By Craig Kwasniewski
Now THAT was a big win! The frustrating thing about the Lakers is their brashness and how they look down on all opponents not wearing Celtics Green. Even back to last year's Western Conference Semifinals, the Lakers didn't bring a true playoff effort against Houston until Game 7. This makes every "big game" this year a headscratcher for their fans. Do they respect contender X? Or are they just not as good as their roster and payroll suggests. Far too many times the defending champs mailed in their efforts only to be bailed out by Kobe late (including FIVE game winners).
The Lakers turned up the defense and overcame a unusually poor offensive effort from Kobe to beat Denver and send a clear message: we're still the defending champs! Finally the Lakers gave an effort worthy of their expectations, hype, salaries, etc. Finally we got to see a team that was supposed to rival the 1996 Bulls 72 wins. Finally we got to see what is supposed to be the next dynasty... FINALLY!
Kobe is still out of sync. It really says a lot about our expectations from Kobe after sitting out for 17 days. We're assuming he'll fit right back in, drop an easy 30-6-6 spot on Denver and embarrass JR Smith for his Kobe stopper remarks. Ummm the dude missed 5 regular season games and All-Star Weekend. It's amazing that he saved the Lakers against the Grizz a few days ago but in reality he needs a few games to get back his rhythm (a word you always hear in PJ's Triangle Offense) and blend back in with a team that had a successful 4-1 stretch. Anyone else would be allowed a few weeks to get back to normal. This just says a lot about Kobe's bounce-back-ability (not a word but you get what I mean) in the past.
Bynum looks LOST and continues to remind me of Benoit Benjamin. Possibly the biggest regular season game considering the Lakers needed to send a message to the trash-talking Nuggets and remind them who's the defending champs. So how does Bynum respond? By dropping TWO points and THREE fouls by halftime. Hey, way to rally in a big game kid! Way to send a message by not jumping on the offensive end (he missed another bunny by trying to flat foot a wide open layup, this happens every game!). Defensive three-in-the-key should now be called the Bynum rule. Move your damn feet on defense!
This kid reminds me more and more of Benoit Benjamin with all the god-given talent and lack of heart. No coincidence that he rode the bench for much of the 4th quarter while the Lakers pulled away. Flat out, the Lakers are better with an Odom-Gasol tandem than Gasol-Bynum. He just doesn't get it and should be benched to send a message except that he's in Jim Buss's Penthouse (the polar opposite of doghouse). So I'm sure we'll here some "injury" to spin his apparent disinterest this afternoon.
Ron Artest earned his 5-Year contract against Melo. It's still hard to realize that Ron-Ron is under contract for five years but it's a hell of a deal as long as he defends like that. Artest was very effective against Melo, contesting every shot and wearing him down along the way. The funny thing is that if you just paid attention to the stat sheet, you'd think Melo was going over and through Artest on his way to a typical 30+ game. True, Melo hit a lot of shots, but it was more a testament to his overall talent because damn, Artest was in his face the entire game. But you can only hit so many sick shots under duress before fatigue eventually sets in. Not to sound like everyone's high school coach, but fatigue leads to a lack of concentration and eventually cheap fouls. Really it shouldn't surprise anyone that Melo fouled out with minutes left... game, set, match Artest.
Lamar Odom is secretly becoming the Lakers best low post player. In a league where most teams would be lucky to have two legitimate low post scoring options the Lakers have FIVE (Gasol, Bynum, Artest, Kobe and Odom). Here's the thing, you expect Gasol and Bynum to have consistent low post games, and Artest tore up the Lakers down low in the Western Conference Semis last year with sweet passes and strong shots. But Lamar Odom, when motivated... and that's really the key words here, when motivated... is the Lakers most dangerous player down low. He's naturally a pass-first guy, so he's patient enough to look for the right cutters but his length, ball handling skills and being left-handed is enough to make him virtually an automatic bucket. Plus, his touch and confidence has greatly improved since the disaster of the 2008 Finals. The problem is that the Lakers don't call his number enough late because they have FIVE low post options. Obviously, you really can't argue with having Kobe or Gasol posting up late... it's a nice dilemma. But as he showed Friday against Philadelphia and this afternoon against Denver, Odom is just as reliable down low. Plus, with defenses keyed on Gasol and Kobe, Lamar can blend into his most comfortable role of being the third scoring option.
Pau Gasol was very un-euro like with his post game comments. European ballers have always had the reputation of being very bland with the post-game quotes. Usually they're very nice and loaded with vanilla clichés... just enough to fill the papers but never creating waves. Which makes Gasol's post game comments to a local radio station very surprising:
We wanted to show them that they won't have a chance against us (in the playoffs). We showed (again) that we’re a better team than them.
I'm guessing the emotions got to him a little because outside of complaining for more touches he's usually not that candid. Maybe like the rest of us, he's getting tired of all the trash talking from the Nuggets. I see it as a slight reveal from the Lakers, who normally look down at the Nuggets with a condescending tone. Maybe they're starting to respect the Nuggets talent... the first sign of a true rivalry. Juicy!