After the Lakers 102-84 victory over the Jazz, coach Mike D’Antoni acknowledged he was pleased with the team’s sharing of the basketball.
The ball movement was no more evident than on one particular play in the opening minutes when Steve Nash threaded a bounce pass to a cutting Kobe Bryant along the baseline, who then lofted the ball to Dwight Howard for an alley-oop.
It was Bryant’s third assist – out of four Lakers made baskets – less than three minutes into the contest, as L.A. raced out to a 9-2 lead.
“(Bryant) set the tone,” D’Antoni said. “There’s no doubt about it. He played like Oscar Robertson back in the day.”
The 15-time All-Star guard finished with five assists in the first quarter alone, en route to a season-high 14 dimes – one shy of his career-high of 15 set in Feb. of 2002.
“You get everybody else involved early and throughout the game, it makes teams tough to guard us,” Howard explained. “(Kobe) did a great job of that (on Friday). It makes it tough for teams when he’s passing, throwing lobs and picking the defense apart.”
Bryant also capped his night one rebound away from his 19th career triple-double, with 14 points on 7 for 10 shooting, along with nine boards.
The Lakers shot 53.8 percent from the floor, and five players finished in double figures.
“When we use our strengths and play together, it’s going to be tough for teams to guard us,” Howard explained. “When our offense is stagnant, and there’s not a lot of movement, no pick and rolls and we’re watching, teams have a chance to set their defense.”
One of those strengths is allowing Pau Gasol to play closer to the basket at the center position, D’Antoni choosing to bring the 7-foot Spaniard off the bench in the last three games. In those games, Gasol is averaging 14.3 points and 9.0 rebounds on 53.1 percent from the floor in 27.3 minutes.
“He is a better five,” he said. “Pau is one of the best skilled guys in the league.”
But carrying this type of same energy over to Sunday’s matchup with the Thunder will be paramount, according to D’Antoni. The sustained effort, he said, has to stick. If the Lakers remain focused and bring the same type of play on both sides of the ball, the coaching staff believes they will be successful.
“I think that’s the way you have to play against Oklahoma City,” D’Antoni explained. “Can (we) win? They’re really good at what they do, but I think we can. Obviously some guys are going to have to step up, play well and hit shots. If they do that, we’ll have a good shot at winning.”