Reviewing Sunday's 13-point win over Sacramento at Staples Center is tough on a couple of levels:
1. The Kings, particularly when short a suspended DeMarcus Cousins, aren't very good (preseason victories over the Lakers notwithstanding). The Lakers should beat them whether coached by Mike Brown, Bernie Bickerstaff or Bernie Brown. Particularly at home.
2. Everyone in the building is waiting around for what appears to be the inevitable return of Phil Jackson. Parsing Bickerstaff's offensive and defensive philosophies or his rotation is akin to dissecting the lesson plans of your substitute teacher. They'll both be gone before the answers matter.
(I say that not to diminish the work of Bickerstaff, who has stepped admirably into a very uncomfortable and awkward spot. It's clear he doesn't relish taking over, even temporarily, for a guy whose career he launched back in the day. Particularly while knowing his days are likely numbered, too. But he's a pro and is doing it anyway.)
Still, the bottom line is the Lakers have won consecutive games for the first time since Games 1 and 2 against Denver in the first round of last year's playoffs.
Here are four takeaways:
The Lakers again clamped down defensively.
Sacramento scored 48 points in the first half on a respectable 45.2 percent shooting from the floor, but coming out of the locker room, the Lakers grew stingier. In the third, the Kings were held to 22 points on only 32 percent from the floor (8-of-25). Dwight Howard was active underneath, contesting shots and picking up a block. Pau Gasol swatted two. The Lakers allowed five offensive rebounds but only one second-chance point. They sustained the energy into the fourth, putting the game away about halfway through the final stanza.
The Lakers dominated the glass.
In the first half, the Lakers missed 22 shots and were able to corral 13 of them. That's a robust 59 percent. Not surprisingly, Jordan Hill was in the middle of it all, grabbing four rebounds in a hair under eight minutes of playing time. Howard added four more, Pau Gasol two. In all, the Lakers generated 11 second-chance points, accounting for a large portion of their nine-point lead at the break. They weren't quite as prolific in the second half -- much of it played with the game well in hand -- but overall it was a strong night. On the other end, the Lakers had a few sloppy moments but generally did a solid job, considering how many shots the Kings missed as the game went on. Final rebounding totals: Lakers 50, Kings 39, with Howard leading the way with 18.
Metta World Peace busted out of his shooting slump.
In three of his past four games (the outlier coming last week against Detroit), MWP couldn't push past the 30 percent mark from the floor and was 4-of-20 from downtown. On Sunday, Metta was on fi-yah, hitting 6 of 11 overall and 4 of his 8 triples. No matter who next coaches the team (or, let's be honest, when Jackson again coaches the team), World Peace will continue leading the league in wide-open 3-pointers. It's important he not go into prolonged shooting slumps. His ability to knock down those shots and keep defenses honest will be a key factor in the team's offensive success.
The Lakers smiled a little more.
The improved defense and rebounding margin were part of the same overall increase in energy seen Friday night in the win over Golden State. But it's not just that the Lakers are playing with a little more pep; they also seem to be having a little more fun. Sure, winning will do that, but a little joy helps fuel success. There were smiles after good plays -- Kobe hitting a diving Gasol on a second-half pick-and-roll, MWP finishing an alley-oop -- but even after some of the miscues. Comfortable in the knowledge they'd win, the Lakers tried a little playground stuff on offense.
They'll need more discipline as the year goes on, but the near lack of fun the Lakers seemed to have had both last year and the year before was a major drag on their performance. This team has great talent and the potential to create beautiful basketball. Nobody will lose focus on the ultimate goal (as if they could), but the Lakers should -- need to -- enjoy themselves in the process.