Maybe the Lakers are getting back on track now. The Lakers have struggled as of late, having just ended a three-game losing streak on a game-winner by Kobe on Tuesday. The Lakers made it two in a row by beating the Suns 102-96 in Phoenix on Friday night. Their defense and ball movement on offense have been the problems recently and while neither were amazing, they showed significant improvements in both areas.
In the first quarter, it looked like it was going to be another lackluster performance. Amare Stoudemire absolutely killed them. He had 17 of the Suns' first 26 points and also had 8 rebounds in the first quarter. He was getting to the rim at will and Phil Jackson was not pleased. The Lakers made it a point of emphasis to force him further out of the paint and in the final three quarters he had just 12 points and 8 rebounds. So while STAT's stats of 29 points and 16 rebounds were impressive, most of it was done early and the Lakers were effective defensively against him through the rest of the game.
Phil Jackson was very unzen-like last night. In the first and second quarter he went deep into his bench with Adam Morrison, Josh Powell and Sasha Vujacic. I believe he was sending a message to the starters who were mostly responsible for allowing the Suns to score 31 points in the first quarter. He was letting the starters know that if they weren't going to hustle, they weren't going to play. There were also three instances when Jackson called a timeout when he saw something he didn't like on defense. For most coaches, this wouldn't be out of the ordinary but Jackson likes to let his team sort through their problems. He was much more active this game since it seems his passive approach hadn't been working recently.
Jackson's tactics seemed to work as the Lakers held the Suns to 15 points in the second quarter and went into the half on a 10-0 run and a 53-46 lead.
The Lakers defense wasn't great but it was the best they've played in awhile. Usually the Suns' ball movement creates wide-open looks but the Lakers switched well and didn't allow easy buckets as shown by the Suns' 42 percent shooting from the field.
On offense, it was about the inside play of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol and better ball movement. The two big men combined to hit 15 of 23 shots for 33 points and added 17 rebounds. In a change of pace Bynum did not disappear in the second half. He had 11 points in the first half and 7 in the second. The Suns allowed the bigs to get easy shots by giving up great position inside. Gasol and Bynum aren't going to miss many shots from within five feet of the basket.
In the previous four games the Lakers had averaged just over 16 assists per game. Last night, they had 21. Finally the offense wasn't completely stagnant. They moved the ball around and got some open looks on the perimeter and some easy buckets inside.
The bright spot for the Suns (aside from Stoudemire) was Louis Amundson. He got extended playing time since Channing Frye was serving his suspension for a fight with the Pacers and Amundson made the most of it. He hit 5 of his 7 shots for 11 points and added 10 rebounds and 4 blocks. Add Amundson to the list of hustle guys that kill the Lakers.This was a big win for the Lakers. They need to keep winning to stave off the hot Mavericks who have won 13 in a row and have significantly closed the gap in the West. Andrew Bynum echoed that sentiment, "We need to start building because Dallas is chasing us and Denver is chasing us. We need to start putting together a couple little streaks here." Maybe this is what the Lakers needed. Maybe they needed someone to step up and challenge them - to give them a little scare. It's only one win but it's a win in the right direction.
They need to take advantage of their upcoming weak schedule because it gets really rough after that. They have four games in a row against sub .500 teams before playing seven teams in a row above .500 with five of them being road games.