Some would say that for the first time this season, the Los Angeles Lakers looked like the team they sought out to be during a busy off-season Surprisingly or not, Kobe Bryant was the least involved player in their big, three point filled win, while Dwight Howard starred alongside Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks.
This is Mike D’Antony basketball; spacing and fast. Denver are the kind of team you need to play against if you want to run, run and run. Dwight Howard is a kind of player D’Antoni never had with the Suns, at least when it comes to his rebounding and defensive abilities. He finished with 28 points and 20 rebounds, his 20-20 game of the season and first double double in five games.
The passing was great, with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, the two best passers on this team, doing most of the play-calling and making. Both finished with 8 assists, while Gasol obviously had led to do when it came to strong, hiding his talents due to his extra time on the perimeter where there’s less and less use for him. Bryant saw that it wasn’t his day, and decided not to force it, settling for his 14 points and 0-3 from beyond the arc. Big of him, and maybe a big key in how the Lakers are supposed to win more games: Bryant giving up on trying to be the main reason for wins.
The Lakers weren’t just about the big names and free agents during the off-season. Improving their depth chart was another priority, and at least on paper, it looked like they did it, adding a proven scorer in Antawn Jamison and a potentially microwave kind of guy in Jodie Meeks. For the first time this season, they both caught fire at the same time, leading to an easy 122-103 win.
Jamison, averaging just 7.3 points so far this season, finished with 33 points, his first 20+ game as a Laker. What is more important is him fitting the D’Antoni style, scoring in double figures for the third time in four games, going 8-21 from beyond the arc this week. Meeks also enjoyed a season high and seems to be much more involved since D’Antoni arrived, scoring 21 points (7-8 from three) and his third 10+ game in the last 10 days. Quicker basketball seems to agree with what the Lakers added.
Quicker basketball is going to come at a cost: Defensive numbers won’t be the same as last season, but even with Mike Brown this time and their offensive struggles with the Princeton experiment, they couldn’t keep up on D. Now at least they’ve got an attacking style that should give them an advantage against most teams, waiting for Steve Nash to finally come back from his injury and show everyone how they’re supposed to run this show.
Like last season, the Lakers and Kobe Bryant especially need to understand where their strengths reside. Dwight Howard, just like Andrew Bynum last year. Creating, pushing for him to be more involved makes it easier for everyone else. More space for Gasol to show his passing abilities and much more space for everyone to hit open shots. The Nuggets’ attempts at playing small ball did show something the Lakers might see more and more of this season, but they handled it very well. The defense will get better, and so will the consistency on offense, but only if Howard remains in the center of things, instead of Bryant’s desire to be in the headlines.