After dropping two straight games to the Nuggets and Grizzlies, the Los Angeles Lakers were looking to get back on track Sunday with the Detroit Pistons visiting Staples Center and avoid falling to 4-8 on the season. The athletic and highly talked about frontcourt of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith was looking to make a statement on the road, considering it has been a struggle for the Pistons to win road games in the Western Conference. Entering Sunday, Detroit had lost 37 of their last 39 Western road games.
Los Angeles was able to have an electric second half after trailing 56-50 at intermission and defeat the Pistons 114-99, outscoring them by 14 in the third quarter alone and capturing the momentum.
The player of the night was unquestionably Jordan Hill, who has continued to improve the past couple of weeks and demonstrate that he can be a quality starting center for this team that lacks a strong frontcourt presence. Hill set another career-high on Sunday, scoring 24 points and collecting 17 rebounds as he helped the Lakers stay with the Pistons on the glass. Hill’s energy has been unmatched by any opposing power forward or center in the last few games, while his production isn’t always up to par. The good news for the Lakers is that if he can remain a threat on the offensive end, this team is going to have a lot of fun when Kobe Bryant returns.
While Hill was the most impressive in the statistical sense in Sunday’s win, the player that stood out the most was veteran Steve Blake.
As the Lakers progress through the stage of not having the future Hall of Famer Steve Nash healthy, they have received more than they could ever ask for from Blake. Scoring nine points and dishing 16 assists, Blake directed the offense in a way that no guard has done for the Lakers through the first 12 games this season. Whether it’s a big-time shot against a rival, or grinding through a game finding open shooters, Blake is just an example of a true NBA veteran being able to get the job done without the most speed, athleticism or youngest legs.
In a game where most guys on the roster found their groove at one point or another, it was shooting guard Jodie Meeks who was the most consistent shooter the Lakers needed throughout Sunday’s game. Meeks scored 19 points in his starting role while Bryant trains for his return, and shot 4-of-7 from 3-point range. In transition, Meeks always tends to be left open on the wing, which is becoming one of the most automatic scoring situations for Mike D’Antoni‘s group.
Wesley Johnson also continues to become accepted more and more by Lakers’ fans as each game is played, showing he can be a great defensive asset, as well as a more confident shooter. On the season, Johnson is averaging 1.5 blocks per game, an area in which he has been focused on with this team rather than scoring. On offense, Johnson wasn’t disappointing. He shot 6-of-8 from the floor, including an alley-oop catch at the rim that only someone with Johnson’s hops could manage to grab and score. Johnson goes right along with the group of guys that may not give you the statistical production that fantasy owners love, but his effort and attitude definitely make him worthy of minutes in any rotation.
Surprisingly enough, the Lakers actually won the turnover category in a game, which has become extremely hard for this fast-paced offense that D’Antoni lives and dies by. Los Angeles turned the ball over 13 times compared to Detroit’s 14, and recorded nine more assists than the Pistons. Moving the ball is one of the most critical things in an offensive system that encourages quick shot selection, and the Lakers have been doing a phenomenal job of that this season by ranking 8th overall in assists per game.
When the Pistons take the floor, the fact of the matter is that it’s going to be tough to catch their entire frontcourt on bad offensive nights. Drummond, Smith, and Monroe combined for 49 points (sure enough nine that came from Josh Smith 3-pointers) and Detroit scored 52 points in the paint, a number that typically has a team winning a game. The Lakers’ perimeter defense was quite acceptable, however, forcing Detroit to shoot just 8-23 from the perimeter (34.7 percent) and always had an answer on the other end of the court during the second half.
Los Angeles will stay at home as they play the next two games at Staples Center. On Friday, Nov. 22nd, the Golden State Warriors will come to town and provide all basketball fans in the building with a “Splash Brothers treat.” It was ever-so important for the Lakers to grab the win on Sunday because nearly everyone is going to count them out for their next battle. After all, nobody is forgetting the 31-point massacre that occurred in the Bay Area on Oct. 30th.
Good Luck, Lakers.