It’s already been 4 months since the Lakers ended the 2009-2010 season with their 16th overall title at Staples Center, yet the vivid memories of Game 7 against the Celtics are still fresh in everyone’s minds. But that didn’t affect how the Lakers approached their pre-season meeting with a former Western Conference Championship opponent the Denver Nuggets. The 2-time defending champs were pretty much on the driver’s seat the entire night beating the Nuggets 102-95 in the middle of an excited home crowd.
But Denver were without their superstar forward Carmelo Anthony. He wasn’t injured, but he was fatigued from training camp according to Nugget head coach George Karl. Nothing really shocking there, but why is Melo this tired when he played no basketball over the summer? However, it was good to see Karl back coaching again from his battle with throat cancer.
The man of the night for the Lakers was rookie Devin Ebanks, who played 24 minutes and put up 14 points and 7 rebounds. He made 5 of his 8 attempts from the field and converted all but one of his 5 free-throws.
One of the things Ebanks has been showing a lot since the first exhibition game is his ability to cut through the lanes effectively in the Triangle. He did that well again tonight. Until Devin improves on his mid-range game, this is going to be his bread-and-butter on offense. Well that and putbacks from offensive boards. He got 4 of those Saturday night.
The Laker bench is starting to refine their game in the Triangle offense as well. Matt Barnes and Shannon Brown are finding their way around the offense better. Barnes, like Ebanks, is giving his teammates a steady dose of cuts to the basket, while Brown is beginning to show better stroke with his jumpshots. Shannon is still iffy with his decision-making on offense and still sleeps on defense at times. But with more playing time expected from him until Kobe Bryant gets his knee healthier, Shannon has time to iron out his game this upcoming season.
Barnes finished with 5 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Brown had the second most points from the bench with 11, including 2 from behind the arc. He also had himself 2 steals on defense.
As for the starters, Kobe Bryant played his best exhibition game so far leading the Lakers with 18 points and 8 rebounds. But his jumpshots are still sketchy making only 5 of his 13 attempts from the field. However, Kobe is looking better and better in a lot of his movements on the floor. His post moves and fall-aways are smoother, and his cuts and stop-and-go’s are crisp. Again, good signs that his knee is getting stronger each day.
Pau Gasol didn’t have the monster game Phil Jackson had hoped he would start having after telling the media after practice on Friday that he wants Pau to step-up his game even more this season. He had only 14 points and 6 boards in 21 minutes.
Phil knows Gasol will come through when the team needs him most. He just doesn’t like his superstars to get complacent about anything good they do for the team. This is how he makes good players great by making them constantly evaluating their overall performances each game to see if they’re contributing enough in all facets of the game.
Lamar Odom took second highest scorer honors for the Lakers with 14 points and took down 7 rebounds. There’s really nothing new to say about Lamar other than he is continually making sure his productivity on the floor is a major influence for his team.
Putting up high numbers consistently isn’t a realistic expectation out of Odom, but his game-to-game mental state is what Phil is really looking at. He wants Lamar to prove to him that he’s grown more mature this season after his experience with Team USA at the FIBA championship this past summer. Odom does that by cutting way down on his disappearing act in games.
Ron Artest played just 24 minutes and got 5 points, 5 boards, 5 assists, 2 blocks and a steal. Nothing special but a solid outing for Ron, especially on the defensive end. Same goes with Derek Fisher. 6 points and 3 assists in 23 minutes in a pre-season game are just an extension of his practice output.
Moving the ball and good contributions off of the bench were the major factors in the win for the Lakers. Second half defense pretty much put the game away, which prompted Phil to rest most of his starters after 3 quarters.
Next up for the Lakers are the Jazz on Sunday.
NEXT GAME: Sunday, Oct. 17th vs. Utah Jazz at 7:30 p.m. at Staples Center.
TV: FoxSports West RADIO: 710/1330 AM ESPN
Other Notes: Sasha Vujacic will not play this weekend due to the concussion he suffered during practice. He will be re-evaluated on Monday.
Stu Lantz and Joel Meyers’ post-game analysis: