A great starting five

Bresnahan is a Times staff writer

Wait, when exactly is that challenge supposed to come?

The Lakers powered through another alleged contender, overcoming a numbingly slow start (seriously, a 16-point deficit in the second quarter) on the way to a breezy 111-82 victory Sunday over the Houston Rockets at Staples Center.

Pau Gasol was steady as could be, Jordan Farmar donated a 16-point, six-assist effort in a reserve role, and early-game boos turned into standing ovations as the Lakers tied their third-largest margin of victory in a 41-year history of playing the Rockets.

Through five games, the only people who have toyed with the Lakers have been, well, the Lakers.


They needed Kobe Bryant’s fourth-quarter bailout for a victory in Denver. They needed a 22-0 run to dispatch the Clippers. They trailed Houston, 32-16, before finally awakening.

Actually, “awakening” might be the understatement of the Lakers’ young season.

The final score represented a 45-point swing from their early deficit. From that rickety point in the second quarter, when boos began to seep out of fans after a three-second violation on Lamar Odom, the Lakers outscored Houston the rest of the way, 95-50 (not a typo).

“The momentum of this game just turned upside down after the first quarter,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.

Truth be told, it was early in the second quarter when it happened.

A layup by Aaron Brooks gave the Rockets their 16-point advantage with 11:01 left until halftime.


The second unit, however, brought the Lakers back, spurred mainly by Farmar’s aggressiveness (eight points in the second quarter).

Then there was their defense.

Whatever ailed the Lakers in the first quarter (29.4% shooting) was inhaled by the Rockets after the midpoint of the second quarter. Houston made only 13 of its last 49 shots (26.5%).

The stat line of the night belonged to Tracy McGrady: three points on one-for-11 shooting.

Ron Artest, the Rockets’ key off-season acquisition, wasn’t much better: eight points on two-for-11 shooting.

“I think it was the worst game we have ever had,” said Rockets center Yao Ming, who scored 12 points.

It might sound repetitive so few games into the season, but the record books had to be combed through again, this time to find out when the Lakers last pummeled the Rockets like this (a 131-102 pasting in January 1984).

The Lakers were even solid on offense after entering the game in the bottom third of the league in shooting percentage.

Gasol made seven of 10 shots on the way to 20 points and 15 rebounds. Bryant had 23 points on 10-for-17 shooting. The Lakers made 53.2% of their attempts on the night, which should move them up several notches in shooting accuracy.

A few minutes into the fourth quarter, the boos had turned into a standing ovation after Gasol’s 14-footer provided an 85-69 lead. The Lakers were well on their way to their sixth 5-0 start in franchise history.

Are they as good as advertised?

“Five games into it, I guess they are,” Rockets Coach Rick Adelman said. “I mean, they’ve won every game by 20-plus points.”

Well, sort of. They beat the Clippers by 18 and Denver by seven, but his point was understood. The Lakers’ average margin of victory is now 22.4 points a game.

For the first time in more than a week, the Lakers won’t go three days between games.

They hit the road today for back-to-back challenges in Dallas (Tuesday) and New Orleans (Wednesday).

Five victories in five games so far. It remains to be seen if they return to L.A. with seven in seven games.

Said Farmar: “All season long, we are going to be presented with some kind of challenge [that] hopefully we meet every time.”