Some things to take away from the Lakers' 91-87 win Tuesday over the New Jersey Nets.
1. The Lakers didn't rest again. After taking a 58-45 half-time lead, it's only natural to assume the Lakers would blow a double-digit lead. After all, they have done that for the last two weeks in all six games. So, of course, they continued the pattern. They allowed New Jersey to chip away in the second half.
Deron Williams' three-pointer, Kobe Bryant's turnover and Gerald Wallace's drive to the basket cut the lead to 84-83 lead with less than two minutes to go and made everyone at Staples Center anxious. That anxiety heightened after Williams answered Metta World Peace's drive to the basket with a three-pointer. Bryant then made a jumper to put the Lakers up, 88-86, with 1:10 left. Wallace made one of two free throws on the next possession, and the Lakers felt somewhat secure when Pau Gasol grabbed a rebound off Ramon Sessions' missed jumper with 31 seconds left. But Sessions' pass to Matt Barnes went out of bounds with 10.8 seconds remaining. No one could rest easy until Bryant's three-pointer on the ensuing inbounds play bounced off the rim into the basket to give the Lakers a 91-87 lead with 6.8 seconds remaining.
The Lakers simply made this game harder than necessary. It prevented Coach Mike Brown from giving significant rest to Bryant and Gasol at a time the Lakers will rarely have such opportunities with a stronger schedule approaching. But hey, at least Andrew Bynum got to take a breather.
2. The Lakers' offense flourished despite Bynum's absence. No, the Lakers aren't better without their All-Star center, who is sidelined with a moderately sprained left ankle. Also, consider the Lakers are playing against one of the worst Eastern Conference teams. But the Lakers showed everything you'd want in an offense that resulted in 39-of-81 shooting and 27 assists and an easier time navigating out of double teams. Gasol felt at home operating mostly out of the low post en route to 22 points on 11-of-20 shooting, showing such aggressiveness that he mixed it up with Kris Humphries.
Bryant's strong shooting (he was 10 for 16 with 24 points) held up thanks to effective off-ball movement. Ramon Sessions maintained a great balance, attacking the rim, spacing the floor and punishing New Jersey's defense when they double teamed; he ended with 19 points on seven-of-15 shooting and 11 assists. Even the Lakers bench, often considered its weak link, received some extra push from Steve Blake's increased confidence and Barnes' hustle plays. And Josh McRoberts provided something for a highlight reel: he caught a cross-court pass, lost control of his dribble, put the ball behind his back and turned around for a 19-footer to end the first quarter.
The Lakers will need Bynum back as quickly as his health will allow him. But considering his horrible attitude problems, winning as a team might help reinforce the fact that he's not above anyone else.
3. The Lakers' defensive numbers are misleading. Consider that New Jersey ranks 23rd overall in total offense (93.15 points) and 28th in shooting percentage (42.5%). That's why the Lakers shouldn't take too much stock in holding the Nets to 40% shooting and eight second-chance points. Despite the Nets' offensive miscues, they still allowed New Jersey to score 32 points in the paint and go six-of-18 from three-point range.
4. Gasol has more opportunities in the post. He's taken a backseat this year, partly because of Bynum's presence and partly because his aggressiveness wanes. Gasol benefited from Bynum's absence by receiving more touches and looking to attack the basket. Gasol fed off Sessions' spacing and performed a series of post-ups, hooks and dunks to keep the Nets' defense off balance.
5. Sessions turned a corner. Sessions attached extra importance to this game for reasons beyond wanting to expedite his learning curve with the team. He also wanted to measure himself against Williams, who's considered among the NBA's elite point guards. Sessions passed the test, by driving to the basket, establishing good chemistry with Bryant off the ball, finding Gasol in the lanes and swinging the ball efficiently behind the perimeter. Granted, Sessions left Williams open on a few late-game baskets. But offensively, Sessions has proved the on-court chemistry continues to flourish.