Some things to take away from the Lakers' 99-87 victory Wednesday over the Golden State Warriors
1. The Lakers got the rest they deserved. It''s hard to take away anything big picture related out of this game beyond the Lakers (40-23) maintaining a half-game lead over the Clippers (39-23) for third place in the Western Conference. The Warriors lacked three core players in their starting lineup, including Stephen Curry, David Lee and Andrew Bogut. They're not exactly mailing-in performances. But by losing 15 games of their last 23, the team's not exactly sweating the fact they're playing young players since every dropped game gives them a better chance at striking a high lottery pick.
Still, it's a really good thing the Lakers didn't mess around in this game and make it harder than needed. Andrew Bynum sat out the entire fourth quarter. Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace called it a night at the 5:24 mark. And once the clock struck 2:33, seldom-used reserves Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock and Jordan Hill all shared time on the floor.
The Lakers aren't exactly gasping for breath. They're practicing Thursday in San Francisco before flying for Friday's game at San Antonio. But every little ounce of conserved energy goes a long way in maximizing the team's health and energy a little more than a week away from the NBA playoffs.
2. The Lakers absolutely dominated inside. The opening tip featured Gasol throwing down a lob and Bynum finishing close to the basket off a screen on consecutive possessions. It would be a long night for Golden State and a fun one for the Lakers. Bynum's 31 points on 12-of-14 shooting featured everything, from turnarounds, hooks, drives to the rim and lobs without any resistance. The only answer Golden State had involved fouling them, but Bynum punished the Warriors with a nine-of-11 clip from the stripe. Meanwhile, Pau Gasol captured his fifth career triple-double and third as a Laker by posting 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. It represented everything that makes Gasol's game so pretty to watch. He beat Golden State on an array of mid-range jumpers, timely passes in the low post and crafty spacing.
Again, the Lakers were running with a rigged deck throughout the night. But it's tempting for the Lakers to stray out of playing to their most dominant strength simply because they like to spread their wings. But as the Lakers discovered against Golden State, don't stop going away from something that works so well all the time.
3. Metta World Peace showed off his versatility. It might not be noticeable, what with his goofy on-court antics and personality. But the player formerly known as Ron Artest is a smart basketball player. Yes, his 18 points on eight-of-14 shooting and nine assists provides another example how much he's better when he's in shape. But his ability to attack the basket and set teammates up in the post and on the block directly reflects his sharp basketball instincts. In past seasons, World Peace didn't always seem as focused. But he played against Golden State, as well as in the past month, as dialed in as if he's studying for final exams.
4. The Lakers prevented a second-half letdown. With the Lakers nursing a 56-48 halftime lead, it appeared they offered a mxied bag. As efficient as they looked on offense, the Lakers routinely couldn't match Golden State's pace. So it wouldn't have been surprising if the Lakers opened the second half with a letdown. But they immediately clamped down by opening the third quarter with two baskets within the first minute. Aside from a pair of Klay Thomspon free throws, the Warriors went on a near three-minute stretch without a field goal.
The Lakers ensured that by slowing the tempo down, while still exploting their post presence. As the Lakers repeatedly rinsed, lathered and repeated, the Warriors faced a second-half double-digit deficit they could never chip away.
5. Could this be a psychological boost or just give the Lakers some false confidence? The Lakers looked nearly perfect against Golden State because it simply doesn't have the talent. So the Lakers should hardly think they erased all their problems away. But with Kobe Bryant planning to play Friday at San Antonio, it's possible the Warriors' win might provide closure for a unit that collectively elevated its presence while their best player recovered from a shin injury.