On the first night the Lakers played this season without All-Star Andrew Bynum because of injury, they got a glimpse of how newcomer Ramon Sessions might be the next-best thing to Kobe Bryant.
Lakers coach Mike Brown came up with a new rotation that featured either Bryant or Sessions in the backcourt at all times in the Lakers’ 91-87 victory over the New Jersey Nets on Tuesday night. It wasn’t an impressive finish, with some miscommunication down the stretch featuring both Bryant and Sessions, but the Lakers held on behind two key baskets from Bryant.
There have been issues with both Bryant and Sessions not entirely comfortable operating without the ball on offense, and the rotation change allowed both to do more play-making — especially Sessions, who piled up 19 points and 11 assists but was muted down the stretch. Bryant finished with 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the field.
Lakers backup point guard Steve Blake had less responsibility to create offense with either Bryant or Sessions next to him instead of a converted small forward such as Metta World Peace or Matt Barnes. Sessions and Bryant both worked well with Pau Gasol, who had more touches inside without Bynum around and had 22 points and 12 rebounds.
But Gasol couldn’t keep it coming in the second half, and even though New Jersey never led, Deron Williams forged an 86-86 tie before Bryant’s step-back 22-footer gave the Lakers the lead back with 1:11 left. Bryant secured the victory by making a 3-pointer with 6.8 seconds left for a 91-87 lead.
The Lakers’ early production all did come against the als0-ran Nets and their feeble defense, but it was an encouraging sign for a Lakers offense that has been increasingly dependent on Bynum’s ball-stopping, post-up maneuvers for points. Bynum sat out because of a moderate sprain to his left ankle, though there is reason to believe he will play Wednesday night against the Clippers.
The game Wednesday night against the Clippers, who sit 1 1/2 games behind the Pacific Division-leading Lakers, could be meaningful for playoff positioning.