Apparently, the Lakers are at the level of San Antonio ... and then some.
Just a few days ago, after a lifeless home loss to New Orleans, Coach Phil Jackson dismissed Sunday's game against the Spurs, saying the Lakers weren't ready for such a well-defined, championship-tested team.
He couldn't really be blamed for his observation at the time, but then came the game itself, as Jackson's words -- motivational, evidently -- melted away in a 106-99 Lakers victory.
Kobe Bryant returned from a one-game absence to score 34 points on 13-for-25 shooting, and seemingly every one of the nine Lakers who played had a timely point, assist, rebound or blocked shot in front of a Staples Center crowd that hadn't demonstrated such conviction since last season's playoffs.
Lamar Odom had 18 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, Kwame Brown had a second half suitable for framing, and the friendly portion of the Lakers' schedule -- 16 of their first 20 games at Staples Center -- ended emphatically.
"This team does rally and play animated games when they're called upon to play them," Jackson said. "I'm not surprised by their performance at all."
It came against a team that had beaten three previous opponents by an average of 112-82. It happened in the third quarter, when the Spurs committed a whopping nine turnovers and their vaunted defense was blistered for 37 points.
The Spurs came in with a league-best 8-2 road record but left with a surprising meltdown after halftime, an inability to stop Bryant and, finally, without the league's top record, an early-season honor now held by the Utah Jazz.
"I thought the Lakers' pressure was great in the second half and I thought we folded under that pressure, absolutely folded under their pressure. End of story," Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said.
The Lakers, now 14-6, go on the road for eight of their next 10 and, more telling, 22 of their next 32.
"It's going to be fun," Bryant said of consecutive road games this week in Houston and Dallas.
Fun? Hard to argue after the Lakers spilled out of an upbeat locker room.
"I knew it was in this team," said forward Luke Walton, who continued his early-season push with 17 points. "Tonight we finally put a game together. Everyone had each other's backs, we were all talking, the energy level was high and people were making plays."
There wasn't much to say after a one-sided loss Wednesday to New Orleans, Jackson catching the mood with a somber assessment.
"We're not in competition with San Antonio yet," he said at the time. "This team isn't at that level. We haven't shown that we can play at that level in a game."
Then came Sunday, and the Lakers furiously bumped up a level or two, drawing first blood this season in a rivalry that has featured jabs and words lobbed to and fro over the years.
Jackson once dismissed San Antonio as a land of tourists and conventioneers, while Popovich compared the eventual breakup of the Lakers to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Last season, Jackson called Spurs forward Bruce Bowen "Edward Scissorhands" because of his aggressive defense.
Jackson made sure to mention Bowen again when asked before the game how many minutes Bryant would get. Bryant did not play Friday against Atlanta because of a sprained right ankle.
"We'll have to watch that, especially with Bowen," Jackson said. "Bowen is a tenacious defender and will occasionally stick his leg underneath a player when he's up in the air. If you watch tape as much as I do, you can verify that."
Bryant, who sat out Saturday's practice, looked healthy enough with a one-handed fastbreak dunk after a length-of-the-court feed from Odom toward the end of the third quarter.
"I knew if he went off and did that, he was feeling just fine," Jackson said.
Brown also looked healthy in the second half after a hushed start that included one rebound, one assist and no points in the first half.
Brown finished with 11 points, five rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots.
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The Lakers beat the Spurs at Staples Center on Sunday for the first time since Nov. 28, 2003, ending a streak of five losses:
*--* Date Score * April 4, 2004 Spurs 95, Lakers 89 * Nov. 5, 2004 Spurs 105, Lakers 96 * Feb. 4, 2005 Spurs 103, Lakers 91 * March 6, 2006 Spurs 103, Lakers 96 * March 30, 2006 Spurs 96, Lakers 85
KEYS TO THE GAME
* Undeniably, the third quarter. The Lakers went into it with a 48-46 deficit and emerged with an 83-70 lead. Smush Parker and Kobe Bryant each had two steals in the quarter, and San Antonio committed nine turnovers.
* All of the Lakers' starters scored in double figures against one of the league's toughest defenses. Kobe Bryant led all players with 34 points.
* Kwame Brown atoned for a quiet first half with 11 points and two blocked shots in the second half.
-- MIKE BRESNAHAN