The Lakers were coming off of a miserable 77-point performance against a defensive-minded Pacers team on Tuesday, and the Nuggets were coming to town after playing a wild one the night before on the road against the Warriors.
The combination of those two factors, along with Denver’s fearlessness in playing uptempo basketball, spelled disaster for them Friday night in Los Angeles.
The Lakers put up a ridiculous 71 first-half points, and behind a dominant performance from Dwight Howard and balanced production from everyone else, had little trouble in cruising to a 122-103 victory at Staples.
This one was over in the first quarter, and maybe even before it started. Reporters saw a message from Lakers coaches on the team’s whiteboard in the locker room which challenged Howard to win this game on his own, and he delivered from the very start.
Howard was featured offensively, and responded with 16 first-quarter points on 7-of-9 shooting. The activity level kept him engaged defensively, where he grabbed five rebounds and blocked two shots in the game’s first 12 minutes.
Kobe Bryant, meanwhile, was happy to facilitate on this night, and only bothered to take three shot attempts in the first, while dishing out five assists in his de facto point guard role. Bryant got going offensively in the second with 10 points in the period, but that was nothing compared to the shooting performance off the bench from reserve guard Jodie Meeks.
Meeks hit his first five three-point attempts of the night, all in the second quarter for 15 points in the period. He finished 7-of-8 from three, good for 21 points in just 17 minutes.
The other stellar performance of the night belonged to Antawn Jamison, who had a throwback game scoring at will as a reserve, and finished with 33 points and 12 rebounds in 32 minutes of action. He was active around the basket and seemed to always be in a position where his teammates could locate him with ease.
Bryant finished just 5-of-15 from the field, and he, Pau Gasol, and Chris Duhon tied for the team lead in assists with eight apiece. With so many other players being prolific offensively, and with the team still in desperate need of Bryant to facilitate rather than score, a line like that from him is not only more than acceptable, but it’s welcome, and to be expected.
The night belonged to Howard, who finished with 28 points and 20 rebounds, and even drilled an open three from the corner with nine seconds left to cap his stellar performance. Some of this was on the Nuggets’ style of play and the personnel mismatch, but the majority of L.A.’s success was simply forced by the outstanding team play of the Lakers.