After blowing a 15-point, first-half lead, the Los Angeles Lakers suffered a 91-85 defeat at the hands of Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night at Staples Center. Although the game seemed winnable and the Lakers missed an opportunity consider Tim Duncan was out injured, the team did have some positives to take away.
First, the Lakers’ bench production on opening night was not a fluke. Jodie Meeks led a 45-point night by the Lakers’ reserves, and that number was dulled by an uncharacteristic 0-6 performance from Xavier Henry. Henry also suffered a laceration to his forehead and received nine stitches for his troubles.
On the night, Wesley Johnson was the Lakers’ standout substitute. Johnson scored 12 points, blocked two shots, pulled down two rebounds, and swiped one steal. Although none of those numbers sound all that impressive, Johnson’s defense combined with efficient offensive production resulted in him being one of the five guys Mike D’Antoni trusted to finish the game.
“He can play,” D’Antoni said about Johnson after the game. “He had a good game.”
Another positive the Lakers can take away from Friday’s loss is Pau Gasol’s return to form. The 33-year-old seems to be dialing the clock back a few years with his performances. Gasol was the only Lakers’ starter making shots on Friday night. Gasol finished with a team-high 20 points on 8-17 shooting and pulled down 11 rebounds. The Spaniard has been a monster on the defensive glass, and his play has been a major factor in keeping the Lakers competitive. On Friday, Gasol outperformed all his fellow starters while fighting a nasty cold.
The final positive the Lakers can take away from Friday’s loss is Jordan Hill. After sitting the 26-year-old for the first three quarters, D’Antoni called on the power forward to open the fourth quarter. Hill performed so well that D’Antoni left him on the floor for all but the final 20 seconds of the fourth quarter.
As always, Hill played solid defense and somehow pulled down three offensive rebounds under 12 minutes on the floor. To put this into context, the other 10 Lakers who played on Friday night combined for five offensive rebounds.
Friday night was definitely a missed opportunity, but all was not lost. The Lakers learned a bit more about themselves, and the young season offers the Lakers enough time to right the ship. Whether or not D’Antoni can make that happen remains to be seen, but these Lakers have potential.
As D’Antoni said after the game, “This is a marathon.”