DALLAS — Already in this young season, the Los Angeles Lakers have changed personnel, coaches and systems. But on Saturday in Dallas came a constant: A 115-89 laugher that marks the Lakers’ 103rd win over the Mavs in 135 regular-season tries.
These Lakers aren’t the legendary Lakers of yore — at least not yet. LA is just 7-7 (the same record to which Dallas dropped) after having entered the weekend with two straight losses and an 0-4 road record. Kobe Bryant is still the centerpiece, but stellar new center Dwight Howard has back problems, stellar new point guard Steve Nash is out with a shin problem, Pau Gasol is struggling with his role and minutes, and Mike D’Antoni — just hired to replace the fired Mike Brown — is working to implement yet another Lakers offensive system.
All in all, it probably shouldn’t have been as easy as it looked against Dallas.
The Lakers, D’Antoni said, “were very focused with a lot of energy and this was the fourth game in five nights — and they had it. So we should expect this every night. I think they will. I think once they feel comfortable with things, I think we’ll have this kind of effort every time.”
It was Dallas that opened the season by upsetting the regal Lakers in LA. That — and other blips on the radar — have kept the Mavs relevant as they wait for the post-surgery, mid-December return of Dirk Nowitzki. But the Mavs were completely outclassed here — so much so that late in the game, the Lakers fans who populated the American Airlines Center rained down chants of “Let’s Go Lakers” toward the court.
Were the chants embarrassing?
“It was embarrassing before that,” said Mavericks forward Elton Brand.
LA’s dominance came from every bit of the roster, featuring Metta World Peace, who scored the Lakers’ first 10 points, had 16 in the first quarter and settled for 19 in the game. World Peace’s work typified the advantages LA exploited here, as Dallas coach Rick Carlisle noted both the high number of “blow-bys” and the fact that the Lakers players are physically stronger than their Dallas counterparts. (That truth exhibited: the 61-39 rebounding disparity.) The dominance came from an offense that shot 65 percent in the first quarter and that totaled 65 first-half points, an offense trying to figure out D’Antoni’s high-octane system and maybe just doing just that here.
“I’ve been (facilitating) a lot more,” said Bryant. “Scoring comes pretty easy for me, so I wind up kind of averaging what I average, even if I’m facilitating a lot.”
And when Nash comes back?
“I’ll be scoring a lot more,” Bryant said. “I don’t have to facilitate as much. Everybody can kind of go to their natural positions. It enables me to do what I do best, which is to put the ball in the hole.”
Gasol has seemed uncertain about his role and his burn, but so what? He had 13 points and nine rebounds in 28 minutes. Bench leader Antawn Jamison may be seeing his role shift, too, but so what? He had 19 points and 15 rebounds in 30 minutes.
And D’Antoni is talking about the Lakers being able to do this every night?
Even as the Lakers struggle to find their way, that is a scary thought for the rest of the West, including the Mavs, who are trying to avoid using Dirk’s absence as a crutch.
“When we were 4-1 it wasn’t a problem,” Carlisle said, “and we’re not going to make it a problem. … That’s all bull—-.”
There are similar expletives that apply to the work of virtually every Mav. Center Chris Kaman had season-lows across the board, with four points, three rebounds and 16.7-percent shooting. OJ Mayo (13 points) has been Dallas’ best player this season, but Saturday marked the first game this season that Mayo didn’t hit at least one 3-pointer, missing five tries. Brand went 0 of 3 and had five fouls in 17 minutes. Troy Murphy was 0 of 2 and also went scoreless. Darren Collison had more turnovers (three) than points (two) and shot 1 of 10. Only rookie Jae Crowder’s 15 points kept Dallas from being worse that its 37-percent shooting.
“No sense in beating around the bush,” Dallas’ Shawn Marion said. “They whooped our a–.”
There may be a time coming when the Lakers stop making more changes . . . and start whooping more a–.