LOS ANGELES — So far in the 2012-13 season, the only thing consistent about the Los Angeles Lakers has been their maddening inconsistency. Offensively or defensively, you never know what version of the team was going to arrive for the game.
Friday night against Denver at Staples Center, the good Lakers showed up and crushed the Nuggets 122-103.
Everyone who played made a contribution, and Dwight Howard — who had 28 points and 20 rebounds — even drilled the second 3-pointer of his career (in 39 attempts). That set off a celebration worthy of a 14-2 team, rather than one that just evened its record at 8-8. But it was a nice turnabout for the Lakers after a pitiful 79-77 loss to Indiana last Tuesday
More important, they got a major boost from the bench, especially Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks, two of the players who struggled most under the Mike Brown regime. Jamison — who never scored in doubles figures as a Laker until Brown was detached — hit 13 of 19 shots for 33 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in 33 minutes. Meeks never got a real opportunity under Brown, but has played well under Mike D’Antoni, and Friday he night exploded for 21 points in 17 minutes, including 7 of 8 3-pointers. After going MIA against the Pacers and scoring a meager five points, against Denver the bench totaled 61 points.
The Lakers were very happy with the win, but Howard cautioned his teammates to temper their enthusiasm.
“It’s only one game,” he said, “and now we’ve got to put this behind us, come into practice (Saturday) and work as hard as we can to get better.”
D’Antoni sounded more relieved than happy after the game
“Well, it was a lot better than the other night,” he said. “I’ll definitely take what we did. The ball was moving better, and a lot of good things were going on out there. We just have to continue to get better.
“It’s probably the same thing you heard (him say) in Dallas the other night, then we went backwards. We can’t do that anymore.”
D’Antoni also hinted the team isn’t in quite the physical shape it needs to be in order to run his offense to its maximum consistency.
“Sometimes we score easy,” the coach said, “and sometimes we score easy and get tired, and we revert back to kind of ‘bully’ basketball, where you in a sense beat somebody up, get more physical with them, instead of (running his system).
“Those are habits, and those are things I do believe we can overcome. We just have to work at it. This whole thing is about working at it until we get it.”
For one night at least, it seemed like Jamison and Meeks pushed themselves way ahead of the learning curve.
“We bring out the best in each other,” said Meeks, who shoots at least 100 3-pointers before and after practice or a shootaround. “Antawn has been a scorer in this league for his entire career, and I want to learn and want to be like that. I’m just a young guy in this league, and I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job so far learning from (Antawn) and the other guys.
“It’s been a while since I shot the ball like that, and it felt good to get out there and do it. Sometimes you’re not going to shoot well, and others like tonight when it’s a lot better. We just have to keep moving forward as a team.”
Jamison said he didn’t have any special feeling that he was going to have a breakthrough game against the Nuggets.
“It just unfolded that way,” said the North Carolina native, now in his 15th NBA season. “I was able to get a couple of easy baskets in the first quarter, and it seemed like I got right into the flow of things. I came down in transition and hit a couple of 3-pointers, got involved rebounding-wise and just played an overall complete game.
“It was a good win for us. We needed it. And now we need to keep it going.”
Kobe Bryant, who had a sub-par scoring effort with just 14 points — leaving him 86 points shy of becoming the fifth player in NBA history to reach 30,000 points scored — agreed with Jamison and wants to make sure his teammates don’t put too much importance in just one win.
“If guys are too happy, I’ll have to bring them back down (Saturday) at practice,” Bryant said. “There’s more work to be done.”
1 — What’s become very clear since Brown’s firing is that he made a huge tactical error by trying to institute the Princeton offense with this particular team — a mistake that cost him his job. The team was stifled by a scheme that required too much thinking and decision-making every time down the floor. There was very little room for freelancing, and in some fashion it was holding back everyone — especially Jamison and Meeks. Had management decided patience was the best course and stayed with Brown, the championship expectations this team has likely would have turned into a disastrous struggle just to make the playoffs.
2 — If Jamison continues his resurgence on a consistent basis, he’ll become a top candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year Award. He’s not a great defender, but he’s excellent in just about every other facet of the game. He’s averaged 19.5 points per game in his 14-year career, and he can also rebound, pass, block shots and even steal the ball once in a while. He’s also a guy teammates look to for leadership, especially his bench mates, all of whom say they respect what he’s accomplished in his career, and that they knew he’d start producing big games and big plays for the Lakers
3 — Howard seemed very hesitant to talk about Sunday night’s game against his former team, the Orlando Magic. When asked if he still is friends with any of the Magic players, and did he keep in touch with them since the trade, there was an awkward silence before he quickly changed the subject. I think it’s going to be very interesting when the true story of why Howard wanted out of Orlando comes to the surface. There has to be something more to it than his pat answer about wanting a change in his life. That’s part of it, but common sense tells you there’s much more to be learned about Dwight’s departure.