Funny thing, life in the NBA.
Phil Jackson had been preaching the importance of winning a gritty game and declined to compare the toughness of the current Lakers team to those that won three championships earlier this decade.
So the present-day rendition went out and presented a “for your consideration” game.
They collected floor burns, rang up a blocked shot at a critical time and held the Dallas Mavericks to 39 second-half points in a tense 106-99 victory Tuesday at American Airlines Center.
It wasn’t poetic, it won’t make the year-end highlight video and it started out more Slowtime than Showtime, but it ended with the Lakers’ sixth consecutive victory to start the season.
There were sighs and smiles after it ended, the Lakers now 3-0 in road games.
Pau Gasol was again a steadying influence with 22 points and 11 rebounds, and Kobe Bryant had 27 points, but this was one for the reserves.
Trevor Ariza had 13 points, played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter and had the play of the game, blocking a late three-point attempt by Jerry Stackhouse.
Lamar Odom had 12 points and played almost 10 minutes in the fourth quarter.
Jordan Farmar sparked a late third-quarter rally, lifting his moribund team by passing to Odom for a three-pointer in the corner less than a minute after craftily stealing the ball from Jason Kidd while the Mavericks guard looked back at his coach for a play call near midcourt.
Was that enough grit to satisfy a coach? Bryant thought so.
“It’s one of those games where we trailed pretty much the entire game and nobody panicked,” he said. “We just kept at it and were able to take advantage of it late in the ball game.”
Before the game, Jackson swatted away a question that compared the sturdiness of this team to that of the Bryant-Shaquille O’Neal teams.
“No,” Jackson said flatly. “We really haven’t had to get into the grit of playing that type of game yet where everything’s got to be fighting things out in the paint, control the boards at the end of the game, have to run a tight ship and good execution down the stretch.”
The Lakers had plenty of flaws in their game.
The Mavericks had the run of the court in a 60-point first half, and Dallas center Erick Dampier finished with a staggering 12 offensive rebounds.
But the Lakers stuffed Dallas in the second half.
Dirk Nowitzki didn’t score after the 10:14 mark of the third quarter and finished with 14 points on five-for-17 shooting. He missed his final seven attempts.
The Lakers held a slim 99-97 edge when Ariza elevated to block Stackhouse’s attempt from the left corner with 45.2 seconds to play. Dallas had one second left on the shot clock and couldn’t muster another attempt on the possession.
“That was a phenomenal block,” Bryant said. “He’s just a tremendous athlete.”
Said Ariza: “I hate when people score on me. I had to figure out a way to not foul him and not let him score, so I guess I just blocked it.”
The Lakers weren’t without their luck.
Gasol then caught Derek Fisher’s air ball and completed a three-point play after being fouled by Nowitzki on a layup with 23.1 seconds left. The Lakers led, 102-97. The night was theirs.
They probably won’t be able to recover from a slow start tonight in New Orleans, the finale of a quick two-game trip.
Chris Paul has been a pain in the Lakers’ side since he entered the league, logging 21 assists in a game last November, the most against the Lakers since John Stockton had 23 against them in 1990.
In the grander scheme, the Hornets and Lakers were preseason favorites to meet in the Western Conference finals.
The Hornets’ website started setting up the game more than a day in advance, the main headline on their home page calling it a “Western Conference Battle at the Hive.”
The Lakers survived one Tuesday. Can they do it again?
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The Lakers are 6-0, their fourth-best undefeated start since moving to L.A.
in 1960. The three previous best starts, and how they finished in those seasons:
Start: 11-0 | Finish: 61-21
Result: lost in conference finals
Start: 8-0 | Finish: 62-20
Result: won NBA Finals
Start: 7-0 | Finish: 58-24
Result: won NBA Finals