The Los Angeles Lakers have won five of their last six after suffering a four game skid towards the tail end of November. One key loss in that mini slump was at Staples to the Indiana Pacers, a team that had never won a game in LA and was on a ten game loosing streak to the Lakers. If there was ever a time for payback, this was it. The Lakers have strung together some nice wins as of late and looking sharp in the process. Both teams are returning players from injury. The Pacers bring back razor sharp shooter Danny Granger from a sprained ankle; while the Lakers get their second look at dominate low post presence Andrew Bynum, who has just finished rehab on his partially torn right knee ligament. It will take a few games to get his conditioning under his belt, but his presence alone is more than welcome to this Lakers team, as their post game has struggled in his absence, mostly on the defense end, where he plays a major role.
LA came out focused shooting 70% in the first quarter, the majority on easy baskets because of excellent ball movement. Passing looked great, but the defense looked even better. The Lakers seemed to prove a point early as the defensive standout Ron Artest energized the team with a few steals, one leading to a full court break and the other to a secondary three by Fisher. He passed the ball effortlessly too, which is great when your best defensive player is making great plays on the offensive side. Artest really trusted his offense and players made him look good. Odem and Gasol finished everything around the basket, as Artest and Bryant looked for them often. Kobe was very passive in the first half, hitting a few jumpers, but mostly looking for his teammates. He dished out six assists and committed zero turnovers on four shot attempts in the 24 minutes of play.
“We played with more energy, and a more focused game, and with more of a sense of urgency,” Bryant said, which was evident as the Lakers were up double digits the entire game. This was the second game in a row where Kobe had a big second half, knocking down a couple back-to-back three-point shots, and exposing Grangers lack of defensive pressure draining 17 points in the third. Bryant had the Conseco Field House fans cheering his name “Kobe, Kobe” after he knocked down consecutive threes again in the fourth, one was a deep three as the shot clock expired from about 5 feet beyond the line. He is a crowd pleaser and once again showed why he is currently second in the league in scoring (26.7), and probably the toughest player to guard, other than Kevin Durant.
Bryant finished with above his average 31 pts while Gasol scored 28, grabbed 8 boards and dished out 4 assists of his own. Odem and Artest each scored 13 pts, but Odom also snagged a season high 17 rebs. The Los Angeles Lakers (19-7) travel to Philadelphia to take on the Sixers (10-15) on Friday. The Lakers are playing great ball and look to keep the momentum going through Christmas Day when they play host to the Miami Heat, who are currently playing the best ball they’ve played all year, winning ten of their last eleven, including ten in a row.