Lakers 102, Nuggets 95: Preseason Diary

62078872Below is a running diary of L.A.’s preseason contest against Denver, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Odom and Gasol
Nuggets: Chauncey Billups, Arron Afflalo, J.R. Smith*, Melvin Ely and Nene
*Smith started for Carmelo Anthony, sitting out the game just to rest.

62079385FIRST QUARTER
8:55 With L.A. leading 7-5 thanks to Artest’s fifth three of the preseason in nine attempts (56 percent) plus his layup off Kobe’s feed, Matt Barnes was the first off the bench in relief of Odom (two fouls). On a given night, it could be him, Steve Blake, Shannon Brown or even Theo Ratliff in first depending on which starter were in foul trouble.

5:41 Bryant’s driving and-1 and Gasol’s reverse layup gave L.A. an early 16-11 lead, though both Gasol and Odom had picked up two fouls, likely meaning a good deal of Theo Ratliff and Derrick Caracter. The first time out brought us the first Laker Girls routine, a fast version of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” performed live by Luke Walton in dress clothes*.
*Not really. Walton (hamstring) does hope to return to practice this week.

2:39 After nine minutes of action, Bryant had amassed a game-high eight points, including 4-of-5 free throws, with four rebounds and an assist. In related news, he was moving freely on his still-climbing-towards-100-percent right knee (over which he wore a gold sleeve), exemplified by his activity on the glass. Speaking of rebounding … the last two times Bryant played in STAPLES Center, he grabbed 11 and 15 rebounds, respectively, against the Celtics in the Finals.

0:04.0 A Ratliff dunk in the final seconds put L.A. up 32-28 after the first quarter of action. Artest, continuing to look comfortable on the offensive end as he has throughout the preseason, had nine points on 3-of-6 shooting, plus three boards, while Barnes was very effective in relief duty.

62078786SECOND QUARTER
9:00 Gasol’s 17-foot jumper swished home to put the Lakers up 39-30 and get him to eight points, before he followed with his third board at the other end. Before the game, Jackson reiterated that he’d like Gasol to take more responsibility early in the season as Kobe gets back to being Kobe, but we may not see the Spaniard really buckle down until October 26′s season opener. It’s mostly fastballs from Gasol right now, just warming up his arm before some of the change ups, curves and screwballs come out in two weeks.

5:22 With Steve Blake manning the point, L.A.’s offense ran pretty crisply for a four-minute stretch, the Lakers capitalizing by taking a 49-39 lead with Gasol getting up to 10 points and Odom six on a combined 8-of-10 from the field. Shannon Brown added a catch-and-shoot three, which L.A.’s coaches like, but instead of taking another open look two possessions later decided to put the ball on the floor, and was whistled for a travel. Surely assistant coach Jim Cleamons will put that on film.

2:45 It was already progress to see Bryant back on the floor in the second quarter, his first such appearance in the preseason, but even better for Lakers fans to see him execute an old favorite. Bryant had Billups isolated on the wing, received Odom’s pass, turned and shot immediately … swish. That looked a lot like, well, Kobe Bryant.

0:01.0 Bryant closed the half by getting his Drew Brees on, dropping a beautiful pass onto Odom’s fingertips, with L.O. finishing a layup to put the Lakers up 63-51 at the break. The Lakers also got a nice boost from rookie Devin Ebanks, who posted seven points, three boards and a whole lot of energy off the bench. His fellow second round pick Derrick Caracter added four boards and a dunk as L.A. finished the quarter an impressive 12-of-18 from the field (67 percent).

62079378THIRD QUARTER
10:00 Just after tweeting that Odom had yet to miss a shot in going 5-for-5 for 10 points with five boards and five assists, he air-balled a three, then missed a baseline jumper. We’ll take the blame for that (jinx).

6:15 In sticking with the major theme from tonight’s diary, Bryant continued to look better and better, hitting an open jumper and then quickly draining another on the subsequent possession to put L.A. up 74-62. Some were concerned that Bryant wouldn’t be himself at the start of the regular season, but the progress he made even since Wednesday’s game in Las Vegas was very palatable.

2:32 Phil Jackson spent last week’s practices focusing primarily on defense, but L.A.’s ball movement against Denver made it seem like offense was the focus, as signified by 24 assists on 30 field goals.

0:00 The quarter ended as Brown couldn’t quite chase down a loose ball at a full sprint, but somehow managed to stop himself short of running down Laker Girl Ashley, coincidentally the girl run into in the Vegas game on Wednesday. Fortunately, she was just fine both times, but is apparently wearing a magnet. Alas, L.A.’s dominance extended their 12-point halftime lead to 85-68, Bryant leading the way with 18 points and Odom helping with 14.

62078781FOURTH QUARTER
8:00 The Nuggets scored 16 points in the first four minutes of the 4th to cut L.A.’s 17-point lead to just five before an and-1, and then a put-back from Ebanks restored the lead temporarily to double digits. Here was evidence (12 points, four boards in 17 minutes) as to why Phil Jackson’s been touting the West Virginia product’s preseason play.

2:46 Sign it’s only preseason: with L.A. up six, an offensive possession ran through training camp signee Trey Johnson and draftee Caracter, resulting in a turnover. The ice was on Kobe’s knees, though Odom and Brown remained on the floor along with Ebanks to try and hold on for the win.

0:00 And that they would, thanks in part to a corner jumper from Ebanks that got him to 14 points and seven boards in an impressive STAPLES debut.

Your final: Lakers 102, Nuggets 95, the major takeaway for L.A. being not the win, but how good Kobe looked.

POSTGAME NUMBERS
17 L.A.’s biggest lead, coming midway through the third quarter. The Nuggets managed to lead by only a point in the first.

18 Points for Kobe Bryant in 25 minutes to lead the Lakers, behind 5-of-13 field goals and 8-of-11 free throws, along with eight boards (also a team-high) and five assists. Bryant moved very well on his knee throughout, looking much closer to regular season form than at any previous point in the preseason, a very positive sign for L.A.

22 Turnovers for the Lakers. It is the preseason, after all.

28 Assists for the Lakers on 36 field goals, showcasing pretty good ball movement especially for the preseason. Lamar Odom led the way with six helpers, while Ron Artest and Bryant added five each.

66.7 L.A.’s shooting percentage in the second quarter, allowing for a 12-point cushion at halftime. The Lakers actually hit nine of their first 11 attempts in the period (82 percent), and finished the game at 50 percent.