Lakers – Nets Running Diary

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Inactives for tonight:
Lakers – D.J. Mbenga, Sun Yue
Nets – Josh Boone, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Eduardo Najera

The inactives get no love. Know what I mean? That’s why I spent some time with Sun Yue the other day, and why I spoke to D.J. in the locker room before the game. A man who speaks seven languages and has traveled all over the world, Mbenga teaches me something I didn’t know on most days, so I thought I’d share with you a brief conversation about his favorite country in Europe:

What does that have to do with tonight’s game, you’re wondering? Nothing. Nothing at all. Don’t worry about it.

Here are your starters:

Lakers: Fish, Kobe, Vladi, Pau and Bynum
Nets: Devin Harris, Vince Carter, Bobby Simmons, Yi Jianlian and Brook Lopez

First Quarter
Two things I’m keeping an eye on right away tonight:
1) Does Radmanovic continue his blistering three-point shooting from the last three games, in which he went 5-of-5 once (at Phoenix) and 4-of-5 Sunday (vs. Sacramento).
2) Does Kobe come out aggressively looking to score as he has against other teams that aren’t fantastic on paper?
3) Will Yi Jianlian be able to do anything defensively with Gasol? Pau’s been eating up defenders in first quarters all year, and Yi isn’t known for bodying up on D.

And your early answers, after six minutes and a 13-12 New Jersey lead:
A) Yes. Vladi buried his only triple attempt right at the 6:00 mark to give L.A. the lead. Radmanovic also grabbed a team-high three boards.
B) Yes. Kobe took L.A.’s first two shots, both contested jumpers from the perimeter, and put up three more in the next few minutes. The only problem was that he missed all five, four of which were perimeter jumpers.
C) Not at all. Gasol got his (and L.A.’s) first bucket in transition after a nice leading pass from Kobe, and his second after simply pushing Yi out of the way for an offensive board.

The Nets came out firing bullets like Peter Vescey in his hoops columns, scoring 12 points in just over three minutes including five points each from Carter and Yi, both of whom hit a three, to give New Jersey a 24-21 lead at the 2:46 mark (when Jackson called a full timeout). Gasol was able to victimize Yi twice more on the defensive end, however, and Bryant broke out of his first-quarter shooting slump with a big jam off the baseline. Rotation-wise, Trevor Ariza, Jordan Farmar and Lamar Odom checked in with Kobe and Pau, which I would have commented more on had I not been distracted by a massive Carl’s Jr. burger on the jumbotron that has me thinking about my route home from STAPLES later. I think if I take the 10W to the 405s to Venice I’ll hit one…

A rather unimpressive first quarter from the Lakers probably wasn’t what the critics were looking for after the rather uninspired early fourth quarter performance on Sunday, particularly since New Jersey managed to shoot 54.2 percent, while the Lakers made just 40.9 percent of their shots (resulting in a 28-24 Jersey lead). Bryant’s 1-of-7 effort came almost exclusively from clanked jumpers, but if you take out his shooting woes the rest of the squad hit at 53 percent. Turnovers weren’t really a problem (four) and the Nets didn’t get to the foul line once, but Lopez had a few really easy looks at the rim (eight points) thanks in part to the penetration of Deven Harris (four assists). Perhaps the main concern for the Lakers heading into tonight’s action was Harris getting into the paint too easily, and it’s probably fair to say that he did just that.

Second Quarter
In the first quarter, L.A. largely went to the Gasol-Yi mismatch on the low block. In the second, it was Bynum who received the first two touches with Lopez defending, which ended up being quite fruitful: first came two Bynum free throws, and second a super-athletic put-back jam (as Bynum narrowly missed a left-handed baseline hook) from Ariza to tie things up at 28. By the way, if you’re looking for personal fouls on your fantasy team, pick up Jersey’s Sean Williams right now (three PF in three minutes).

A thought on Jersey’s No. 10 overall pick who very well could have gone at No. 4 to Seattle or, at worst, No. 9 to Charlotte, Mr. Lopez: A legit seven-footer with size 20 feet that could hold five $6 Carl’s Jr. burgers (I tested in the locker room), Robin’s twin brother was pretty impressive on the block early on, scoring 10 points in 12 minutes (already surpassing his season average of 8.7 points) on 5-of-7 shooting to go with four boards. The thing is, Lopez isn’t the quickest guy on the floor, but he’s quick for his size, and seems to possess really soft/nice hands both for catching the ball and finishing at the rim. We’ll certainly be seeing him start at center for several years.

Odom took over a lil’ two minute stretch of the second like he was Dwight Schrute as a volunteer sheriff’s deputy (OK maybe not that fiercely), first getting to the rim and drawing a foul, and on the next possession finishing at the rim after a cut to the hoop with that lefty scoop at which he’s so good. Odom’s bench mate Ariza then hooked Bynum up with a sweet behind-the-back pass for a layup before the final of L.A.’s bench threesome, Farmar, made a driving layup. That 7-0 run had the Lakers up 39-34 and finally playing some good basketball.

Random Top Ten List – Best Current TV Shows
In no particular order:

The Office
Grey’s Anatomy
Inside the NBA/P.T.I. (both must watches for sports fans, but not for the general public, thus not taking up two spaces)
Gossip Girl (seriously … just watch it … don’t doubt me … I promise it’s $$$)
The Hills
Real World
Mad Men (trusting my friends here, as I haven’t seen it)
Friday Night Lights (p.s., the show’s executive producer and director of the movie, Peter Berg, is courtside next to Kevin James [King of Queens]).

