The Los Angeles Lakers are learning a lot about themselves with veterans Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash both sitting out and recuperating from injuries. Mike D’Antoni is playing a deeper rotation than he has in the past and the reclamation projects Mitch Kupchak signed in the offseason are paying huge dividends. The young players are trying to forge an identity and the team is playing well without two of their best players.
On Sunday night, Xavier Henry shined under the bright lights of the Staples Center as he scored 14 of his game-high 21 points in the second half as the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the visiting Sacramento Kings, 100-86. The Kings dropped to 4-9 with the loss.
“We played hard tonight,” Henry said after the game to a Time Warner Cable SportsNet sideline reporter. “We knew we were going on a road trip and wanted to get even (at .500). I just want to contribute. I know I can score and play defense, I just want to do what I can to help us win.”
Head coach Mike D’Antoni was impressed as well.
“He’s going to come at you (Xavier),” D’Antoni said at the postgame press conference seen on Time Warner Cable SportNet. “He’s very aggressive, he’s only 22 years old, he just needs to stay with it. He’s going to have ups and downs.”
Nick Young made his first basket with a minute left in the third to make it 71-61. Xavier Henry made a layup to make it 73-61 and cap the scoring on a 10-0 run to finish the third quarter.
The defense was solid as well and has improved over the last several games. Kings center DeMarcus Cousins was limited to just 17 points and eight rebounds, but he managed to dish out seven assists.
“We’re sticking to our princiciples a lot,” D’Antoni said. “We’re just following the game plan really well. We are sharing the ball on offense and we have a lot of team energy and that carries over.”
The Lakers built a 55-48 halftime lead behind a strong balanced scoring attack in the first half. Gasol led the offensive onslaught with 14 points, Jodie Meeks added eight points, Steve Blake chipped in with seven points and seven assists, Wesley Johnson added seven points, two steals and two blocks, and Xavier Henry poured in seven points.
For the game, Gasol scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. More importantly, Gasol has started shooting the ball a lot better the last couple games. Gasol started the season slowly, shooting just 40% but has converted 19 of his last 35 field goals (54.2%). The big man was expected to carry the offense without Kobe and he seems to coming around.
Meeks added 14 points, Jordan Hill scored 10 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, Blake scored nine points, dished out 12 assists, and hauled down five rebounds.
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