Below are five things to take from the Lakers’ 110-99 win Friday over the Utah Jazz at Staples Center:
1. Kendall Marshall takes advantage of the opportunity. Within a two-week span, Marshall went from the Development League to the Lakers’ starting point guard. This ascension came by default, of course, to long-term injuries to Steve Nash (back), Kobe Bryant (left knee), Steve Blake (right elbow), Jordan Farmar (left hamstring) and Xavier Henry (right knee). But for someone who showed little understanding of Mike D’Antoni’s offense and poor ball handling, Marshall struck a comfort level against Utah. His 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting and 15 assists revealed strong developments in his driving abilities and court awareness, particularly with Gasol. The last Laker to have 20 points and 15 assists was Bryant on Feb. 12, 2002 against Washington.
It’s way too early to know if Marshall can duplicate this on a long-term basis. But considering how much has changed since his two weeks here, it’s encouraging he could at least provide something tangible to secure one win.
2. Pau Gasol continued rounding into form.Here’s Gasol in a nutshell against Utah. Within two possessions, Gasol caught a quick pass for an open layup, nailed an open elbow jumper and then blocked a shot. Did Gasol’s 23 points performance on 10 of 17 shooting, 17 rebounds, eight assists and three blocks in 37 minutes reflected improved health from a upper respiratory infection. Or simply stronger effort? Perhaps both?
That will remain up for debate, of course. But health issues aside, Gasol should be able to show this kind of performance in most games so long as he remains active in defense, showing aggressiveness and facilitating. In fairness. some of Gasol’s success stemmed from making open shots. But he also looked engaged and varied his approach in playmaking, making himself more dangerous in all facets of the game.
3. 1. The Lakers showed more energy on defense. The team’s talk about hustling and showing grit on defense all season made for good soundbites. But those words had the shelf life in the same amount of time the Lakers uttered them. Until now.
The Lakers snapped their six-game losing streak namely because they suddenly morphed into a defensive team, performing things that once seemed foreign to them. They held Utah to a season-low 12 points in the first quarter. Robert Sacre’s ascension into the starting lineup added extra size that’s lacking with a smaller lineup. Wesley Johnson emerged from a stomach issue to provide a few pesky steals. Pau Gasol looked more energized than he has in recent weeks partly because of an upper respiratory issue.
Add it all up, and the Lakers held Utah to 44.2 percent shooting and outrebounded them 46-41. Now the disclaimer: the Jazz remain the Western Conference’s worst team and Utah came within four points late in the fourth quarter. But considering the lost against the same team last week amid a stream of other sub. 500 opponents, the Lakers outlined how they can remain competitive without a flurry of offensive playmakers.
4. The Lakers featured a flurry of role players. Shawne Williams provided timely shots with 10 points, including a 3 of 3 clip from 3-point range. Wesley Johnson played with great efficiency both with his shooting (11 points on 5-of-5 shooting) and defense (tw0 steals). Jodie Meeks’ 18 points on 6-of-14 featured a timely shot (3-pointer gave the Lakers a 99-92 lead with 1:18 left) and aggressiveness. Those efforts came in handy considering Nick Young posted only 16 points on a 6-of-14 clip, though his jumper gave the Lakers a 96-90 cushion with 1:47 left and his one-handed dunk and subsequent foul shot capped everything off with a 105-94 cushion with 30.5 seconds left.
5. Chris Kaman didn’t play.Even though the Lakers went through a bigger lineup to make up for defensive deficiencies, Kaman sat on the bench in what marked the third time in five games. D’Antoni’s rationale: Kaman and Gasol have similar offensive skillsets, while Sacre and Jordan Hill (11 points) provide more on defense.
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