1. Laker Apocalypse? Not Now
LOS ANGELES -- Crisis averted. Employment continued. Order restored.
It's not what the Los Angeles Lakers' 108-79 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night accomplished, it's what it avoided: things such as the franchise's first 0-4 start since 1957-58, widespread panic in the streets of Los Angeles, plus calls to abandon the Princeton offense and fire Mike Brown.
Urgency had come early in Lakerland, even in this place of late-arriving crowds and wake-me-when-the-playoffs-start attitudes. It had even afflicted the coaching staff, as Brown played Kobe Bryant 43 minutes Friday night in a futile attempt to avoid a third loss.
There was even a touch of extra security (like Pee Wee Herman locking his bike) involved Sunday, when Brown sent Bryant and Dwight Howard back in with the Lakers leading by 24 points in the fourth quarter. But ultimately there was no greatness or fear necessary, not with the defenseless, turnover-prone Detroit Pistons in town. The Lakers led comfortably throughout, won their first game of any type (playoff, exhibition or regular season) since May 18, and most of all, exhaled.
The only good thing about Steve Nash's limited role in the offense so far is that it made his absence easier for the Lakers to digest. Nash is out for a least a week with a fractured bone in his leg. The backcourt wasn't the story Sunday night, as the Lakers force-fed the ball inside to Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, and even Metta World Peace joined the action.
The Lakers destroyed the Pistons inside, winning the points in the paint category 56-34. Howard had 28 points on 12-for-14 shooting. World Peace made seven of 11 shots and scored 18 points.
This didn't solve every issue. Howard still misses more free throws than he makes. The opposing reserves still score more than the Lakers' bench (52-27, in this case).
The one thing this did was give the Lakers time. They lowered the volume of the howling, at least temporarily.
"Obviously we needed a win," Brown said. "Dropping three in a row and not winning in the preseason, made it a little tough.
"What it does more than anything else, especially winning the way we did, defending the way we did first of all and playing the way we did offensively with great spacing, great ball movement, scoring out of the system it gives us a little belief. Every win we get gives you a little bit more belief on both ends of the floor."
It's interesting that he used the word belief. It's a coach's greatest ally. And while there hadn't been calls from inside the locker room to junk the offense, more losses would probably lead to more scenes like Friday night, when Bryant took the offense into his own hands.
Sunday night, Bryant was content to record nearly as many assists as field goal attempts (eight to 10). There was trust from everyone on the court that the ball would end up in the right place if they ran the offense. As a bonus, Bryant got to take it easier on his strained right foot; he didn't don the walking boot he wore Friday night and thought the two days off before the Lakers' next game at Utah would be enough time for him to feel sound again.
So while he felt better physically, nothing changed about his attitude. When the Lakers were winless he told everyone to calm down, and now that they had their first W he isn't about to proclaim them a finished product.
"I think it's more of a relief for Mike than it was for anyone else," he said with a smirk.
The biggest difference for Bryant was instead of irksome questions about the appropriate level of panic he had to deal with queries about his jacket, which seemed a suspiciously Washington Redskins shade of burgundy for an avowed Philadelphia Eagles fan to be wearing.
The Pistons, meanwhile, look as woeful as the Kansas City Chiefs. But the Lakers are in no position to be graded on a curve based on the caliber of competition. On opening night they couldn't beat a Dallas Mavericks squad that took the court without Dirk Nowitzki, and started a center (Eddy Curry) whom they released a couple of days later. Throughout the preseason they couldn't take control against anyone the way they did Sunday.
"What I liked was the start of the game," Gasol said. "We set the tone early, we imposed ourselves and established ourselves, and that helped a lot."
A victory always helps, too.
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
Most valuable player: Dwight Howard finished with 28 points on only 14 shots. He also chipped in 7 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals in 33 minutes. Howard still doesn't look 100 percent physically, but Sunday night he moved around the floor well and did fantastic work controlling the paint on both sides of the ball. His ability to protect the rim also allowed the Lakers' wings to pressure the ball and force turnovers that were turned into easy baskets.
Least valuable player: Rodney Stuckey just can't catch a break on offense. He came into the game only making one of his 17 shots so far this season and then put up another six shots without making a basket. Furthermore, as a guard known for attacking, he didn't earn a single free throw attempt and was the only Piston to play who didn't score.
