Crucifido’s Corner: Los Angeles Lakers Clean the Slate in Charlotte

Clublakers.comAnalyst IFebruary 11, 2008

Charlotte hasn’t been a kind place to the Lakers lately, but things changed tonight, as the Lakers continued their push to 7-2 on this almost finished road odyssey.

The two-headed Pau/Kobe monster was in full effect tonight—and from the outset too.

Gasol started off hot and then settled down a bit. Then Kobe started draining distance jumpers and breaking down the D with the drive. Once Kobe got more pressure put on him, Gasol moved back into the post and drew attention away from the mid-range players, letting motion in the mid post down to the block ease up.

It was a taste of the 1-2 punch of Pau and Kobe. (Imagine what could happen when Andrew gets back into the fold.)

Kobe picked up his smooth scoring right where he left off in Miami. It's tough to find a flaw in his last few games (and this one too). He’s done an MVP job of setting up the team while balancing his own stats. The defense on the perimeter lost a step or two from the incredible job he did in Miami, but it wasn’t needed as heavily in Charlotte as it was against a scorer like Wade.

Not much else to say except that Kobe’s kept his game rolling while integrating Gasol and the rest of the guys. Sounds like an MVP to me.

From the first ball given to him Pau Gasol looked to be in common form. Starting with the easy reception from a brilliant bounce pass from Kobe to get the Lakers’ fourth point of the game, Gasol was off to the races. His efficient scoring was great to see. Most of Gasol’s shots were within his skill set. There were no forced shots or plays beyond his capacity. That right there is enough to make anyone appreciate the things that Gasol can do and will do.

He did well with his defensive rebounding help on the inside, creating purple and gold traffic down low to allow Lamar to reach for most of the boards. The noise he was making underneath was enough to push most of the Bobcats (sans Okafor) out of ideal rebounding position.

Gasol’s problem is still the same one we knew he had when he got here: his post defense. He doesn’t have the strongest lower body and by default has trouble maintaining position against the powerful big guys like Okafor, or even against mobile big guys like Mohammed.

It will help to have Andrew back so Gasol can get back to his natural position of PF, but for now he would be well served to widen his stance and lean into his man a bit more.

Having Gasol and Kobe able and willing to set up the rest of the team with their play along with putting up points without really playing at the top of their game is a luxury to say the least. Thankfully, the rest of the Lakers are finding where to lineup beside Pau and Kobe.

Lamar did a really good job helping out on defense. Working the step to the baseline to shut off drives with perfection, Lamar kept his casual but strong performance streak in tact. Loved the dive down the middle of the paint in the first quarter. He was showing freedom of movement within the offense he hasn’t shown very often.

Not handling the ball as much has left Odom with a ton of room to operate from top to bottom right down the throat of the Bobcats D. He was once again aggressive with the chances given to him, not turning away from gimmes.

The best thing about this game for me was the return of Ronny to the form he was playing with a couple weeks ago before the Gasol deal. He was in control this game. His turnaround jumpers from the mid-post were good to see again. The shot’s been a little absent lately, but it looked like Ronny found his comfortable post position in this one.

He used the high and mid post as run-in spots to take stabs at boards and get involved inside off missed shots. If he didn’t dive into the paint, he popped out around small traffic for open looks around the elbow. That use of the mid-post is a nice area for Ronny to operate in with or without another big in the game.

Jordan had a couple spurts of play we got used to this year, but he still looks tired. He can make things easier on himself by jab dribbling a bit more, pulling his man out of the paint. With a presence like Gasol inside and Lamar rebounding like a demon, there’s space for him to remain along the top of the key arc instead of feeling obligated to take it the full distance to the rim every time. Maybe this way he can keep his man on his heels, create some space for himself outside, and preserve energy until the much-needed All-Star break.

As far as Luke goes, the guy is working his way off of injury better with the game he played tonight. There was less shooting from the post and more work jumping out of the post to make room for better low block players. Rebounding was decent, but I would still like to see Luke operate in the mid-range perimeter far more than he has this year.

His work on defense was slow-footed, but I liked what he did keeping his eye on passing angles and getting a couple key steals toward the end of the game. It would be easier for Luke to get his legs back by playing active defense more than pushing low block offense. He’s adjusting to a different role with Gasol here now; he’ll have to adjust again once Bynum comes back too.

The bench unit was too slow on defensive switches. Luckily the Bobcats didn’t see a multitude of mismatches that were there for most of the time the full bench was on the court. They’ve got to recognize those more quickly, if not eliminate them by better communication through screens and traffic.

I really liked the sporadic full court press of the Lakers tonight. If you press too much it gets predictable and easier to run around, but the Lakers did well mixing it up tonight. Mostly toward the end of quarters, the Lakers pushed up on the Bobcats with random perfect timing, making them turn the ball over or disrupting them at the least. (That Radmanovic steal in the full court set was beautiful.)

The thing about the Lakers that surprises me is the ease of spacing they have been doing since Gasol’s arrival. You’d think bringing in a major cog like Gasol to a team in the middle of a road trip would cause stumbles. Instead, it’s gotten the Lakers more confident in where they need to be. Some of that speaks to experience, and some speaks to the talent level of this team.

The IQ of the Lakers doesn’t hurt either. Adding a smart player like Gasol to a guy like Kobe backed with the steady hands of a team knowing the roles they need to play to be successful is a rare treat to watch. Either way, it's good to see the Lakers knowing where to be rather than screaming directions at each other like they were last year at this time.

Letting other teams into games late is a dangerous game to be playing. At some point it could bite the Lakers in the butt. Hopefully they’ll learn to push their will on teams for the whole 48. You can get away with this against the likes of the Bobcats and Heat, but like we saw in Detroit, it’s not a habit you want to get into.

To that effect, it would still be nice to see the Lakers notice when they have a team on the ropes and to push them over the cliff. Developing that takes a while. The leads have to come first. But now that the leads are starting to roll in with frequency, it's time to tighten the screws on teams not only like the Bobcats, but on every opponent.

WTF Of The Game: The scourge of aggravating arena PA guys is becoming pandemic. Can’t wait for the Lakers to get back home, simply so I don’t have to hear a 30 second wail over a stinkin’ lay-up for a while. Save me Lawrence Tanter!

It felt like a quiet game tonight. Maybe it’s the road trip coming to a close or maybe I’m just tired, but it feels like it’s almost the end of a big road trip for me as well as the Lakers. As they roll into Minnesota on a winning streak, coming off this voyage and looking forward to the All-Star break, it's vastly important for the Lakers to not overlook this game.

Go out there and get yourself into the break with a streak of wins and a streak of confidence.

P.S. Congratulations DJ!!