Leading 46-43 into a timeout (which produced my TV list, aren’t you happy?), the Lakers came out with six-straight points to take their biggest lead, courtesy of a pretty Gasol move in the paint, a prettier Bynum move on the baseline and a Fisher jumper. But then Devin Harris went off, scoring nine of Jersey’s 11 points to close the quarter. In fact, the Nets scored 11 of the quarter’s final 15 points to cut the lead to two, including four Harris FTs and a 25-foot triple. You have to give Harris some credit here, because Chris Paul, Derrick Rose and Steve Nash weren’t nearly as successful at getting into the paint in previous games against L.A. as Harris was in the first half. Before the game, Phil Jackson said that the Lakers staff has really like Harris’ game for the last few years, not just what he’s been able to do this season thanks to 36 minutes a game. The 25-year-old has top-shelf quickness and a pretty smooth stroke and is definitely the man in Jersey, meaning there’s no reason not to keep him in your fantasy leagues*: he’s only going to get better, particularly from where you drafted him this year.
*Um, or in real leagues.

One thing that was good to see in that final stretch was Bryant backing Bobby Simmons all the way into the paint, recognizing his struggles from the field (1-of-9) and deciding to get his flow back by attacking the basket. After two makes, Bryant had just four points in the first half in which Gasol led the way with 16 and Bynum hit for 11.

All-in-all, L.A.’s second quarter was much better than its first, with the exception of that Harris-inspired stretch that kept it close.

A few other stats: L.A. forced only five turnovers from Jersey, well below the season average in a half; The Lakers shot the ball well in the second quarter, canning 11-of-18 (61 percent); L.A. held a 23-20 edge on the glass; While Bryant struggled with his shooting, he did contribute four boards and four assists.

Third Quarter
Guess who made his first two jumpers of the third quarter?

Yup. Kobe. But then he missed three straight shots (3-of-14 to that point), and the Nets capitalized behind a Carter triple and two Yi free throws to make it a one-point game, the closest Jersey had been since early in the first. Then came a Gasol jumper (20 points) and a Simmons three, and the score was tied at 64. Things didn’t seem to be going L.A.’s way first as the Yi free throws were the result of what looked like a phantom foul, and second when Gasol was whistled for three seconds in the lane instead of given two foul shots of his own. But you had to like how Pau responded – an aggressive baseline move and a powerful, anger-expressing one-handed dunk to take the lead back. Sticking a cherry on top of Pau’s … um … pie? was Bynum, who matched Pau’s dunk in aggressiveness.

Harris started to draw the Chris Paul treatment as the Lakers doubled him as he dribbled up the court (unless I missed that earlier?), which was pretty effective in getting the ball out of his hands, but upon getting it back on one possession, he quite easily dribbled around Fisher and drew Bynum’s fourth foul at the 6:00 mark. It’s hard to fault Fish there, however, because Harris has been dribbling around everybody this season. Here are a few things I don’t think he could dribble around: Michael Cooper; Albert Haynesworth (he’s mad wide); Chuck Norris/Jean-Claude Van Dam (I never said you couldn’t use roundhouse kicks); an elephant (Asian or African, whatever).

As I digressed, the Lakers went on an important 9-2 run, capped by Vladi’s second three of the evening that claimed a 77-68 edge. By the way, I should mention that Yi Jianlian is a pretty good player, particularly on offense, which in this game is supported by his 13 points, six boards and four assists with two minutes to go in the third. Give the kid some credit. And while we’re disseminating credit, how about Pau Gasol’s 24 points, eight boards and two dimes? He’d add two free throws for a game-high 26 points after three, eight behind his season-high 34 that came against the Bulls last week.

Math majors out there saw L.A. outscore the Nets 34-22 in the third quarter to build a 90-76 lead heading into the fourth. Excellent quarter from both ends of the floor for L.A., indeed, which is perhaps most notable by the shooting percentages: L.A. held N.J. to 6-of-23 shooting (26.1 percent) in the third while making 13-of-22 (59.1 percent) themselves.

Fourth Quarter
The Lakers second unit was killing it early in the fourth. Just murdering the Nets.

A very active Lamar helped the Lakers maintain the intensity that produced that big third quarter edge, first with a nice bucket near the hoop, then with two boards and a solid defensive play. The Machine then hit a triple courtesy of a Bynum offensive board, and L.A. claimed its biggest lead of the night at 95-76.

… At least until another run (8-2) which included an Odom three, Bynum hammer dunk, Farmar triple and Ariza turnaround that gave the Lakers a huge 105-78 lead. Be honest … If you were watching, you certainly saw some championship-level hoops in the second half. Don’t claim hyperbole, either. L.A. absolutely clamped down on defense, outscoring the Nets 33-10 since the 4:15 mark of the third quarter, to well bury the game at the 8:05 mark. And a quick note on Odom from Ty: Lamar’s made 5-of-9 threes this year, which even in a small sample space is a nice sign after he hit just 27 percent last season.

Jackson chose a lineup of Farmar, Vujacic, Josh Powell, Luke Walton and Chris Mihm to play the game’s final few minutes. And play they did, pushing L.A.’s points total all the way to 120 in closing the evening with a 120-93 margin. Farmar had eight in the period, Vujacic and Odom five, Walton four and Mihm three. But I have to admit, my favorite moment of the fourth was after Sean Williams committed his sixth foul, forcing Brook Lopez (who was solid with 17 and 10) to check back in with 1:01 to play. Williams walked directly to the bench, not seeing Lopez run all the way from half court to try and shake his hand. Finally, after traveling the full length of the half court, Lopez gave up and ran into the lane. Solid stuff.

Up next? A Dallas Mavericks team that’s won five games in a row, including a narrow 109-106 win tonight at home against Indiana. See you then.