It’s no secret that the Lakers like to pound the basketball inside.
That’s like saying that “The Situation” from MTV’s “Jersey Shore*” just “likes” to lie in tanning beds and call girls, or that DJ Paulie D “likes” to apply copious amounts of product to his hair and spin records.
*Since the cast of the show was at STAPLES enjoying the game, we’re allowed to mention them. It’s in the rule book.
Of course, if Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum were on your squad, wouldn’t you want to throw the rock in the paint as much as possible?
Unfortunately for the Lakers, that combination had been on the floor for only 22-of-39 games this season, due primarily to the left (six games) and right (11 games) hamstrings of Gasol. Yet with Gasol on the bench, Bynum had been playing some of his best basketball of the season in averaging almost 20 points and 12 boards in respective Pau-less stints, while he had failed to register a single double-double when playing alongside Gasol.
That left assistant coach Frank Hamblen (among others) wondering aloud on LakersTV at Friday morning shootaround what we would see against the Clippers at 7:30 p.m., when all 14 feet of big men were once again in the starting lineup.
“We’ll just see with Pau coming back if there’s enough room for both big guys in the paint to succeed,” he said.
As it turned out … there was plenty of room.
In what turned out to be the team’s biggest victory of the season (126-86, to be exact), L.A. wasted no time using their length as Bynum and Gasol combined for 16 of the purple and gold’s first 18 points, all of which came in the painted area.
“It’s good when we’re able to set the tone early as far as pounding the ball inside to get Andrew going and get myself going,” said Gasol. “Then the ball will come out of the post because they’re going to start double teaming and we’re going to get open shots for the guys on the outside.”
After their squad was temporarily derailed in the second quarter (falling behind by nine points) the Lakers did precisely as Gasol described, nailing a plethora of open jumpers as the game rolled on and the Clips collapsed inside, including seven second half three-pointers, outscoring L.A.’s other team a whopping 73-36 in the second half after holding just a four-point lead at the half.
In that third quarter, Bynum and Gasol transitioned to the backboards, outrebounding the Clippers 7-3 themselves over the first ten minutes of the period as the Lakers found themselves quickly up by 22. ‘Drew and Pau even found themselves sharing the same statistical line with 2:19 left in the third: 18 points and six rebounds apiece.
“Always, every time you make a mistake, they have a guy that can make you pay the price,” said Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy. “That’s the thing about their team that if you’re giving weak side help and you come up on one of the bigs, (the other is a) pretty easy target to find.”
Gasol’s night would end after the third quarter with 20 points, seven boards, three blocks and three assists, while Bynum checked out for the final time with 8:36 left in the fourth after posting 20 points, seven boards, two assists and two blocks.
Alas, while Bynum was three boards short of that double-double, he played only 28 minutes and was an efficient 8-of-13 from the floor, while Gasol hardly looked like he hadn’t played in two weeks and took up none of Bynum’s space on the block.
“I thought they looked great,” said Kobe Bryant of his bigs. “I made it a point to tell Andrew, ‘I don’t want you to be passive, you gotta be aggressive, you can’t think about stepping on toes.’ Pau’s a phenomenal player, he’ll figure his way through it as I do.”
While those bigs were doing their thing, Bryant overcame back spasms that plagued him in Texas to score 30 points on 10-of-20 shooting, including four three-pointers and 6-of-8 free throws. When Kobe sat down after 38 minutes, the bench caught fire in the fourth and outscored the Clippers 37-19.
“When we play together and move the ball, play defense the way we did especially in that second half, we’re a tough team to beat,” said Gasol. “Things are working out.”
The same could be said about the team’s collective health, finally. Since Luke Walton, who’d missed the bulk of the season with a back injury, played in his first home game after appearing in both Texas matchups, the Lakers had all 13 players on the roster available for the first time.
A 40-point victory was a good enough way to celebrate that health, particularly the 14 feet in the middle of the paint.
Up next for the Lakers is a matchup with 2009 Finals opponent Orlando on Monday night at STAPLES Center. Until then, your numbers:
8 Game-high rebound total from Derek Fisher in only 19 minutes. Fish added six assists, a team-high, and four points and received Phil Jackson’s “Player of the Game” postgame praise.
11 Minute played by Lamar Odom, in which he produced seven points, two boards and two assists. The Lakers will surely need him for further minutes in a tough slew of games in the second half of January.
12 Pau Gasol’s free throw attempts, and makes, in his first game action since Jan. 3. He finished with 20 points, seven boards and three blocks.
28 Lakers bench points in the fourth quarter alone, including 10 from Sasha Vujacic, seven from Shannon Brown, six from D.J. Mbenga and five from Jordan Farmar.
30 Points from Kobe Bryant, looking like his back never bugged him, in 38 minutes on 10-of-20 shooting and 6-of-8 from the line to lead all scorers.
40 Victory margin in L.A.’s impressive 126-86 effort, the biggest Lakers victory of the season (previous was 35 over Dallas on 1/3).