LOS ANGELES -- Only the Lakers. Only the Lakers could plunge their season into immediate chaos, before they played a single game, and then run the league's offensive juggernaut off the floor in game No. 1, making the madness look like a layup line. Like a comfort zone.
If you're not quite ready to digest the newest pronouncements from Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant that there are suddenly no issues between them, fresh off some of the most vicious sniping we've ever heard from them, you can feel safer believing guys like Karl Malone and Derek Fisher and even the injured Rick Fox.
Those are the guys who say the Lakers can play through whatever feuding they endure.
"It makes it more interesting for viewers," Fox said. "It makes it harder for us to mend the fences. But we've done it. We've done it before. This is not new."
The Lakers did it for 48 minutes on a Tuesday night that looked incredibly familiar, with a dash of up-tempo newness. With doubt all around them, and without the hobbled Bryant, the Lakers played at a Mavericks-style tempo and never trailed for a second in this Opening Night special, beating Dallas at home for the 26th consecutive time.
The Lakers moved the ball beautifully, zipping it around the horn and carving out eight layups alone in the third quarter. On the fast break, which is supposed to be Dallas' domain, L.A. sped to a 15-2 edge. At one point Gary Payton asked his coach, Phil Jackson, if he should slow the offense down, not sure if his teammates could keep up. Jackson told them to keep running, and L.A. wound up with six players in double figures.
"We've got cannons, rockets, missiles -- you name it," said swingman Bryon Russell, one of the six with 10 points.
"We looked like we've been playing together for two years now."
The Mavericks, conversely, looked totally lost for a half. They looked more lost than they should have looked, even though they have only had Antoine Walker for about a week. Defensive confusion was expected, since the Mavericks are known for their problems at that end, but their offensive struggles were a shocker, even accounting for their retched history in road games against the Lakers.
Of course, it didn't help that they were playing what Fisher describes as the professional sports franchise most adept at dealing with distractions. It was hard to argue after Malone, who has generally looked uncomfortable in the triangle offense in his first month as a Laker, just missed a triple-double with his 15 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Payton, meanwhile, was even better, controlling the tempo with his own triple-double bid: 21 points, nine assists and seven boards.
"Conflict resolution has happened in this ballclub (before)," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. "We don't see this as insurmountable at all."
In the Lakers' weird world, they actually see the latest frenzy as ... normal?
"For me personally, I think it's pretty good actually," Fox said. "We had a lovefest last year and lost the championship. We don't get along, we won three (championships).
"I'm telling you," Fox continued. "This is good. You don't believe me. This is good."
Forty-eight minutes in, you had to agree.