Rapid Reaction: Lakers 104, Trail Blazers 87

LOS ANGELES -- Driving to the arena tonight, the talk on ESPNLA 710 Radio's "Max & Marcellus Show" being hosted by Jeff Biggs and J.A. Adande revolved around the must-win nature of Friday's game against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Yes, there were still more than 50 games to play this season, but if the Lakers couldn't get up for a game like this after being embarrassed in Denver on Wednesday, what kind of game could they get up for?

Turns out they learned something from that no-show against the Nuggets, and they were able to thoroughly enforce their will against a precocious Portland bunch to get the win.

How it happened: The Lakers came out sharp from the start, putting up 34 points in the first quarter as they streaked out to a nine-point lead after one. The Lakers' defense (Portland shot just 41.4 percent) and rebounding (they owned the glass 52-44) carried them the rest of the way, as they never trailed and got some vengeance for that Halloween loss at the Rose Garden in which Steve Nash broke his leg.

What it means: When Dwight Howard comes out to play, the Lakers are a completely different team. Whatever happened during that Denver game -- whether it was just plain fatigue or frustration or some combination of the two -- Howard got it out of his system by Friday. The big man finished with 21 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks, and, perhaps more important, outhustled Portland's energy guy, J.J. Hickson, who had just two points on 0-for-7 shooting to go with eight rebounds.

Hits: Pau Gasol hit two of three shots from 3 to mark the first time in his 12-year, 818-game career that he's had three straight games with a made 3. Gasol finished with 15 points, nine rebounds and three blocks, and he had Howard and Kobe Bryant cheering for him from the bench as he finished off his work in the fourth quarter.

Misses: Bryant's streak of 10 straight games with at least 30 points (the second longest such streak of his 17-year career) came to an end. Bryant finished with 27 points on 9-for-18 shooting.

Antawn Jamison picked up his fifth straight DNP-CD as Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni went with the likes of Earl Clark, Devin Ebanks and Robert Sacre over Jamison in the fourth quarter, when the Lakers' lead ballooned to 27 points.

Stat of the night: Portland's rookie of the year candidate, Damian Lillard, went just 4-for-17 from the field for 11 points. Darius Morris, who got the start again and the defensive assignment on Lillard, did not disappoint with his energy on the Blazers' budding star. Morris chipped in eight points on 4-for-6 shooting and four rebounds to boot.

What's next: The Lakers head into 2013 with a clean .500 record at 15-15. They have three days before their next game, on New Year's Day against the Andrew Bynum-less Philadelphia 76ers.

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