(Courtesy: LA Times)
It's usually Kobe Bryant who comes out saving the team from a loss, but the Laker bench did the job tonight by picking up the pieces Kobe couldn't carry in a big Martin Luther King Day victory against their 2009 NBA Finals opponent the Orlando Magic 98-92 in front of a capacity Staples Center crowd. The win is huge because it's the final home game for the Lakers in the month of January as they embark on an 8-game road schedule in 12 nights starting in Cleveland.
I really like what we're starting to see out of Shannon Brown. This young man isn't taking his career-changing trade to the Lakers very lightly nor for granted. He's committed to making himself a better player more than anybody in the team outside of Kobe. He still has a lot of work ahead of him, but his game has matured so much since his debut as a Laker just last season. He knows where he's supposed to be in the Triangle and knows where he can find his shot much clearer now. His defensive awareness and reactions have improved also. He's beginning to understand where and how he can effectively disrupt the offense and ball-handlers using his quickness, size, and athleticism better.
Brown had a new career-high with 22 points on 8 of 12 shooting and added 2 steals against the Magic.
Although defense will never really be anywhere a strong part of his game, Jordan Farmar is starting to put it together on offense. He's yelling at his teammates and the refs less frequently and seems to be more concerned now in how to contribute with his scoring. Yeah, he still forgets to run the offense at times but, at least, he's making himself a positive more rather than a negative for the Lakers.
Compared to the way he came out and shot the ball against the Clippers last Friday, Bryant's 21% shooting percentage against Orlando was a bit of a surprise. Then again, he has opted to rest his injuries by not participating in any team practices. Kobe mentioned that his injured index finger was hit after he had thrown a pass to DJ Mbenga in the second quarter that pretty much prevented him from shooting himself out of a cold start.
That may be true, but at this point it looks like Kobe's finger does his shooting touch no good when he rests it too long. The Lakers had two days off from their win against the Clippers on Friday to their rematch with the Magic on Monday. I wonder how his shooting will be against the Cavs since the Lakers won't see them until Thursday. That's another two full days of not playing any competitive basketball. But Kobe trusts his teammates will step up in this road trip and will not leave it to chance that his poor shooting will never be a factor in any of those road games. He'll be ready.
Ron Artest was a factor again on offense with 10 points on 3 of 7 shooting. The Lakers went to him often in the first half since he had the advantage in the post against the ailing Vince Carter. He didn't see any playing time in the fourth quarter because Phil Jackson wisely elected to keep the unit that got the lead back on the floor for as long as he did.
Pau Gasol ended up to be the real matchup for Dwight Howard because Andrew Bynum had some flu-like symptoms. Bynum started and played for 21 minutes, but his energy level and movements out on the floor were unusually sluggish even for him. Howard is the quicker of the two but looked like a guard out there against Andrew in the post because of it.
Gasol had 17 points and 10 rebounds. He probably could've had more points if the Lakers continued to go to him while they were trying to get back from a 9-point deficit in the third quarter. Bynum had 8 points, 8 boards, and 2 blocks.
Lamar Odom came out to play and was a giant factor on the boards and defense. He did get 9 points but his real contributions were his game-leading 16 rebounds (6 on offense), 5 dimes, and all-out defense on Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson. The Magic's shooting big men are usually effective against any other team because they have enough mobility to get away from their slower defenders but not against the Lakers. Odom is one of those reasons.
The Lakers started the game firing in all cylinders shooting 61% to end the first half resulting in a 13-point early lead and a 5-point halftime lead. But, they came out of that locker room full and had no interest in playing offense or defense. Obviously, the Magic took advantage of it and used a 16-2 run to get themselves a 9-point lead.
It wasn't until Farmar's go-ahead three in the fourth quarter that got the lead back for the Lakers for good and spoiled any season-changing victory for the Magic at their expense.
All in all, the game could've been better for the Lakers in the second half, especially on defense. But it's hard to deny the fact that they are looking better and better each game even with Kobe still struggling offensively. The only question for them is how will they respond to an extended road trip.
We shall soon find out.
NEXT GAME: Thursday, Jan. 21st at 5:00. TV: TNT Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN