line, and while that's a lot of jumpers when you have Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard on the floor, that's the kind of shooting you need to keep defenses honest.
Earl Clark has been surprisingly good for the Los Angeles Lakers as of late, but Friday night against the Utah Jazz was one of his subtler performances.
Having missed a number of shots, Clark never had a real impact on this game. He played with good energy, which is something you need to see for a player of his skill set, but he was also the only player in the starting lineup to go into the third quarter without a positive number in the plus-minus category.
Despite the praise Clark has received thus far, Pau Gasol proved to be the superior power forward this time around. Gasol has been moved to the bench for the time being, but you have to wonder how many more performances like this will keep Clark in the starting unit.
Then again, you can't argue with a victory. If Gasol on the bench and Clark in the starting lineup is what it takes to win, you'd better believe Mike D'Antoni is going to stick with the plan that's currently at hand.
Nobody quite knew what to expect out of Dwight Howard coming into this matchup. He injured himself in Wednesday's game against the Memphis Grizzlies, and he's made headlines with the trade rumors that have surrounded him (according to Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein of ESPN).
Things haven't been easy for the game's best center, but he showed Friday that he can still play despite the distractions.
Howard had a ton of energy from the get-go. He was flying above the rim, running in transition and attacking the basket any chance he got. It helped that his teammates were looking his way, and he took full advantage.
Los Angeles hasn't been the dream situation that Howard hoped for, and according to ESPN's Dave McMenamin, the big man wishes the negativity would simply go away when it comes to the attention surrounding the Lakers.
A 17-point, 13-rebound, two-block performance against Utah will help add positivity to his situation, but he's going to need more games like this one to officially rid himself of the unwanted criticism.
With the move to start Earl Clark at power forward—permanently, according to the Orange County Register's Kevin Ding)—Pau Gasol has become the sixth man for the Los Angeles Lakers.
It's no secret that Gasol has struggled throughout the 2012-13 season, but if this situation remains the norm for Mike D'Antoni, L.A.'s bench is going to be much more talented than it once was.
Gasol played well in this game, and he proved to be a more productive option than starting power forward Earl Clark. Gasol never truly broke out and became an integral part of the offense, but he never hurt the team with missed shots, which is a big reason he was moved to the bench in the first place.
The best part about Gasol's game is that he was meshing well with Dwight Howard. The two of them were playing a nice inside-outside game, with both switching roles throughout the contest.
If the Lakers decide to bring Gasol back to the starting lineup at all this season, this is the kind of performance they need to see. In 25 minutes, he pulled down seven rebounds to go with his 15 points, and he showed that he can be trusted to make shots when given the opportunity.
The Los Angeles Lakers' bench began the season as one of the worst second units in the league, but Friday night proved that they have it in them to play a competent brand of basketball.
The things you like to see out of the Lakers' bench are good shooting and good ball control. The group combined for 14-of-23 shooting, and while they did turn the ball over eight times, that was more a product of a fast-paced tempo than truly sloppy play.
Part of the shift in production is the move of Pau Gasol to sixth man. Earl Clark's ability to play with the starters has become a huge luxury for this team, and as long as he remains comfortable, the bench will have the boost it needs.
This isn't the first time, however, that we've seen a positive move like this from L.A. When Metta World Peace was moved to the bench early in the year, we saw some of the best performances of the season from the reserves. World Peace was playing better basketball, but so were his teammates.
That's what's happening with Gasol out of the starting lineup, and that's what they can hope for moving forward.