The seas parted for Lamar Odom and the Lakers Sunday night against Dallas.
To find one reason the Lakers have struggled of late, begin at the beginning. They haven't had a lead after the first quarter since December 20 against Detroit, meaning a lot of time spent playing catch up. Sunday night against the Mavs, who came to Staples back on October 30 and won by 14, there were no such problems. En route to an important 131-96 win, the Lakers pounded Dallas early, aided by a defense that kept the Mavs shooting jumpers and an offense playing to its strengths against a smaller opponent. The stats were impressive- Dallas was limited to 4-25 from the floor (16%) while the Lakers were 12-22 (54.5%)- and so was the score after one quarter.
Lakers 30, Dallas 13. That's getting it done.
After a slow start (three turnovers in the first 2:30), the Lakers put on a clinic. Kobe Bryant with a smooth jumper over Jason Kidd at the free throw line. A nice kick from Lamar Odom to Derek Fisher wide open in the left corner for three (good to see Fish get going early after a 1-10 effort against Sacramento Friday night). A face-up jumper for Pau Gasol. LO running the break, Kobe on the finish. Another nice jumper from Pau from 15. LO cleaning up a Kobe miss on the offensive glass. Bryant penetrating, drawing the D, and making the nice dish to Odom for the dunk. And so on. The Lakers effectively worked the ball from the inside out, made the extra pass, and controlled the tempo against a Mavs team that likes to run. They were sharp, played smart, and apparently evicted the body snatchers who'd occupied their unis since Christmas. Sure, Dallas missed a lot of shots, but most were along the perimeter and even had they made a few more still likely would have trailed by a healthy margin.
Call a badly needed fast start Sunday's Big Moment. Unfortunately, the big picture's most critical moment may not have appeared on the scoreboard. Just over seven minutes in, Gasol left the game with an injured left hamstring and didn't return. He'll be evaluated Monday morning, at which point we'll have more details. Gasol missed the first 11 games of the season with a bum right hammy. Obviously his health is critical to the team's success, particularly with Ron Artest sidelined.
Before the game, I wrote about L.A.'s need to come out with a strong effort against a strong team ahead of a tough January schedule. Fair to say they answered the bell. More postgame analysis and video to come...