That was a relief: At least from the Lakers' perspective. Panic was setting in for the Lakers as they struggled on both sides of the ball and were winless coming into this game. To get not only a win but to dominate in the process has to give them some confidence and will at least let the city of Los Angeles breathe easier for the next couple of days.
Recap | Box score
Most valuable player: Jrue Holiday. The Sixers' young point guard was terrific in defeat on Sunday. The $41 million man scored 27 points to go with seven assists and was 5-of-6 from 3-point range. The contract was based on promise as much as past production. If he can string together a few more performances like this, it might be justified.
X Factor: These Knicks love the 3-pointer. Unfortunately for their opponents, it loves them right back. After sinking 11 against Philadelphia on this afternoon, the 'Bockers have made 30 of the 63 they've attempted this season.
Least valuable player: Basketball's stat guys hate Nick Young. Sixers fans might soon agree. Young, who's about as efficient as an SUV, has missed 14 of the 19 shots he has taken this season and has posted the team's worst plus/minus two games running. Philadelphia was outscored by 29 points when he was on the floor on Sunday.
Recap | Box score
Most valuable player: Kyle Lowry. While he didn't score in the fourth he kept the Raptors' heads above water late in the second and third quarters. He led the teams in points, rebounds and assists with 22-7-5.
That was sloppy: The Timberwolves turned the ball over 24 times for 32 points and had a minus-9 offensive rebounding margin, giving the Raptors far too many possessions.
X Factor: Alan Anderson, who earned a contract with a 17-game tryout at the end of last season, has emerged as the first wing off the bench. He scored 18 points, 10 in the fourth quarter.
Recap | Box score
Most valuable player: Al Horford. He had 23 points on 11-19 shooting, 12 rebounds and zero turnovers. Impressive what Horford can do when he gets the usage.
X Factor: Lou Williams in the fourth quarter. For the second consecutive game, Williams had more than 10 points in the final period. Only this time, it led to an Atlanta victory.
Defining moment: With three minutes left in the game, Russell Westbrook saved a ball under his own basket. His save went straight to Al Horford, who dunked it to give Atlanta a 95-89 lead. The errant pass was just one of OKC's 20 turnovers.
Recap | Box score
Most valuable player: J.J. Redick scored 11 of his 24 points in the first quarter on 5-for-6 shooting to keep Orlando close while the Suns controlled the game early.
That was ... unexpected: The Suns led by 14 four minutes into the second half before Orlando unleashed a 32-8 spurt to close the third quarter. The Suns shot 53.9 percent before the run and 28.3 percent thereafter.
Least valuable player: Nobody played particularly well for Phoenix in the second half, but Jared Dudley was silent all game with four points while Redick and Arron Afflalo combined for 46 at the other end.
3. Sunday's Best
Atlanta Hawks: Winning in Oklahoma City without Josh Smith? Impressive. Al Horford was an inside force and Lou Williams was clutch in the fourth. And getting double-figures from Ivan Johnson in a dozen minutes of action is always good.
4. Sunday's Worst
Rodney Stuckey, Pistons: Missed all six shots in Detroit's 108-79 loss to the Lakers. Stuckey has now made 1-of-23 field goal attempts in three Pistons games. On the bright side, he's made 8 of 9 free throws this season.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"It's a very difficult team to play because they can post or they can spread you and they really move the ball really well. They're playing very unselfish basketball."
-- Sixers coach Doug Collins, evaluating the Knicks after his team lost 100-84 at Madison Square Garden.
8. Birds Of A Feather
9. Lowry Over Everything
Kyle Lowry had 22 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists and backcourt-mate DeMar DeRozan had 22 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists to lead the Raptors to their initial win of the season, a 105-86 decision over the Timberwolves. Lowry, in fact, has led the Raptors (or tied for the lead) in each of those categories in each of the team's past two games -- becoming the first player in franchise history to do that.
In fact, all last season in the NBA, only three players led their teams in points, rebounds and assists (or tied for the lead) in each of two consecutive games: LeBron James (March 2 and 4), Utah's Al Jefferson (March 5 and 7) and Carmelo Anthony (April 15 and 17).
10. Bearded Wonder