LOS ANGELES– “Winning is fun,” said Pau Gasol after the Los Angeles Lakers beat Oklahoma City 105-96 Sunday afternoon at Staples Center.
The Lakers (19-25) had a lot of fun against the 34-11 Thunder.
Even though it seems like things are upside-down in Lakerland with Gasol — a four-time All Star — now a reserve, Steve Nash looking more like a shooting guard than a point guard, and Kobe Bryant gobbling up assists, everything is finally going well for LA.
The Lakers held the highest-scoring team in the league to 10 points under its season average, and were able to shut down virtually every comeback attempt by OKC. The norm for this season was LA gets a lead, blows the lead quickly and goes on to lose – again.
The last two games — including a win over Utah on Friday night — showed a different Lakers team, one that plays hard and sacrifices for the good of the team, not the luster of the stat sheet.
“We’re talking, our rotations are there and we’re getting after it defensively,” said Dwight Howard, who had eight points and 10 rebounds in 29 minutes on the court. “We’re also doing a good job of not turning the ball over, which was leading to a lot of fast breaks, which is why teams were beating us.”
Kobe Bryant, who nearly registered a triple-double with 21 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds, agreed with his center’s evaluation of the turnaround, but added that the Lakers have finally figured out their real identity as a team.
“I think we’re doing a great job of being real with each other, holding each other accountable,” Bryant said. “And I think we’ve figured out who we are. We’re a team that is posting the ball up a lot, we’re running deep screen-rolls, and overall we’re very active.
“Beating a team like Oklahoma City helps the overall process.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks wasn’t concerned with the Lakers’ turnaround since their last meeting 16 days ago, a game that OKC won by 15. He was disappointed in the way his team performed down the stretch with the game on the line.
“The end of the game execution by our team . . . could have been better,” he said. “Definitely could have been better and it’s something that we’re usually pretty good at.
“They just beat us. I don’t know if they’re different, they just beat us. They played better than us and deserved to win.”
Lakers forward Metta World Peace was philosophical about the victory.
“When we were losing games earlier, we were getting beat by better teams,” said World Peace, who had 15 points, 10 rebounds and played phenomenal defense all over the court. “It ‘s simple as that. We weren’t good enough to beat them; (today) we were. There’s no reason to even talk about the past. We just have to keep playing like we did today.”
Something Howard feels his team will continue to do.
“We’ve found some things to make us better team,” Howard said, “but we have to stay humble, stay focused and just win games. Keep it going.”
So why did it take so long to figure things out?
“I don’t know,” he said. “But we’re happy with our progress, we’re going to continue to work together and talk to each other. We’re also doing much better holding each other accountable for everything we do on the floor. We’re not afraid to speak up and say what we have to say. That (everybody) and we just have to continue to do that.”
With the win, the Lakers are four games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Bryant says the move into the playoffs is easy if the Lakers do one thing.
“We have to do whatever we need to do to win the game we’re playing,” Bryant said. “If we do that, everything will be fine.”
Sounds simple, but it hasn’t been so far in one of the most tumultuous seasons in franchise history.
1. Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak is telling reporters that he doesn’t have any plans to make a move as the Feb. 21 trading deadline approaches. Even though the Lakers have looked markedly better in their last two games, it’s obvious that they need an athletic, defensive-minded player on their team. Earl Clark fills the bill against bigger players, but I’ll bet Kupchak wishes he hadn’t let Matt Barnes walk to the Clippers after last season. Even Bryant has said a tough, agitating player like Barnes would make a big difference in the Lakers’ season.
2. Sitting next to each other at courtside were Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp and former Laker Derek Fisher. Kemp, an Oklahoma native, is a frequent attendee of Lakers games when he’s in LA. (He makes his offseason home in Arizona.) For Fisher, it was his first game as a spectator at Staples Center after asking the Dallas Mavericks to release him for “personal reasons.” Since he makes his home in Los Angeles, Fisher could probably be brought back to the Lakers at a minimal salary. If Mike D’Antoni is serious about slowing down the offense, Fisher could be a valuable addition for 8-10 minutes a game. And he could be instrumental in cooling off any locker-room tension that may be taking place — or will take place in the future.
3. The Lakers’ two best players have a tendency to lose their cool on occasion — which could come back to bite them later in the season. Kobe has eight technical fouls this season — second behind Matt Barnes and Blake Griffin of the Clippers along with DeMarcus Cousins of Sacramento, each of whom have nine. Howard has five flagrant fouls marked against his record; one more and he is suspended for a game. Bryant still is eight T’s away from a suspension, but there’s plenty of time left.