The highlight of the Lakers 118-110 victory over the Hawks at Staples was a Kobe Bryant pass. Not an ordinary pass mind you. It was a behind-the-back flick to Ron Artest in transition, and Ron-Ron jammed it home. That was at 4:03 of the 3rd quarter making it Lakers 84-70 over the Hawks. Kobe could’ve scored that bucket himself, but he chose to get Artest involved. It was Bryant’s first assist of the game, and it played like a vote of confidence for the newest member of the Lakers.
What followed was a Harlem Globetrotter-like torrent of basketball ingenuity for the reigning World Champions. It was easily the best 12 minutes of basketball for the purple and gold as they started to tee off on their middle-of-the-pack Eastern Conference opponent. Lamar on a nifty pass to Bynum for 2, Artest with a defensive rebound and a transition dunk at the offensive end, then LO on a perfect lob again to Bynum for another slam. It was all part of an 18-0 run that buried Mike Woodson’s team in a furious blur.
With 1 minute left in the 3rd, Luke Walton came up with a steal on an errant Josh Smith pass. Lamar Odom and Kobe Bryant were the first 2 players down-court with LO leading the way. Odom could have jammed it home, but instead he tossed it off to a trailing Kobe Bryant who brought the house down with a double-clutch reverse slam.
When the dust had settled, the Lakers had outscored the Hawks 34-18 in that 12-minute frame, shooting 14-26 for 54% from the field. LA led 98-76 after 3.What the starters giveth though, the bench giveth away (or at least giveth away a chunk). With Phil Jackson trying to limit the minutes of his starters, Jordan Farmar, DJ Mbenga, Josh Powell, Sasha Vujacic and Shannon Brown tried to collectively shut the door on Atlanta, but they struggled. A turnover for Mbenga, a turnover and a shooting foul for Farmar, a bad pass and a shooting foul for Powell, a double-dribble for Brown and a shot clock violation, and all the starters came back at 6:41 of the 4th with the lead down to 14.
But realistically, this Lakers team isn’t at full strength. Without Pau Gasol, sidelined by strained hamstring, Lamar Odom has been forced to the starting lineup, which means that there is no go-to anchor for the so-called “bench mob.” Gasol expressed concern about his injury late last week, but Phil Jackson has brushed off most questions about the severity of the injury, and tonight, the coach says that the Spaniard will be making the two-stop roadie to Oklahoma City and Houston this week, so a full strength team could be just around the corner.
Overall, Kobe Bryant was 15-29 for 41pts with 8 rebounds and 3 assists. Lamar missed a triple-double by just 2 helpers, finishing with 11pts, 14 boards and 8 assists. Bynum was a proficient 8-14 from the field for 21pts, but he finished with just 3 rebounds (first game of the season without a double-double). Ron Artest, in part ignited by the fancy dish from #24, had his best game as a Laker, filling up the boxscore to the tune of 12 pts, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks.Joe Johnson led the way for the Hawks with 27pts, but, in the head-scratcher of the night, Coach Mike Woodson benched his star after he scorched the Lakers with 18 points on 7-8 in the first 9 minutes Hard to say what Woodson was thinking, but it looked dumb to me. Atlanta point guard Mike Bibby spent most of the 4th quarter on the bench with Woodson favoring rookie point guard Jeff Teague, who seemed to give the Hawks a spark with 12 points. He’s a roadrunner in the Aaron Brooks mode, and he could become a force for the Hawks down the road.