(Courtesy of NBA.com)
The first half for the Lakers were as ugly as the new Utah Jazz jerseys. The offense wasn’t doing much of anything besides turnovers and shots clanking off of the rim. And the defense? Well, it was just there for show-and-tell. Kinda like an exhibition within an exhibition game. Very little stops and no desire to communicate with one another. As a result, Utah did whatever they wanted to in the first 2 quarters which led to their 99-94 victory at Staples Center over the team that’s been their major migraine of a headache the last 4 seasons in the playoffs. The win is their 6th in a row.
Phil Jackson decided to put his entire second unit on the floor midway through the 1st quarter after Kobe Bryant posted a 0-4 shooting. I think Phil was curious about how his new-look bench would do against one of the most systematic offense in the NBA. Jerry Sloan basketball basically consists of a lot of off-ball movements, screens, curls and a lot of precision passing.
But instead of showing what they’ve been doing the past couple of games, the bench looked like they were in awe of how well rookie Gordon Hayward (led the Jazz with 26 points on 8-of-10 shooting) can score; how athletic and active C.J. Miles (15 points/6 rebounds/3steals) is; and how much Andrei Kirilenko (13 points/6 rebounds/4 steals) has gotten a lot of his old form back from a strained left calf.
It also didn’t help that Steve Blake had his worst shooting night as a Laker by missing all 7 of his shot attempts, including a couple of absolutely wide-open shots. But scoring isn’t particularly the reason why the Lakers signed him last July. His main objective in this team is to run the offense for the second unit and provide defense from the point guard position. The bench’s best low-post threat would eventually be Lamar Odom, but he’s no Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum. So, he won’t warrant the same kind of attention from the defense as either player. Thus, Blake is better served making plays for the second unit rather than waiting for open looks at the basket.
The Lakers moved within 5 points 49-44 right before halftime thanks to a bit of a scoring spurt and a couple of stops on defense. Then, Kobe got it going in the 3rd quarter and simply took over the game vintage #24 with an array of 3-pointers, fallaways and dribble-drives to the hoop en route to a 7-of-8 shooting to score all of his 19 points — all against Raja Bell. Remember him? The guy who spurned Bryant and the Lakers last summer. Kobe offered him a chance to win his first ring by joining the Lakers. But, Bell didn’t want to have anything to do with being called a champion and opted to sign with Utah. The team the Lakers eliminated in the playoffs 4 years running now.
Come to think of it, maybe he did the Lakers a favor for not coming over afterall. If winning a title doesn’t appeal to Bell, why would the Lakers need him?
With that scoring exhibition by Bryant, the Lakers burst forward to an 11-point lead. But, big leads in this league are never safe. The Jazz fought their way back behind Hayward and Miles and chipped all but a single point of that lead away at the end of the 3rd quarter.
Turnovers, lack of consistent defense and cold-shooting buried the Lakers in the final quarter resulting in their 3rd loss of the pre-season. But, Phil certainly has some positive things to take away from this game.
Pau Gasol is looking more and more like his old self. He led the Lakers with 28 points and led both teams in block shots with 4. Pau also added 9 boards, 4 assists and gave Utah all they can handle down-low by getting to the free-throw line. He made 12 of his 14 attempts.
This is something Phil has been waiting for out of Gasol since he will be relied upon to start things off for the Lakers on offense and defense until Bryant can take over the alpha dog duties. Seeing how quickly Kobe has been recovering from his surgically repaired knee, maybe Pau won’t have to be the substitute teacher for very long when the season starts Oct. 26th. Either way, there really isn’t much concerns for the Lakers heading into the season.
Ron Artest poured in 17 points, including 2-of-4 from behind the arc. Ron just looks better this season. The way he moves on offense; the way he shoots the ball; and how quicker he moves his feet on defense are just so evident each time he’s on the floor.
As I’ve said before in a previous post, Artest is going to be one of the keys for the Lakers this upcoming season. They may have gotten quality free-agents and rookies this summer, but the Lakers can’t complete their second three-peat without him. What he brings on the floor is exactly what any team needs out of their role players to win a championship.
Shannon Brown and the ageless Theo Ratliff provided the punch out of the second unit. Brown’s confidence on offense is just growing. His shooting stroke and how and where he takes his shots have improved since last year. If this guy keeps at it, he’s going to make the Lakers that much tougher to beat.
What else can anybody say about Ratliff? This guy just works and works. No questions asked. Again, an absolute steal this summer. He only played 11 minutes and only tallied a rebound and a block, but his work in the paint on defense and on the glass is remarkable.
The Lakers shot a miserable 39% from the field but even worse from 3-point land at 28.6%. Without Pau and Lamar for much of the 2nd quarter, the second unit found no reason to run the offense inside-out. So, this just made playing defense for Utah that much easier and winning the game more difficult for the Lakers.
Fast-break points (13-10) and points in the paint (42-38) go to the Jazz. But, the 2-time defending champs dominated the offensive glass by 10 at 19-9 advantage. The Lakers shot more free-throws than Utah with 34 attempts and converted 28 for 82.4%. versus a 26-of-30 performance from the line for the Jazz.
Overall, this game was for Phil to evaluate his bench against a good offensive system. This is important because it gives Phil an early idea as to how he’s going to utilize his second unit and what adjustments that go along with whatever plan that may bring against Utah during the regular season and, perhaps, the post-season.
Both teams meet again on Tuesday at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.
NEXT GAME: Tuesday, Oct. 19th at 7:00 vs. Utah Jazz (Honda Center, Anaheim, CA) TV: KCAL-9 Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN
Other Notes: Earvin “Magic” Johnson sold his 4.5% share of the Lakers as co-owner to another businessman and avid Laker fan Dr. Soon-Shiong.
Magic had mentioned before that he’s interested in running a basketball franchise in his home state of Michigan. This is probably his first step in achieving that dream.
Shannon Brown has been reported that he’s engaged to singer girlfriend Monica.
Congrats and good luck, Shannon!
Luke Walton could return to action on Thursday against the Warriors (maybe even as early as Tuesday against the Jazz) after suffering a pulled hamstring during practice 2 1/2 weeks ago.
Which is a more bizarre sight, seeing Luke on the sideline or seeing him on the floor?
Kobe Bryant’s 3rd quarter onslaught: