While trepidation was mounting about the Lakers' immediate future, they did answer a big question about their long-term future. Yesterday, Kobe Bryant signed a three-year extension that will keep him in Los Angeles through 2014. Now time to shift back to the present where the Lakers had just come off a 2-3 road trip with their three losses being by an average of nearly 14 points.
Last night they hosted the Jazz who came into the game having lost 13 in a row at the Staples Center. The Lakers need wins to gain momentum heading into the playoffs. The Jazz need wins to improve their playoff seeding. Clearly the Jazz had much more to play for than the Lakers but they sure didn't look like it. The Lakers started the game hot and ended it that way beating the Jazz 106-92.
The Lakers couldn't have played much better than they did in the first quarter. They moved the ball better than they have in quite some time as proof by their 9 assists on 14 field goals and they played great defense forcing the Jazz into five turnovers and holding them to 30 percent from the floor. The Jazz didn't begin the game with their normal amount of energy and the Lakers took advantage to the tune of a 33-16 lead.
In the second quarter it was the Deron Williams Show. He entered the game three minutes into the quarter with the Jazz trailing 39-20. At first he abused Jordan Farmar and then Derek Fisher. I've said it before but - he's too strong for Farmar and too fast for Fisher. He scored 14 points on 6 of 8 shooting. That's why the Lakers actually put Ron Artest on him. Artest played great defense on Williams for the final three minutes. He held him to a single point and that was on a bogus foul call that should've gone against Williams. Williams was pushing the ball with Artest running beside him and he threw his shoulder into Artest and flailed his arms to pick up the foul. So, since Williams wasn't in the game for the first three minutes of the quarter and was held to 1 point in the final three minutes...that means he scored 13 points in the middle six minutes. It also means that if you take out those six minutes, he scored just 7 points in the other 35 minutes he played. But he also contributed with 10 assists with 7 of them coming after halftime.
In the third, the Lakers looked to get Pau Gasol going. He got it in the post on nearly every possession at the beginning of the quarter and scored 9 of his 14 in the third. Gasol did a little of everything in this game. He had 16 rebounds and just missed a triple-double with a season-high 9 assists.
But the Jazz chipped away at the Lakers' lead by pushing the pace. Deron Williams and Ronnie Price helped pick up the pace and that's the way the Jazz like to play. The push helped them close to within four points early in the fourth quarter but the Lakers had an answer - Lamar Odom. Odom was a large part of their first quarter run as he scored 11 in the early going and then helped put the game away with 13 in the fourth including 9 straight points for the Lakers to put them up by 12. Odom was phenomenal last night. He scored a team-high 26 points on 11 of 14 shooting and also had 10 rebounds.
So how did Bryant do after signing a contract worth nearly $90 million? So-so. His jumper wasn't falling and actually had a span in which he hit just one of 16 shots. But Bryant must have known his shot was off because he made up for it by being aggressive, attacking the basket and drawing fouls. He scored 15 of his 25 points from the free throw line (on 18 attempts). This is another good sign for the Lakers. Sometimes Bryant falls in love with his jumper and forgets how easy it can be for him to get to the line. It might hurt a little bit more and not look as pretty but it's effective.But it was far from a perfect night for the Lakers. Besides Bryant's horrendous shooting night, the bench was still a major concern. They contributed just 19 points on 7 of 20 shooting. Luke Walton should help when he returns on Sunday though when the Lakers take on the Spurs.
This win, while not a cure-all, really got me thinking. Despite how awful the Lakers have been playing they still have a great chance to win the title. Because, no matter how poor they play on the road they are still going to have home court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs. Then, there will probably be just one team who could have home court advantage over them in the Finals. If they do make it to the Finals and they do face the Cavs then that will be a tall task but maybe they will finally be clicking at that point.