Big third-quarter earnings for L.A.
Whatever happened Friday, whatever seeped into the Lakers in an embarrassing home loss to Dallas, evaporated into a fine powder and blew away when they reconvened at Staples Center two days later.
The Lakers took apart the Atlanta Hawks in much the same way they were dumped by the Mavericks, cruising to a 118-110 victory Sunday.
Kobe Bryant had 41 points, Andrew Bynum had 21 and Ron Artest showed why he was the Lakers’ main off-season acquisition, sending teammates into a tizzy with his defensive effort against Hawks guard Joe Johnson.
This season hadn’t been the cleanest start for Artest, relocating to a star-studded city and a talent-oozing team, but he shut down Johnson in the second quarter after the All-Star beat Bryant and the Lakers for a staggering 18 points in the first quarter.
Johnson totaled only nine points the final three quarters, and the Lakers put away the Hawks by collecting seven steals in the third quarter, many of them sparking an 18-0 run that turned a tight game into a punch line.
Afterward, Bryant saw a phalanx of reporters surrounding Artest’s locker and tried to sneak out without talking to the media. He was turned back around by a smiling Lakers staffer and gave credit to Artest.
“It all started with No. 37,” Bryant said, referring to Artest’s jersey number. “It upped the energy level defensively. I told him this game was all him because I felt like his energy changed the complexity of the game. We all kind of rallied behind him at that point. His defense in particular was outstanding.”
Artest rebounded from an abysmal three-point effort against Dallas, finishing with 12 points, seven rebounds and four assists against Atlanta. Surprisingly, he had no steals, though his teammates made up for it.
The Lakers held a rickety 74-70 lead near the midpoint of the third quarter but scored the next 18 points amid a series of Hawks flubs that led to easy scores.
Bryant gave the Lakers an 84-70 lead with a behind-the-back pass to Artest for a fastbreak dunk. Then Bynum dunked an alley-oop pass from Lamar Odom. Then Artest scored on a fastbreak dunk off a turnover. Bynum added another fastbreak dunk off Odom’s feed. Another Hawks turnover led to a Luke Walton-Odom-Bryant connection that ended with Bryant’s reverse dunk.
The Lakers had 12 fastbreak points in the quarter. The game was over.
“I thought tonight we were so sluggish with the basketball, throwing it all over the gym,” Hawks Coach Mike Woodson said. “They had a lot to do with it because they got up on us defensively and we went the other way.”
Johnson was a pain in the Lakers’ plans in the first quarter, making seven of eight shots before being taken out by Woodson, unexpectedly, with 2:39 left in the quarter. Artest basically picked Johnson up from there and held him to one-for-eight shooting the rest of the way.
“It was a nice thing to happen for [Artest],” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.
Other Lakers contributed in other ways.
Odom came close to a triple-double with 11 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists. Bryant made 15 of 29 shots and 10 of 11 free throws.
Perhaps the only negative was Bynum’s rebound total -- three in 37 minutes.
“I’ve got to do a better job on the boards, especially when we play small teams,” Bynum said. “I need to get rebounds, be kind of more active.”
Bynum averaged 11.5 rebounds in his first two games. Sunday might have been only a minor misstep for him.
Jackson was so disgusted by the 94-80 loss to Dallas that he said Lakers fans should have been refunded their money. He wasn’t entirely thrilled by the first 2 1/2 quarters against Atlanta.
“We can’t complete a full game yet,” he said. “Our focus isn’t there for a full game.”
The Lakers won, however, and hit the road for the first time this season, making a two-game trip to Oklahoma City and Houston.
Said Bryant: “It’s going to be our first time competing in a hostile environment since June.”
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