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Sunday, November 4, 2012
Lakers give a glimpse of how good things can be

By Dave McMenamin

Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard was dominant and showed his leadership side as the Lakers won for the first time.

LOS ANGELES -- It was a familiar quote that came out of Dwight Howard's mouth when he was surrounded by the media after the Los Angeles Lakers' game against the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night.

"This is a process," Howard said.

The p-word has been Lakers coach Mike Brown's mantra as the season got off to a rocky start with an 0-3 record coming on the heels of an 0-8 exhibition slate.

This time the process Howard referred to was the routine of first putting on his black button-down shirt, then his tie, then his sweater and finally finishing off the ensemble with a tie clip.

No, there was no talk of becoming familiar with the Princeton-style offense or developing team cohesion on this night. The Lakers finally put things together with a 108-79 win over the Pistons and the mood in the locker room afterward was far more jovial, with no need for players to be delivering yet another state of the team address after yet another Lakers loss.

Heck, Brown even started his postgame news conference by getting up to hug a reporter who used to cover him during his Cleveland days.

What a difference a win makes, right?

This group was together 35 days since the start of training camp before they finally got their breakthrough moment, leading by as many as 36 points Sunday.

"Obviously, we needed a win," Brown said. "You look at the points some of these guys had, and I'm sure they'll tell you, they scored probably easier than any other time they've played the game because they got it within the system. It gives us a little belief, and every win that we get gives us a little bit more belief on both ends of the floor."

You had to believe in the Lakers' offense after seeing them score a season-high 108 points while shooting 51.9 percent from the field, 45.5 percent on 3-pointers and committing only nine turnovers through the first three quarters as they built a 30-plus point lead.

Suddenly it's OK to look at the bright side at what might be beginning for this Lakers team.

Kobe Bryant continued to be his efficient self, making it four games in a row that he has shot 50 percent or better from the field thanks to his 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting. This after shooting an abysmal 43 percent last year.

"The [offense] opens the floor up a little bit more," said Bryant, who told Brown earlier in the day that the 40 points he had Friday was one of the easiest 40-point games of his career because of the opportunities the offense affords him. "I have the ball and move a little bit more. The other part of that, I've been healthy all summer and have been able to get in phenomenal shape. I feel very strong, despite the ankle. I'm shooting the ball very well."

Howard continued to marvel with 28 points on 12-for-14 shooting to accompany 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. Rather than focusing on the losses, one could argue that the most significant development for the Lakers through the early part of the season is that Howard has been downright dominant, averaging 23.3 points on 68.8 percent shooting along with 9.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.

More important than Howard's numbers was the fact that he showed his first sign of being a leader of this team by speaking up Sunday morning.

"I was just happy we came out tonight with a lot of energy. I think that was the key," Howard said. "I told the guys today at shootaround, 'Let's start now with our energy' and we were all energetic today in shootaround and it carried over to the game."

Steve Blake looked like he'll be able to pick up the slack for Steve Nash and be more than just serviceable while Nash is out, as Blake went 2-for-3 on 3-pointers, had six assists against just two turnovers and tied a career high with five steals.

Metta World Peace performed as well as his slimmed-down body looks, putting up 18 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists with a steal while hitting 7 of 11 shots.

The Lakers' bench showed some semblance of an identity with Jordan Hill (11 points, seven rebounds) wreaked havoc, Darius Morris (six points, two assists) provided a spark and Antawn Jamison (six points, five rebounds) finally hit a shot.

Even Darius Johnson-Odom, one of the two Lakers not to get in the game (the injured Nash was the other), impressed World Peace for how he studied the game.

"He took all these notes on what's working and what's not working," World Peace said. "It's really good. He's not even playing. He's into the game. Totally into the game. Things like that are a positive."

Make no mistake, there is still a process to be played out that has nothing to do with Howard's wardrobe and everything to do with learning how to win together, but for a night, the new-look Lakers looked every bit as good as advertised.

"We had to stop the bleeding," Pau Gasol said. "There's not a way to do it other than coming out here tonight and getting a good, solid win. Does it mean that all the issues are solved? No. Does it mean that we shouldn't continue to work and pay attention to all the things that we try to do well? Absolutely not.

"We just need to build on this and utilize this just to get a little bit of that tension out of ourselves and play better ball from now on, on both ends of the floor."

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.