The Los Angeles Lakers led by as many as 21 points en route to a 122-103 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Friday night. Dwight Howard and Antawn Jamison were the stand-out players of the game, but both benefited tremendously from coach Mike D’Antoni’s improved big-man rotation.
Pau Gasol started both halves alongside Howard, but Jamison was the first man off the bench to replace the Spaniard about six minutes into each half. Six minutes later, Howard took a seat and Gasol came back in. Gasol played the first six minutes of the second and fourth quarters before Howard replaced him with the intent to finish both halves. Howard played a total of 32 minutes, but only 11 of those minutes came alongside Gasol.
D’Antoni talked about how the change in rotation was designed to create better spacing for Howard, but ultimately, Gasol also seemed much more comfortable with the extra space afforded him in the low post when Howard was on the bench. Gasol’s 6 points may not stand out, but his 8 assists were certainly noticed by teammates and D’Antoni in the post-game discussions with the media.
Howard finished with 28 points and 20 rebounds on the night, finally showing serious signs that he was nearing a full recovery from back surgery. Both big men were satisfied with the win, and Pau’s slightly reduced minutes may eventually pay dividends come playoff time.
The other major beneficiary of the new rotation was Antawn Jamison. Outside of the opening six minutes of each half when Gasol and Howard played in tandem, Jamison was the preferred player at power forward alongside either big man.
The 36-year-old swingman perfectly tailored his game to match Howard and Gasol, depending on which big man was on the floor. The results were spectacular: 33 points and 12 rebounds from the Lakers sixth man in 33 minutes.
“With Pau, every time he has the ball, you have to be alert because I think he is pretty much the best big man passer in the game,” Jamison said after the game. “He’s dominant once he has the ball in the post as well.”
“With the big fella (Howard), he just demands so much attention,” Jamison said about playing alongside Howard. “When that double team comes, be able to get into his line of vision, and he looks for you.”
“Both guys demand so much attention. They put so much pressure on the defense. Now, I’m starting to understand,” Jamison said. “We’re starting to get a rhythm, as far as me with those two guys.”
D’Antoni may have saved Gasol some embarrassment by not moving the Spaniard to the bench, but his decision to create more space for Howard by not playing Gasol alongside him for the majority of the game may have saved much more than that. The Lakers may have saved their chances at winning the Pacific division and steadying the ship until Steve Nash gets back.