OK, so it wasn’t Miami. Or Boston. Or even Orlando.
But the Portland Trail Blazers were supposed to pose some sort of threat to the Lakers’ undefeated record against largely underwhelming teams.
It didn’t happen. In fact, it wasn’t close.
Pau Gasol had 20 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists, and the Lakers continued to beat up on their opponents — good, bad or otherwise — with a 121-96 victory Sunday night over Portland at Staples Center.
The Lakers led by 22 at halftime, improved to 7-0 for only the fifth time in franchise history and even got their starters some needed rest.
Seven players scored in double figures for the Lakers, and Ron Artest showed he is still one of the league’s best defenders, making life incredibly difficult for 2 1/2 hours for perennial All-Star Brandon Roy.
Roy missed all five of his shots in the first half and scored only eight points on one-for-six shooting on the night.
The story, however, was Gasol’s second triple-double with the Lakers and fourth of his career.
“He’s very confident in what he can do,” said Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, who poked and prodded his All-Star forward-center last week, saying he wasn’t as tough and physical as his younger brother Marc, a center for the Memphis Grizzlies.
When Gasol got the triple-double on an assist to Artest in the third quarter, he pumped his fist as he ran down the court.
Jackson had been concerned about Gasol’s increased playing time because of Andrew Bynum’s absence, but Gasol didn’t seem affected at all. He played almost 33 minutes Sunday after averaging 38.5 minutes in the Lakers’ first six games.
Tired or not, the Lakers continued their early-season dominance.
“Am I surprised?” Gasol said. “Sometimes you would expect games to be a little tougher at times, but most of the games have been at home. Now the schedule’s going to get a little harder. We’ll see if we can keep it up.”
The Lakers had allowed opponents to break 100 points in five of their first six games, but the Trail Blazers were in trouble after a miserable 36-point first half. Portland was playing its second game in as many nights, and it showed.
The Lakers got pounded on the boards by Toronto in a victory Friday, but they turned it around against Portland, outrebounding the Trail Blazers, 49-25. Lamar Odom had 21 points and 12 rebounds.
Reserve guard Shannon Brown had 15 points and Steve Blake, who spent most of the previous three seasons with Portland, had the crowd-pleaser of the night.
Blake stole the ball from Wesley Matthews, moved downcourt with nobody in front of him and threw the ball hard enough off the backboard for a trailing Gasol to dunk it.
“That play’s fine with me, with Pau trailing behind him,” said Jackson, who often wouldn’t condone such a display. “It’s just a team play. I thought [Blake] wanted to honor Pau’s game and give him an easy basket.”
Portland (5-3) cut the lead to 15 in the third quarter, but the Lakers extended it to 89-64 as the Trail Blazers began to lose their cool, Andre Miller and Coach Nate McMillan each picking up technical fouls for complaining to referees.
Above all, there was Gasol, the face of a well-rounded effort by the Lakers, who face the hapless Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday before a road test Thursday in Denver.
Four more victories, and they’ll catch the 1997-98 team for the best start in franchise history. Five more, and the record is theirs.