Jan 14, 2013, 1:19 AM EST
Mike D’Antoni has a long way to go before his stint as Lakers head coach will be viewed as anything close to a success. But he picked his motivational spot wisely, calling Sunday’s game against the Cavaliers essentially a must-win, and a starting point for L.A. to begin to get its miserable season back on track and pointed in the right direction.
For a single night, against a substandard opponent, the Lakers responded to the challenge. They came out focused and aggressive from the very start, and used a 37-point first quarter as a launching pad for an easy 113-93 victory, the team’s first since Dec. 28 to snap a six-game losing streak.
D’Antoni’s message to his team after Friday night’s loss to the Thunder was simple.
“I told the team, the biggest thing is our season starts Sunday,” he said. “We’ve got to make a run. We’ve got one shot at it, and everybody needs to get ready mentally and physically.”
The team was as focused mentally as we’ve seen in weeks, but physically wasn’t all the way there just yet. Pau Gasol missed his fourth straight game, still not medically cleared to return after suffering a concussion a week ago against Denver.
Dwight Howard was back, however, after missing the last three games with a shoulder injury. His presence was felt immediately, as he piled up 10 points and five rebounds in just over eight minutes of action in the first quarter, against a Cavaliers team missing the injured Anderson Varejao and having no one else on its roster remotely capable of slowing him. He ended up finishing with a dominant 22 points and 14 rebounds.
Kobe Bryant had 12 of his 23 points in the opening frame to go along with five assists, and he and Howard combined to go 8-of-11 from the field in that first quarter, while the Lakers defensively held their opponent to just over 36 percent shooting.
L.A. finished the night shooting 58 percent as a team, including hitting 13 of its 25 attempts from three-point distance, while holding Cleveland to just over 41 percent.
The thing that was most impressive about the Lakers performance on this night wasn’t necessarily the win over a far less-talented opponent. It was the way they came out from the opening tip and took care of business with an efficiency and effectiveness we’ve seen only in flashes that was the difference. The offense was executed with purpose, the ball moved fluidly to find the open man, and all five players on the floor were active and engaged defensively.
It doesn’t seem so impossible on a night like this one when it all comes together.
The Lakers lead didn’t dip below double digits the entire second half, and reached as many as 30 late in the fourth quarter when the Cavaliers had relented and the final period turned into nothing more than extended garbage time.
No one in L.A. is going to mistake this Cleveland team, now with a record of just 9-30 on the season, with one of the league’s elite. Their only threat to score in bunches comes from Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, and the latter is more of a volume shooter than an efficient scorer at this early stage of his career.
But D’Antoni was right when he said that the turnaround has to start sometime, and to the Lakers credit, at least for a single night, they finally stepped up and responded to the challenge.
Nov 28, 2014, 2:10 PM EST
Melo said it came down to Bulls and Knicks
Nov 28, 2014, 12:39 PM EST
Grizzlies’ win upheld
Nov 28, 2014, 12:25 PM EST
To reach the 49 wins it took to make the playoffs in the West last season, the Thunder need to go 45-21 the rest of the way.
Nov 28, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
What about Chris Paul?
Nov 28, 2014, 9:30 AM EST
Mavericks own bitter about how Fisher left Dallas
Nov 28, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
I’d take this rumor with a grain or 12 of salt, but…
Nov 28, 2014, 1:51 AM EST
Scottie Pippen made the list, too.
Nov 27, 2014, 11:00 PM EST
Parker gets the rookie treatment from the official.
Nov 27, 2014, 9:30 PM EST
Davis is averaging 17.7 shots per game.
Nov 27, 2014, 8:00 PM EST
Sager will receive clearance to fly in January.
Nov 27, 2014, 6:30 PM EST
Rose says he is feeling better about his health.
Nov 27, 2014, 5:00 PM EST
Michael Malone increases pressure on sometimes-combustible Cousins
Nov 27, 2014, 3:30 PM EST
Celtics forward in final year of contract
Nov 27, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
Clifford has benched Stephenson for consecutive fourth quarters
Nov 27, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
Suns guard drives for reverse slam, cuts for monstrous alley-oop
Nov 27, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
Very nice gesture
Nov 27, 2014, 9:30 AM EST
He missed seven games with a hamstring injury.
Nov 27, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
Beal’s max extension projects to pay more than $118 million over five years
Nov 27, 2014, 1:37 AM EST
LeBron James and the Cavaliers were good, Chase Budinger had the flub.
Nov 27, 2014, 12:28 AM EST
Ish Smith will stay on the roster.
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