Below are five things to take from the Lakers’ 105-103 win over the Atlanta Hawks Sunday at Staples Center:
1. Pau Gasol wins the game on a pair of free throws and a key block.
His five of 18 shooting mark appeared head scratching both because some of his shots were forced and sometimes he was far away from the post. But Gasol made up for that by sinking two free throws and then blocking Kyle Korver’s sideline jumper just before time expired. Gasol also deserves props for making the right read in finding an open Jordan Hill that could’ve set up a game0-winner before being award a blocking foul on Paul Millsap.
2. The Lakers show they’re a work in progress closing out games. They nearly coughed up a double-digit lead for the second consecutive game because it’s still seeking a definitive unit for that time. Steve Nash rightfully played his way back into the rotation after showing more rhythm (more on that later). But the unit remained in flux with Shawne Williams fouling out midway through the fourth quarter. That left Mike D’Antoni reluctantly pairing Hill with Gasol. Hill still proved valuable with hustle points (six points) and rebounds (five). But he also missed a key defensive rebound and committed a turnover that led to Atlanta converting on the other end. The Lakers’ perimeter defense also looked lazy against stopping hot-shooting Kyle Korver (22 points on 8 of 9 shooting and 6 of 6 from 3-point range).
3. The Lakers’ lineup switch worked It’s far too early to make any declarative statements regarding the Lakers’ progress. Through four games, it’s clear that for better or for worse that developments remain a fleeting snapshot. But at least against Atlanta, Mike D’Antoni’s decision to start Xavier Henry at small forward over Nick Young paid off. Henry maintained his aggressiveness in attacking the basket and showing a dependable mid–range jumper, finishing with 18 points on 5 of 11 shooting. Young rediscovered his shooting touch by posting 13 points on a 5 of 9 clip.
D’Antoni didn’t just shuffle the lineup because of Henry’s superior defense and Young’s initially poor shooting. D’Antoni also made the move in hopes it would jumpstart the starting lineup. The strategy worked. The Lakers’ starters showed better ball movement, while the Lakers’ reserves still maintained their high octane energy.
4. Nash finds his rhythm. After slogging through the season both with pain and a shaky jumper, Nash made a great first step into morphing back into an effective point guard. The stats might not show it with his 13 points on 5 of 13 shooting. But there were other signs. Nash looked more fluid moving around the court and appeared more comfortable setting up teammates. Nash also appeared in the fourth quarter, something D’Antoni refused to do in the Lakers’ loss Friday to San Antonio because of stiffness stemmed from sitting so long. It’s weird saying this considering Nash’s Hall of Fame credentials. But this game could help his confidence as he tries to rediscover his game while staying healthy.
5. Wesley Johnson earning his keep on defense. It seems as if Johnson would be more suited playing at the small forward spot both because of his long swingpan and athleticism, two necessary assets to have for perimeter defenders. But even if he lacks the physical strength to play inside at power forward, Johnson has carved at a niche at this point because of his strong hustle and energy. Johnson’s nine points on 3 of 5 shooting also marks a welcome development considering he opened the season shooting only 23.3 percent from the field in the first three games. But Johnson has shown more consistency on defense, partly because of his earnest attempt to play more assertively than in past seasons.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org