The biggest piece of news coming out of Anaheim actually occurred before the game, when Phil Jackson said that starting forward Pau Gasol and center Andrew Bynum would miss the Thursday evening contest against the Denver Nuggets.
The rematch of the Western Conference Finals would go on, of course, with L.A. managing to beat the Nuggets by _ despite the absence of 14 collective feet. Every player getting minutes contributed to a nice win, yet the story remained whether or not the Lakers would be healthy for Tuesday evening’s regular season opener against the Clippers, particularly when Jackson confirmed that Gasol would miss Friday night’s game as well.
Jackson explained that his All-Star forward had some questions about how his hamstring felt after Wednesday’s practice, and to alleviate those feelings, the staff thought it was best to keep him out of the final two preseason games.
“I’m not worried,” said Jackson before the game. “Whether he makes it (for the season opener on Tuesday) or not I’m not worried.”
Bynum, however, is a game-time decision for the Friday contest in San Diego, but since he didn’t go Thursday, fans got to hear this in the starting lineup call:
“Starting at center, a 7-foot center from the Republic of the Congo … D.J. Mbenga!!!!!!”
“Congo Cash,” as he’s called by his teammates, began the game with two early blocks of Denver center Nene, and finished the evening with an impressive seven blocks. Starting in place of Gasol was Lamar Odom – a major luxury off the bench – and the lanky lefty could barely miss in the early goings, nailing three consecutive three-pointers in the first quarter and two more in the second.
Odom’s previous career high from three in his 10-year career? Four. Too bad preseason stats don’t count. Nonetheless, his 15 points helped the Lakers to a 52-46 halftime lead, and Kobe Bryant’s 11 third quarter points spurred the Lakers to lead by 10 near the close of the period.
With the starters resting on the bench in the fourth quarter, the smallish fivesome of Shannon Brown, Sasha Vujacic, Adam Morrison, Luke Walton and Josh Powell did well to preserve L.A.’s lead, even pushing it to 90-78 halfway through the quarter when Vujacic’s three bounced high off the front rim before sinking through. Powell, playing strong as the team’s center, guarded Nene and scored consecutive points at the other end before finishing with 15 points and six rebounds for the night.
Jordan Farmar and rookie Tony Gaffney joined the fray moments later, helping the Lakers close out with a 17-point victory to push L.A.’s preseason record to 6-1 as the team awaits more news about the minor injuries of Gasol and Bynum.
4 Odom’s career high for three-pointers made in a regular season game.
5 Three-pointers hit by Odom in the first half on Thursday night.
7 Blocks for center D.J. Mbenga in 26 minutes of work.
11 Third quarter points for Kobe Bryant, who finished with a team-high 23.
26 Nuggets turnovers, compared to just 13 from the Lakers, a major factor in L.A.’s win.