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Lakers 103, Hornets 88: The Festival of Pain Comes to an End


Exciting news, cats and kittens: 2010 will not end with a five-game Lakers losing streak. The purp and yellow pulled out of their late-December death spiral and battered the New Orleans Hornets tonight in an easy 103 to 88 triumph. The offensive attack that had grown increasingly feeble over the past few games roared back to life, and for the first time since last spring Andrew Bynum looked like Andrew Bynum. Just as a few dreadful losses were no call to write off the Lakers, one splendid game doesn't mean they're definitively back on track, but this was the right first step.

Drew reentered the starting lineup in this one, sending Lamar Odom back to his familiar role as sixth man nonpareil. The change suited both players. Bynum regularly established deep post position against the undersized Hornet bigs and scored on a better variety of moves than he'd shown since his return from knee surgery. Baseline spins, alley-oop dunks, jump hooks in the lane: his repertoire is rounding into form. He scored 18 points on 13 shots (including free-throw possessions) and played a season-high 30 minutes.

As for Odom, well... anytime you're mentioned in the same sentence as Tierre Brown, you know you had a night to remember. Lamar's 24 points (on just 16 shots) were the most by a Laker reserve since Tierre blew up for 27 back in February of 2005. Fun fact: Tierre grew up in a town called Iowa, Louisiana. Also, there's apparently a town called Iowa, Louisiana.

There wasn't a prettier sight this evening than the Lakers' ball movement. No more Kobe Bryant pump-faking three or four times before jacking up a challenged 18-footer (and then bitching about the no-call). No more Pau Gasol freezing in the post for five seconds before getting stripped (and then bitching about the no-call). Just a wonderful blend of geometry and kenesis, as an orange ball zipped through the air into the hands of one open Laker after another. The offense wasn't just working inside-out. It was working inside-out, back inside, back out and then back in for an easy shot at the rim. The Hornets didn't know where to focus their eyes, let alone move their feet.

The Lakers did have some turnover difficulties throughout the game and especially in the first quarter. But there were no fatal dry spells like we've seen recently. There was a bad pass here and there, and bizarrely enough Kobe was called for two straight discontinued dribbles at one point, but the Lake Show didn't let their host string together stops. It helped that the whistles were generally to their liking, which itself was a product of their more thoughtful offensive approach. Working the rock toward the cup over and over again will usually get the calls going in your favor.

It was in the second quarter that the game cracked open. A bench unit revitalized by Lamar's presence sparked a 20 to 6 run to establish a double-digit margin that was never threatened. The lead hit 24 in the third before settling in the mid- to high-teens throughout fourth-quarter garbage time. Most heartening was how, even when the game was out of reach, the Lakers never slipped back into bad habits. Sharing the ball was clearly the top priority tonight. Though they shot poorly from distance, the nonstop movement of guys away from the rock led to a steady run of good looks inside. The 68% the Lakers shot on two-point attempts is easily their highest mark of the season.

Though Chris Paul had his usual moments of brilliance, he didn't any help. His backcourt mate Marco Belinelli was pretty awful on both ends of the floor, as was reserve Marcus Thornton. Emeka Okafor, as he's often done, floundered against Bynum's superior size. David West tweaked his ankle midway through the second quarter and was ineffective in his 28 minutes. New Orleans just didn't have any good scoring options beyond Paul, whose trade to the champs I expect any day, now that Lakers flunky David Stern controls the franchise.

We did get a chance tonight to say hi to old friends Trevor Ariza and D.J. Mbenga. Neither did anything of note, but as they say: once a Laker, always a Laker. Except for Vladimir Radmanovic. He's been excommunicated.

The Lakes now return to Staples to begin a run of mostly (what should be) easy games, starting with the 76ers on New Year's Eve. Their next 10 opponents have a combined winning percentage of 0.397. Not that the Lakers are steady enough to take anyone for granted, of course, but if they're going to make up lost ground with a big winning streak at some point, this would be a good place to get it started.











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