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Lakers 109, Pacers 94: Indi-annihilation!


Are the champs getting their swag back? It's starting to look that way. Last night's victory over a beaten-down Wizards squad didn't prove much, but tonight's 109 to 94 drilling of the Indiana Pacers isn't so easily written off. The Pacers are a talented crew with realistic playoff aspirations, they'd already notched a victory over the Lakers at Staples Center this season, and of course they had the advantages of rest and home court. This game had the potential to be a bumpy one but turned out to be nothing of the sort. Less than halfway through the first quarter, the purp and yellow had raced out to a 16-point lead. The Pacers submitted quickly and quietly, never making a serious charge or slicing the deficit to a single digit or providing even a touch of late-game drama.

This was the Lakers' sharpest and most complete performance in more than a month. The offense looked as overwhelming as it did during the eight-game winning streak to start the season. The defense asphyxiated the Pacer attack until garbage time, which effectively ran the entire second half. Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest were easily the best four players on the court. It had been a long time, probably since they clobbered the Trail Blazers on November 7th, since we'd seen such a show of force against an opponent that isn't a total doormat.

The action began, as of course we all assumed it would, with an amazing burst on both ends of the floor by Artest. In the first five-and-a-half minutes Ron forced three Indiana turnovers, set up a Gasol jumper on a nice drive-and-dish, pulled in an offensive board and scored six points on a fast-break layup and two 20-footers. Before you could say "Queensbridge," the Lakers were up 17 to 4. Where the hell did that come from? I got no idea. Ron has quietly been playing some better ball of late, but this - the best we've seen from Ron since the end of Game Seven - seriously came out of nowhere. The Pacers and the Conseco Fieldhouse crowd were as stunned as the rest of us.

From there, Gasol took over. He got tooled on by Hibbert when the teams first met in late November. Tonight he demonstrated why he's a two-time champion and All-NBA honoree and why Hibbert is, though a nice young player, not yet an elite one. Instead of setting up in the low post with his back to the basket, a strategery that plays to Hibbert's strengths by making it a contest of height, Pau took the Pacers' big man away from the hoop. He set up and asked for the rock anywhere from the free-throw line down to the baseline about 15 feet out. This gave him the option of putting the ball on the floor and attacking off the dribble or, if Hibbert didn't follow him out of the paint, simply busting an easy set shot. His approach worked to near-perfection. By the end of the first Pau already had 14 points on eight shots (including free-throw possessions). He would finish the night with 28 points on 23 shots to go with eight boards, four dimes, a pair of blocks and zilcho turnovers. Welcome back, Pau!

Steve Blake entered the contest late in the first quarter and had an immediate influence. In a seven-possession stretch that spanned the end of the first and start of the second periods, he scored seven points to keep the Lakers surging forward. Under his stewardship - Blake played 15 minutes in the first half to Derek Fisher's nine - the Lake Show's attack was brisk and kinetic. The ball just kept moving. It would zip around until a gap in the Pacer D opened up, at which point the assault on the rim would commence. The Lakers scored 1.31 points per possession in the first half while holding Indiana to just 0.82 points per trip. And they were able to stack up these sick numbers without heavy involvement from Kobe. The Mamba took only five shots in the first half but logged six assists, as the Lakers went into the break up 22.

Just as he did yesterday in Washington, Kobe chose the third quarter as the moment to claim the spotlight. In fact, his Q3 numbers across the two games are almost identical. Against the Wizards in the third quarter he scored 16 points on nine shots. This evening in the third he scored 17 points on 10 shots. Even though the game was well out of reach in the fourth, Phil reinserted him in the fourth to administer additional pain to the home team. Down the stretch Kobe buried some ridiculous buckets and finished with 31 points on 20 attempts and, just like Pau, no turnovers whatsoever. Odom, as he's wont to do, unassumingly went about having an excellent night, especially on the glass. His 15 defensive rebounds led a dominating team performance on the boards.

And I do mean truly dominating: the Pacers didn't collect their first offensive rebound until 1:36 left in the second quarter. For the game they recovered just 9% of their own misses. (The league average is 26%.) They had two second-chance points, total. Defensive rebounding has been a weak spot for the Lakers this season, but in this one they were almost perfect.

There little need for Phil to run Andrew Bynum out there for heavy minutes tonight. He got in 18 minutes of playing time and looked about as he did yesterday. He moved around and boarded well but is still calibrating his shot. And in case you didn't catch this game, don't fret about missing the debut of the electric Joe Smith. He doesn't report to the team until tomorrow. Presumably he'll replace Gasol in the starting lineup Friday night in Philly.

It hasn't always been lovely or uplifting, but the Lakers have now won six of seven since their four-game losing streak. And you know what's starting to appear on the horizon? Yep... Christmas with the Miami Heat. There are just three more games between now and then, and they're all entirely winnable: at Philadelphia, at Toronto and then back home against a Milwaukee team that'll be on the tail end of a back-to-back. The Lakers could well find themselves on a six-game winning streak, not to mention rested and at full strength, when Santa and the Heat come to town.











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Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.

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