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Lakers 99, Spurs 83: Kaboom

There it is, amigos. The win we've been waiting and pleading for all season long. The crushing show of force that would set off air-raid sirens around the league, letting everyone know the champs were getting serious. The Spurs have been the class of the NBA through the first three quarters of the regular season, but this afternoon they were a little bug hovering in the breeze as the Laker windshield plowed through their airspace at 80 miles an hour. The 99 to 83 final score only hints at the one-sidedness on view at the AT&T Center.

If you'd told me ahead of time that today's game would be a rout, I frankly wouldn't have guessed that the Lakers would be the routers and not the routees. Already this year, San Antonio had beaten the Lakers twice, and they came into this game having won 22 straight in their own gym. When the Lake Show visited back in late December, the Spurs plowed them rather easily. So when the Lakers pulled ahead by 12 midway through the first quarter, I raised an eyebrow. When the lead reached 21 a few minutes later, I raised my other eyebrow. When the Lakers went into halftime up 28 and then led by 32 in the third, the Spurs' largest deficit of the season, I got out a Sharpie and drew a pair of raised eyebrows on my cat. Maybe I shouldn't have done that last part, but maybe she shouldn't have been sleeping through the Lakers' best game of the year.

This was a pretty startling display at both ends of the court. On offense the Lakers could do little wrong. In the first half they scored an insane 1.51 points per possession thanks to meticulous execution of the Triangle, piping-hot jumpshooting and dominance on the offensive glass. Ball movement was excellent. Each pass was a purposeful step toward routing the rock to an open shooter. Spur defenders were constantly a step or two behind, and the Lakers punished their inadequate close-outs with bomb after outside bomb. Even Pau Gasol got into the act, hitting his first three-pointer since December of 2008.

On those infrequent occasions when a shot didn't fall, a Laker big man was often there to collect the carom. In the first half the Lakers rebounded 48% of their missed shots, leading to 10 second-chance points. Andrew Bynum, continuing to play with graceful savagery, embarrassed the San Antonio bigs. He collected six offensive boards (out of 17 total) and all day long looked about two feet taller and 20 years younger than Tim Duncan. Gasol was terrific as well. Over and over he drifted into spaces uncovered by the San Antonio D and dropped in that high-arcing set shot of his. Pau finished with 21 points on 15 shots, including free-throw attempts, and his five assists attest to his fine work distributing the ball from the pinch-post.

Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 26 points. Though he's still not shooting with great efficiency, today his game was more controlled and disciplined than it's been lately. He got plenty of perimeter help from Lamar Odom (15 points on 13 shots) and Shannon Brown (12 points on 10 shots). For the game the Lakers made 8 of 23 from long distance, but those numbers are dampened by cold shooting in garbage time. Through three quarters they converted 8 of 18 three-point attempts, and as we well know, the champs just don't lose when they're hitting from outside like that.

The defense was every bit as impressive, if not more so. The Spurs are a terrific offensive squad - coming into this game, they ranked second in the NBA in offensive efficiency - but you wouldn't know it from how brutally the Lakers locked them down. San Antonio scored 0.62 points per trip in the first period and 0.83 through three quarters. Drew and Pau, as they've done several times since the All-Star break, took away everything inside. See, e.g.: Tim Duncan, 1 for 7, two points.

That left the Spurs to depend entirely on a high pick-and-pop game, which the Laker guards and wings did a nice job of neutralizing by challenging open looks. Ron Artest was especially peppy on D. In the second quarter, after swatting a George Hill three-point attempt out of bounds, he took a moment to flex and smooch his biceps, WWE-style. In the third, while chasing a loose ball, he crashed into a spectator who happened to be holding a fresh cup of coffee at the time. The coffee went airborne and drenched the dude's white shirt. Of course, Ron politely helped wash the spillage from the guy's balding dome.


A magnificent day for the purple and gold, this was. The lingering question is what it means for the Lakers' and Spurs' championship prospects. On the one hand, it shows that the Lakers do indeed have that extra gear we've been hoping to see. When things are clicking and the machinery is humming along at peak efficiency, life gets very bad for whoever's in their way. Most encouraging is how the defense continues to suffocate: over their last seven games, the champs have surrendered just 0.97 points per possession after allowing 1.06 before the break. The emergence of Bynum as a frightening menace is a big part of the improvement.

On the other hand, it's never a good idea to overreact to one game, however good or bad. Today just wasn't kind to the Spurs. They left a steaming pile on their home court, as every team does from time to time. They're a talented, extremely well-coached group, and rarely in the future will things go as poorly for them, or as right for the Lakers, as we saw this afternoon. Don't get me wrong: it's a great win for the purp and yellow. But just as we saw them play some horrendo games last season, only to win another banner in June, we shouldn't dismiss the Spurs' ability to do the same.

Moreover, the last time we got excited over a big road W was a month ago, after the Lakers knocked off the Celtics in Boston. That road trip ended with three straight ugly losses. One hopes Phil Jackson will remind them of this recent history, and that there's much more heavy lifting to get done before they return to Staples.











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