There’s no order, no plan, to whatever’s happening with the Los Angeles Lakers this season. Mike D’Antoni is simply improvising, plugging in players in different roles until something clicks, waiting for you know who to return. It’s not consistent but generally, and especially in their very convincing 116-95 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, it works best with Xavier Henry and Jordan Hill on the floor.
Hill entered the lineup after their embarrassing loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, and answered with 21 points and 11 rebounds in only 26 minutes, as even Pau Gasol seemed to comeback to life next to the fifth-year center out of Arizona, scoring 14 points while finally hitting more shots than he missed, finishing with 6-of-10 from the field.
Xavier Henry, coming off the bench, had plenty to prove to Monty Williams, who benched him quite a lot last season without any signs of things getting better. Henry scored 15 points, and brought down the house with a huge dunk over Jeff Withey, who was the best defensive player in College Basketball last season.
Steve Nash didn’t play for the Lakers, which might be the most important thing. Nash might have two MVP awards and has led the league in assists so many times it’s hard to notice just how badly he’s declined. The Lakers don’t play with a certain kind of system despite D’Antoni’s preaching, but at least they looked a lot more energized with Jodie Meeks starting in the backcourt, and later on when Nick Young (15 points) and and Henry got involved as well.
The easiest thing to notice was how badly the Pelicans played on defense, letting their offensive struggles (40.5% from the field), led by the terrible Jrue Holiday (2-of-11 from the field, 3 turnovers) and Tyreke Evans, who was 4-of-13 from the field. It’s funny to think that a team with Anthony Davis in the lineup could be so bad defensively, but the Lakers had no problem getting easy shots all night long, scoring 46 points in the paint and shooting 55.7% from the field.
In a league like the NBA, when there’s hardly any time to practice, energy seems to be the defining word, and the Lakers had plenty of it against a young yet disappointing rival. Maybe with Gasol not needing to worry too much about rebounding and paint-defense while Hill is on his side, it’s possible for the Lakers to look a little less abysmal compared with their lowest points early this season, and keeping Steve Nash off the court for now can only help them improve. It’s weird to think that by giving Jordan Hill more minutes and a spot in the starting lineup (for now), they’ve managed to fix what’s been their biggest problem so far this season.
We’ve just got to do this every night, because we’re not good enough to take any plays off. We’ve got to have that energy every time we step on the floor. That’s what I try to bring whenever I’m there. I don’t care if I’m starting.