Lakers center Andrew Bynum tries to pull down a rebound between Spurs forward… (Eric Gay / Associated Press )
Some things to take away from the Lakers' 98-84 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday.
1. This was the Lakers' best performance of the year. I'll break down the details below, but it's not an overstatement to say that the Lakers played their best game of the year against San Antonio. With Kobe Bryant sidelined for the third consecutive game because of a sore left shin, the Lakers collectively provided everything you could possibly want.
They played great defense by holding the Spurs to 40.7% shooting while outrebounding them, 60-33. Their efficient and patient ball movement helped control the tempo and feature six players scoring in double figures: Metta World Peace (26), Pau Gasol (21), Andrew Bynum (16), Matt Barnes (13), Ramon Sessions (10) and Steve Blake (10). And their overwhelming dominance against the Western Conference's second-best team showed the Lakers are capable of beating the Spurs in a playoff series and could provide a momentum boost for the seven remaining regular-season games.
2. Bynum showed some great work on the glass. For all the growth Bynum's exhibited this season, it appeared he often remained more consumed with scoring than rebounding or showing effort on defense. That all changed against San Antonio. He struggled establishing post position and finishing at the rim, posting 16 points on seven-of-20 shooting. But Bynum became the fifth player in Laker history to grab 30 rebounds, an honor also belonging to George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor andKareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The approach, which included eight offensive rebounds and two blocked shots, involved nothing more than some good old-fashioned hard work. Bynum attacked the glass when shots went up. He persistently boxed out. His imposing 7-foot, 285-pound frame kept San Antonio from clogging the lane on the boards. And on defense, Bynum helped out on pick-and-roll coverages by stepping over from the weakside.
For all the immaturity Bynum's shown in the last three weeks, this marked a huge step in having the right mindset. He continued his gaffes by shouting out an expletive on a postgame interview in describing his shooting performance. But on the court, he showed his head was in the right place. Bynum didn't protest officials' calls, despite experiencing some physical play. When Bynum couldn't find his shot, he involved others. And more importantly, Bynum played the game as if he wanted it more than anyone else. His idol, Tim Duncan, would be proud.
3. Metta World Peace played his best game as a Laker. Through both the good and the bad, World Peace is one funny player to watch. In this case, World Peace's career-high 26 points as a Laker remained all positive. He made step-back fadeaways as if he were Bryant. His five-of-eight mark from three-point range came on balanced shots and in rhythm within the team's offense. His steal on Duncan and ensuing fastbreak layup capped the Lakers' 8-2 run to open the third quarter. World Peace simply provided everything, ranging from hustling on transition defense, moving off the ball to find open shots and sharing encouraging words with teammates.
Don't chalk this up as World Peace coming out of nowhere. In the last five games, World Peace has averaged 13 points on 53.2% shooting and has made timely defensive stops. He's attributed his improvement to feeling in better condition after arriving to training camp out of shape while feeling more comfortable with his role. But World Peace should also credit his focus and work ethic. For far too long, the Lakers saw him as a huge liability. Risky inbounds pass against New Orleans aside, the Lakers are finally relishing World Peace becoming a huge asset for them.
4. The Lakers defended well. It appeared the Lakers would feel overwhelmed in this area. San Antonio boasts the league's third-best offense in scoring (102 points a game) and field-goal percentage (47.2%). Meanwhile, the Lakers game up at least 100 points in seven of their last 10 games. They prevented that from happening against San Antonio in a number of ways.
They controlled the tempo, which minimized chances for the Spurs to score in transition. The Lakers overwhelmingly dominated the glass, led by Bynum (30) and Gasol (11), tilting the amount of possessions overwhelmingly in their favor. And the Lakers remained disciplined enough on pick-and-roll defense to ensure Tony Parker remained two of 12 from the field and that the frontline wouldn't get bunched up on rotations.
It's easy to nitpick the Lakers' failiure to extend their rotations out on the perimeter, allowing San Antonio to go 13 of 24 from three-point range. But everything else remained solid. It clearly showed that the Lakers can return to their defensive pricniples so long as they put in the effort.