As Jackson looms, Lakers move forward

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
12:55
AM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- After casting a long shadow over the franchise since retiring from coaching nearly three years ago, Phil Jackson was literally looming over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday from a luxury suite at Staples Center.

Of course, the newly minted president of the New York Knicks was there to preside over the guys in orange and blue, not purple and gold.

[+] EnlargeLakers celebrate
Harry How/Getty ImagesIt was a rare night of high-fives and smiles for the Lakers, who dismantled the New York Knicks at Staples Center on Tuesday.
And the Lakers beat the Knicks so bad, New York might have as well been wearing black and blue by the end of L.A.'s 127-96 victory.

It was quite the spectacle seeing Lakers president Jeanie Buss at the game sitting two rows from the court in Section 112, while her fiancÚ, Jackson, was way up in a skybox in Section 108. It provided a fairly symbolic representation of the 3,000 miles that will be between them as they lord over two of the league's marquee teams from opposite coasts. And the twists and turns of the NBA's most intriguing couple since Dennis Rodman and Madonna are sure to be talked about and picked over as every move their respective teams make in the future will be inevitably compared against one another.

But the best thing that could have happened to the Lakers on Tuesday did: Jackson didn't end up being the story.

For the first time in a long time, the Lakers played so well that the only thing there was to do was watch in awe. For all of the great teams the Lakers have ever fielded -- the 16 championship squads, the countless others that have gone deep into the playoffs -- none of them ever was as hot on offense for a single quarter of a game as this season's Lakers, already eliminated from postseason contention mind you, were in the third quarter Tuesday.

L.A. scored 51 points in the third, shooting 19-for-26 as a team overall (73.1 percent) and 6-for-9 on 3-pointers as it outscored New York by 20 and eclipsed the previous franchise record for points in a quarter, 49, that had stood for 42 years.

After the game, Nick Young, who made some more history by adding to his own franchise record already established this season by converting his sixth 4-point play, was asked about Jackson.

"Oh, I forgot about it," Young said. "Was he here tonight?"

Even though Young -- who recently identified himself as a "Laker fan for life" -- was able to disregard Jackson for the night, it doesn't mean it will be as easy for the rest of the fan base to forget.

But while those Jackson memories will never be erased, Tuesday was a reminder that it's always better to focus on living in the moment than dwelling in the past. Which, ironically, is a tenet Jackson lives by.

These have been trying times for a team so accustomed to winning that it came to be as expected as free refills on a fountain drink. But if everyone can focus on what the Lakers do have and will have, instead of what they used to have and could have had, things will improve.

It's something the current Lakers players have already figured out how to do.

Jodie Meeks, who has blossomed into a nice young player despite the struggles of the 24-46 Lakers as a team, was asked if he and his teammates discussed Jackson being at the game.

"No," Meeks said. "No point. We don't talk about it."

And for a night at least, Meeks and his teammates gave fans a reason not to talk about Jackson either.

It's time to look to the future. So how about Xavier Henry gutting it out on a bum knee and ragged wrist to score a team-high 22 points? How about the 6-foot-11 rookie, Ryan Kelly, hitting three of his five 3-pointers while also dishing out a career-high eight assists? How about Kent Bazemore following up a career-high eight assists of his own Sunday with five assists on Tuesday to go with 18 points?

Those are the players who can help L.A. next season -- young, improving players with a hunger to make up for a terrible season. Not Jackson.

No, Jackson was not really looming over the Lakers on Tuesday so much as he was detached from them. There's no use looking back and wringing hands over whether the separation was right or not. It's simply time to move forward.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Kobe Bryant
PTS AST STL MIN
25.2 4.8 1.4 35.4
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 8.6
AssistsK. Bryant 4.8
StealsK. Bryant 1.4
BlocksE. Davis 1.2