Lakers pass test with extra credit

SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- All season long the Los Angeles Lakers have let teams make them look bad.

Good teams have made them look bad: the Heat on Christmas Day, the Spurs three days later. The Celtics smacked them around. The Magic stole their road mojo.

Bad teams have made them look worse: The Pacers and Bucks celebrated on their home court, the crosstown Clippers embarrassed them. The barely conscious Cavaliers knocked them out.

But Sunday, the Lakers were the ones making a great team look terrible, blowing out the Spurs 99-83 in San Antonio. And man, did it feel good.

"We're just at the point of the season where, it doesn't matter who we play against," Lamar Odom said. "We want the game. We came out and played well. We took it."

The Lakers took their first six games coming out of the All-Star break too, but Sunday was supposed to be harder. The mighty Spurs had already beaten L.A. twice this season and own the best record in the league. They had won 22 straight games on their home floor too, yet found themselves down by 32 points in the third quarter as the lively Lakers defense was making stop after stop, holding San Antonio to 36 percent shooting for the game.

These Spurs are having so special a season Phil Jackson sounded like the Double Rainbow Guy when beholding its beauty. First he described San Antonio's season as "magical" before the game and the minister's son went as far as to call Duncan's and Tony Parker's recoveries from injuries this season "miraculous."

This win gave the Lakers 23 road wins, matching their total for all of last season. It started off their treacherous four-game trip that will continue through Atlanta, Miami and Dallas with a statement, the kind of statement you want to make when your coach is calling the trip a "make-or-break point" of the season, as Jackson did.

There were plenty of makes for L.A. in San Antonio.

Kobe Bryant made three straight field goal attempts in the second quarter and took the time after the second one, a pull-up 3 from the corner, to joyfully jaw with a fan sitting courtside who had a front-row view for the show he was putting on.

Derek Fisher made 2 of 3 3-point attempts after it appeared he could be facing an end to his iron man streak of 477 consecutive games played when he sprained his elbow on Friday.

Matt Barnes returned to the court for the first time in 26 games after undergoing right knee surgery on Jan. 11 and chipped in five points and six rebounds in 14 minutes.

Ron Artest spilled a man's coffee all over him while chasing down a loose ball on the sideline and made his teammates smile in delight when he chased down George Hill to block his shot out of bounds and proceeded to flex his arms and kiss his biceps in celebration.

Andrew Bynum made the Lakers' defense look dominant, cleaning up his teammates' mistakes by blocking three shots (including erasing two sure Parker layups right at the rim) and cleaning up the glass en route to collecting 17 rebounds for the second straight game.

Pau Gasol made his first 3-point shot of the season, calmly knocking it down from the corner early in the second quarter.

"I think we're in a good moment," Gasol said. "Right now we're going through really a confident time but it's still the regular season, it's still one game. ... We have to be at our peak later on, not right now."

The Lakers appear to be climbing toward that peak.

"We're improving a little bit and getting better," Odom said. "We're focused as a team and everyone is contributing. It's much needed. It's definitely needed."

It may have taken the team more than three quarters of the season to find this rhythm, but the point is the Lakers kept working at it instead of sitting back and looking at their reflection in their two rings.

"Even if you're playing extremely well throughout the course of the year, you still have to make improvements," said Bryant, who claimed earlier in the season that even as a 15-year veteran, he was still finding new ways to master the game. "You can't just play one way and stay at the same level. You have to continue to try and get better whether you're playing poorly or you're playing great at the start of the year."

Sunday the Lakers made a good team look bad while reminding us how great they can be.

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