Following their solid win against the Nuggets in Denver, the Lakers returned home for a five-game home stand that many think will be the stiffest test yet for the defending champs. The challenging stretch of games began tonight as the Lakers hosted a struggling Utah Jazz squad. After the first two quarters, it was clear that the Lakers were more than prepared to play and that the Jazz’s problems would not end tonight. The Lakers went on to beat the Jazz 120-91. Here is a closer look at tonight’s game by the numbers…
11 – The number of shot attempts by Kobe. We’ve talked all season about how the Lakers have much more success when Kobe takes less shots and serves as more of a facilitator. Kobe showed his commitment to the latter from the start of the game; on the team’s first two possessions, Kobe drew double teams and kicked the ball out to open shooters for easy points. Not only did Kobe only attempt 11 shots, but he converted on 7 of those attempts (63%), went 7-of-8 from the charity stripe, and recorded 6 assists. It was an all-around very efficient game for Black Mamba.
16 – The Lakers held the Jazz to 16 points in the second quarter. As impressive as the Lakers’ first-half offensive outburst was, it was their defensive intensity that really caught my eye. Just days after Lakers legend Jerry West attributed the team’s poor defense to their slower and weaker bodies as a result of life’s natural aging processes, the team came out and established itself as the aggressor on the defensive end of the court. It started with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol down low; the twin towers had a clear height advantage over the Jazz big men, and they capitalized on their advantage by using their length to alter the arcs of Al Jefferson’s and Paul Millsap’s jumpers. Using staunch defense, the Lakers actually extended the lead that they had built in the first quarter from 15 to 21 points. More importantly, they did so while Kobe caught some air for the first 7+ minutes of the quarter.
20 – The number of points scored by Pau Gasol. The Lakers are now 24-4 when Pau scores 18 or more points and only 9-9 when he scores less than 18 points. It’s not that Pau has to be the team’s highest scorer, but it’s the fact that Pau has to remain active on the offensive side of the ball; Pau is such a skilled big man and his abilities must be utilized for the Lakers to win.
34 – The number of assists recorded by the Lakers. The team recorded 34 assists on 44 made field goals, which indicates that the Lakers shared the ball well tonight. It started on the first possession of the game; each of the five starters touched the rock on the opening possession. They were constantly making the extra pass and finding open shooters.
62 – The Lakers’ field goal percentage on the night. Every player shot well tonight. In fact, check out the list of players who shot 50% or better: Gasol (69%), Bynum (67%), Kobe (63%), Fisher (67%), Odom (87.5%), Blake (50%), and Walton (100%). It was raining buckets at Staples Center; Odom even added an off-balance, falling-out-of-bounds tear drop late in the game that brought an otherwise bored crowd to their feet. Even more indicative of the hot shooting night, after Walton sunk a three in the fourth quarter, Lakers play-by-play commentator Joel Meyers exclaimed, “You know it’s a good night! Wow!”
It was a nice win over a solid, albeit struggling, Jazz team. More importantly, the Lakers need to take their increased intensity and hot shooting into their next game on Friday against the Sacramento Kings. Whatever they do, let’s hope they do not look past the Kings by thinking about Sunday’s big showdown against the Celtics–that’s our job.