It was a homecoming for Pau Gasol and a chance to play against the team that he led to win the gold medal at the 2009 Eurobasket tournament. But that homecoming didn’t end so well for Pau and the Lakers as they dropped their second pre-season game in Europe 92-88 to the current Euroleague champs Regal FC Barcelona. The victory was a payback by Barcelona for losing to the Lakers in an exhibition game in 2008 at the NBA China Games 108-104. If you remember, the Golden State Warriors had dropped out of the “shootaround”, and the league asked Regal if they would like to take on the Lakers.
Barcelona showed why they won last summer’s Euroleague championship with their guards’ ability to penetrate the defense and their entire ensemble of big men’s shooting touch. Defensively, they are extremely active and physical. However, they also exhibited why Phil Jackson thinks they can’t hang in the NBA with such a thin playbook on offense, their guards’ inability to adjust to defenses, and their interior defense being susceptible to quality post-players like Pau. Not to mention that they heavily rely on hyper-activity at all times and trying to draw charges when there’s absolutely no reason to.
But Gasol was primarily the Laker offense for much of the game. Time and time again, Pau punished Barcelona with his arsenal of post-moves. None of the bigs for Regal had no idea of stopping him, but the Lakers, as we all know, tend to go away from what’s working inside even when their outside shooting has been terrible for them. Pau led the Lakers with 25 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal and a block.
It was a close game in the first 24 minutes of the game until the Lakers decided to tighten up the defense, or better yet, when they decided to play defense. The NBA defending champs didn’t need to go deep into their defensive mantra as they simply stayed home on all shooters and allowed the guards to penetrate right into whatever big they had waiting for them. You’d think that whoever got into the lane for Regal would just score or try to get Pau or Theo Ratliff in serious foul trouble. Not the case for Barcelona. Instead, their guards kept following their primary point of attack of the drive-and-dish even when the Lakers covered the other 4 players on the floor for them resulting in numerous turnovers. But on the flip side, the referees helped out the Lakers to stay in the game by calling some touch fouls against Regal in the second half.
Kobe Bryant and Pau shot 28 free-throws just between them as Regal defenders were getting whistled for almost everything they tried to do to stop either player. Bryant had another bad outing because of his still tender left knee but was entertained by Regal’s Pete Mickeal trash talking in the third quarter as the two defended one another. Mickeal obviously got the better of the hobbling Kobe. But if he had done this against a healthy Bryant, we all know The Black Mamba would eat him alive. Kobe shot 2-of-15 from the field but ended up with 15 points thanks to his 11-of-12 performance at the free-throw line.
As for the rest of the purple and gold, Lamar Odom played 41 minutes (maybe Phil’s way of rewarding him for carrying a positive mental approach to his game so far) and chipped in 12 points and 18 boards to lead both teams in place of the injured Andrew Bynum. Odom knows he’s more in basketball shape than any of his teammates, but he’s wisely picking his minutes to go all out to prevent any injuries or from burning out before Thanksgiving.
Derek Fisher and Ron Artest scored in double figures with 12 going to Fish and 10 from Ron. Artest also finished the game with a game-high 4 steals.
The Laker bench was led by Steve Blake with 6 points but only had himself 1 assist in 22 minutes. Rookie Devin Ebanks had 4 points and 3 rebounds, and both Shannon Brown and Sasha Vujacic got 2 points each. The shooting from the second unit was aweful the entire game which made it that much more difficult for the Lakers to win it. I think that had a lot to do with the kinetic push-and-shove defense Barcelona put on. Well that and enjoying themselves in Pau’s hometown a bit too much. But all the traveling and, of course, jetlag can really take a toll on players.
I didn’t agree with Phil Jackson‘s decision to play Kobe and Pau in the 4th quarter. Pride for the team and the league is one thing, but severely skewing the path of the franchise to another title is another. Barcelona doesn’t play in the NBA. Why should winning or losing against them matter?
The Lakers don’t play again until Wednesday, Oct. 13th against Sacramento in Las Vegas.
Injury Notes: Luke Walton – sore hamstring. Derrick Caracter – mild sprained ankle. Theo Ratliff – knee tendinitis.
Other Notes: Andrew Bynum doesn’t agree with Phil’s assessment that Bynum should be a “part-time” player this season. Having injured his knee the past 3 seasons and, more importantly, not being healthy in the last 3 Finals, you could understand PJ’s concerns. Being also a possible final season for him, things like injuries become much more pertinent to him.
Until Bynum could actually prove that he can even get himself back to his usual healthy form this season and his knee won’t be affecting his mental state, he should hold all of his comments to himself. Better yet, he should concentrate on proving Phil wrong on the floor instead of doing it from the side of the floor.
In a survey among the NBA general managers, 63% pick the Lakers to three-peat while 33.3% think the Heat will actually make the Finals. OKC’s Kevin Durant is the NBA MVP darling this upcoming season leading all candidates by 66.7% of votes.
Surveys are nothing more than a mild form of entertainment, but Durant winning the MVP this season won’t be a gimme. Not when a healthy Kobe is gunning for a 6th cookie.
Lakers at FC Regal Barcelona highlights: