Offensively, this is what the Los Angeles Lakers aspire to look like. Kobe Bryant shooting but not overdoing it. Nick Young providing, finally, an offensive option off the bench, while Jeremy Lin gets plenty of touches and feels confident about doing his thing, leading to a 114-109 win over the Atlanta Hawks.
Yes, the Lakers, finally, have their second win of the season, and we’re still in November. Maybe there’s hope yet. It’s hard to estimate just how important the return of Nick Young has been. The Lakers had no one off the bench that could create points for himself. Young is a selfish player that can be frustrating for fans and teammates to watch at times, but he can put points on the board and quickly. The essence of a useful sixth man. He scored 17 points on an efficient 6-of-10 from the field, including 2-of-4 from beyond the arc.
Kobe Bryant got past the 32,000 career point mark, stopping at 32,001, with the shot that got him over the threshold being the most important for the Lakers in the fourth quarter, giving them a five-point lead (107-102) while the Hawks were constantly aiming to tie the game up with their ability to have five players on the floor that can all hit shots from beyond the arc. Their last opportunity of tying the game came from Pero Antic, as the Lakers actually did a good job defensively, smothering the possibility of Kyle Korver getting open. Bryant finished the game with 28 points.
Jeremy Lin? He didn’t take 12 to 15 shots like some think would benefit his own cause while doing the same for the Lakers as well, but with Carlos Boozer feeling confident (scoring 20 points on 10-of-14 from the field) and Nick Young supplying some relief for Bryant’s never ending plea to take as many shots as possible, Lin didn’t have to be selfish with the ball. He took only seven shots (making six of them), added 10 assists and scored 15 points, playing as the point guard he is, only not allowed to be most of the time.
Beating the Hawks and scoring 114 points on them a few days after they gave up 127 points to the Cleveland Cavaliers might not sound as much, but the Hawks were undefeated at home going into this game. They’re a very good team with at least three players who can score 20 points on any given night, with two of them reaching that total. After all, these are the Lakers, who can win by making an effort on defense, but not really shutting down anyone.
The big difference compared to the previous losses, especially the one against the Warriors, was getting a hold on the game early on. The Lakers led by 11 points at the end of the first quarter and scored 67 points in the first half. Lin himself scored 8 points in that run and the Lakers had the opportunity to get Boozer going early. Giving confidence to him and Jordan Hill early on by pushing the ball into the paint instead of letting it get stuck on the perimeter pays dividends for the entire game.
So is it all OK and better now for the Lakers? No. They’re still an appalling team defensively giving up more points per possession than any other team in the NBA. We also still don’t know if Bryant can keep himself restrained like he did in this win all the time. Lin having 10 assists isn’t just a sign of players suddenly making shots – it means the ball moved and didn’t get stuck to you know who. There are many problems with the Lakers. Nick Young returning to the team fixes one of them. Convincing Bryant to be a team player fixes a lot of the others.