LOS ANGELES — There wasn’t quite an audible sigh of relief inside Staples Center, but it was pretty close.
With their fans on the edge of panic and Kobe Bryant growing more impatient by the day, the Lakers finally found something that worked Sunday night. Most important of all, they won.
They didn’t just win by a little, they won by a lot. After eight preseason losses and three more to start the season, they blew away the Detroit Pistons 108-79.
Smiles all around. Back slaps. Standing ovations. All is right in Laker Nation.
“It feels good,” Bryant said, allowing himself just a hint of a grin. “We did what we’re supposed to do. It feels good to see what we’ve been working on come to fruition out there during the game.”
The woeful Pistons, caught in a rebuilding mode and winless at 0-3, were the perfect foil. They struggled on defense, shot just 35 percent and allowed the Lakers to score almost at will inside the paint. At one point in the third quarter, they trailed by 36.
This was a night the Lakers have been looking for since the season began. After losses to Dallas, Portland and the Clippers, they found a rhythm offensively and cut down — at least marginally — on their turnovers, making 15 after averaging almost 20 in their first three games.
“It was total domination,” Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said.
It was also a sign that the Princeton offense that Lakers coach Mike Brown is installing might fit in. The Lakers moved the ball well, found the open man consistently and hit their shots, making 52 percent.
“We weren’t perfect offensively,” Brown said, “but I think everybody got a little taste, including us, of what it could be like in terms of the ball movement and execution and spacing and the counters we have built in. We’re just barely scratching the surface. I’m excited with the direction this thing can go on that end of the floor.”
Wherever it goes, the Lakers will have to get there without point guard Steve Nash, who remains out for a week or more because of a small fracture in his left leg. In his place, Steve Blake had six points, six assists and five steals in 30 minutes.
The Lakers’ frontcourt of Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace shot a combined 25 of 41. Howard made 12 of 14 shots, and the two he missed — a layup and a dunk — could have easily gone in.
The game was so comfortably under control that Bryant played just 4 minutes, 41 seconds of the final period. He finished the game with 15 points.
“We just played better,” he said. “We executed much better. It’s as simple as that.”
And a relief? “I think it’s a little bit of a relief for Mike than it is for anybody else,” Bryant said. “We’re good. We’re good.”
What the win probably won’t do is end any sense of impending doom, at least in the short term. It was one victory against three losses. The Lakers now go on the road Wednesday at Utah, no sure thing.
They know the critics are waiting to see what happens.
“It was important for us to win tonight after starting 0-3,” Gasol said. “Now we have the next test, and if something goes wrong the next game, then it’s going to be the same thing until we win consistently and can get a good streak going and play well on both ends of the floor.”
At least this was a start. Best of all, Kobe was smiling.