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Lakers 117, Warriors 89: The Extraordinary Has Become Routine

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I do believe it's time for the Lakers to play some tougher opponents. Against the scrubs of the NBA, the pattern is becoming only too familiar. First, the champs roll in heavy by pounding teams inside. They shock-and-awe their way to a massive first-quarter lead and then bring out the B Unit in the second. The reserves create some turnovers and knock down a few timely threes, effectively smashing the opponents' will to compete. Everyone gets a little burn in the third quarter, and then the lower-tier guys play out the clock as the starters pack their limbs in ice. Cue the taco chants, chalk up another easy W and head on back to the ranch.

To no one's surprise, this sequence played out according to script against the Golden State Warriors at Staples tonight. Fully aware of their advantages along the frontline, the Lakers wasted no time attacking the paint. On the very first possession, Kobe Bryant took the ball down into the blocks. The next several trips saw Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom fed for a series of dunks, layups and point-blank hook shots and floaters. For the Warriors, playing without their top three power forwards, resistance was futile. The Laker lead was 18 before the first quarter was up.

In the second, Shannon Brown, Steve Blake and Matt Barnes provided that wonderfully smart and energetic play that we've just come to expect from them. The offense was great. The defense was great. The Warriors were overwhelmed. Just before halftime, the lead touched 30. When the 24-minute formality known as the second half finally ended, the scoreboard documented a 117 to 89 Laker win that pushed the champs' record to 12-2.

Coming into this game, the Lakers had beaten the Warriors 14 of their last 15 tries at Staples Center. I can't imagine anyone really expected this trend to reverse itself tonight. As a franchise the Warriors are making progress, but they're really not equipped to trouble this Lakers team in the least. There are size mismatches up and down the roster, and after years under Don Nelson they don't have anything like the defensive system, technique or intensity to disrupt the Triangle offense. Prior editions of the Lakers might have evened the playing field a bit by, say, ignoring the paint in favor of terrible outside shots, or by running out bench players that can't hold a lead. Not this year. This incarnation of the purple and gold beast sees its prey and goes straight for the kill.

Pau Gasol continued his amazing season with a near-perfect game. In only 30 minutes (itself a welcome stat), he scored 28 points on 14 shots (including free-throw possessions), pulled in nine rebounds, blocked four shots and dished out five assists. His level of play right now makes all but the best defensive big men look foolish. Lamar Odom helped out with an effortless 15-and-10 night, while Kobe scored 20 points on 18 shots to go with five assists, six rebounds and zero turnovers. Both Lamar and Kobe had to play only 27 minutes.

The Laker bench again demonstrated how far it's come from last season. When the subs check in, you no longer fear they're going stumble over themselves and let an opponent back in the game. We actually looking forward to seeing the reserves, as unfathomable as that seems. The Blake-Brown-Barnes combo already has built a wonderful chemistry. They space the floor well, they run off missed baskets, they make the extra pass and they bury their threes. Today they combined for 32 points and made 7 of 11 attempts from long distance.

To have any hope of keeping up with this, the Warriors would've needed white-hot shooting nights from their two backcourt stars, Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry. It never came close to materializing. The Lakers' length and active hands on D threw both guys off their games. Curry scored only 13 points and Ellis only five on 2-of-10 shooting. (Monta had to leave the game in the third quarter after he fell and bruised his hip.) The Warriors finished the game having scored only 0.98 points per possession, marking the third straight outing the Lakers have held their opponents below the one-point-per-trip waterline.

As a happy footnote, the Lakers made 20 of their 25 free-throw attempts, continuing a very strong season at the line for them. In no one game have they made less than 75% of their free throws, and as a team their accuracy is up 81.6%. That number was 76.5% last year.

Fortunately, the competition ramps up in the coming days. The Chicago Bulls visit on Tuesday night, and on Friday the Lakers will have to shake off their food comas to play the Jazz in Utah. In the meantime, thanks for spending part of your Sunday here at Silver Screen and Roll.











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