So that's what the Lakers look like when they play as a team. Took almost 90 games, but looking good.
Five teammates finished in double figures, the ideal crutch for Kobe Bryant, and all is well again in Lakersland.
The Lakers were so solid as a group, they had the Hornets looking like the team that should never have been in this series.
For a change of routine, there was no reason to stand around and watch Bryant do everything as the Lakers do so often.
Maybe that's why Phil Jackson was smiling before this one, everyone else worried about Bryant, but Jackson grinning when asked if he might have to do some coaching in Game 5.
What could be more fun with possibly only 15 or so games remaining in an iconic career than to do some coaching and get the best out of players who might not be the best?
As former NBA coach Doug Moe used to say, if a team loses its best player, you can count on that team still winning as others are forced to raise their games.
Lose that really good player for extended time, though, and that's a different story.
Bryant took the floor with his teammates, but he wasn't himself, later going to the bench and sitting seemingly uninterested as his teammates huddled around Jackson.
The others had to notice, already aware he only bounced a ball hours earlier at a shoot-around. They had to know the Lakers were going to be in trouble if they didn't show up.
So Derek Fisher hit five of his first six shots, every starter in double figures save Ron Artest with nine points after three quarters. No need for the "closer" if everyone else has already killed off the Hornets.
Even the Invisible Man, Pau Gasol, played tough — the ideal companion for Andrew Bynum's bruising game inside. Throw in an animated Lamar Odom, as well as contributions from Matt Barnes, Shannon Brown and even Steve Blake and it was a Big Easy 16-point win.
"You saw the switch of hustle points," Jackson said, his team forcing the Hornets into 19 turnovers. "I thought we played a little more purposeful."
Amazing what happens when players have to play.
THERE WAS one thing on everyone's mind as Jackson stepped to the microphone for pregame comments: The game-time health of Bryant.
So Lakers' broadcaster John Ireland began by asking Jackson if he had given any thought to the possibility this might be his last game coached at Staples Center?
Nice to see Ireland cares more for Jackson than Bryant, but in this case even Jeanie would be more interested to know what was going on with Kobe.
ONCE IRELAND shut up, and surprisingly there was no applause, Jackson was asked whether Bryant was doing the smart thing by not undergoing medical tests.
"If he knows it's nothing, if it's a minor injury and he knows his body that well, I think that's OK," Jackson said. "I'm not going to question that."
As strong-willed as Kobe is, I said, "You might have to butt heads with him. You OK with that?"
"You have to be," said Jackson.
And who gets the final say?
"Well, you notice how willing he was to come out of the game in New Orleans. It was like [getting] that hook from the Apollo Theatre."
It was time for Ireland to ask another question, so everyone left.
IT'S ONE of those rules etched in stone with every team in every sport: Avoid distractions at all costs — and especially at this time of the season with a championship within reach.
So what are the Lakers doing? As our Mike Bresnahan has been reporting the last few days, the Lakers are telling key personnel they will be out of work as of June 30.
Right now the number is six, Bresnahan reporting it could climb to 20.
Owners give speeches to their employees telling them how important it is to have everyone in an organization pulling together to win it all.
But now the owner of the Lakers is having his general manager pull one department after the next aside to tell them to start counting their remaining days with the Lakers before they will need to get their health insurance and paychecks elsewhere.
That sounds like something one might expect from the Dodgers.
I LIKE to give people an opportunity to respond before making fun of their loony-tune ideas. So I called Councilwoman Janice Hahn.
I understand the desire for publicity, attention or whatever when you are in politics, but introducing a waste of time resolution calling on Congress to allow fan ownership of the Dodgers is something the Screaming Meanie might dream up.
Does anyone want the yo-yos sitting in the left field pavilion owning the Dodgers? The only thing a fan gets when buying a share — for example, Packers fans pay $200 for one last I checked — is a piece of paper. It's good for hanging on the wall or starting a fire in the dead of a Wisconsin winter.
It does them no good when trying to get season ticket priority or anything else. So why would anyone think it a good idea to get nothing in return?
I called Hahn and got Doane Liu, Hahn's chief of staff.
He tried to argue the councilwoman is not clueless, but backed off when I said I would be happy to write down his comments.
"I'll get the councilwoman," he said, and that's the last I heard from him.