The basketball was released from a step inside of the three-point arc.
Instead of landing in Dwight Howard’s awaiting hands, the intended pass floated through the rim.
Anthony Davis, who delivered the pass-turned-shot, threw up his hands in feigned disgust. As he retreated to the other side of the court, Davis wore a smile that was as broad as his shoulders.
That’s the kind of night it was for Davis and Lakers. It was a night of relief.
If their season-opening loss illustrated the figurative distance by which they trail the Clippers, their 95-86 victory over the Utah Jazz made an entirely different statement.
This will work. This really will work.
What LeBron James couldn’t do alone last year, he and Davis will do together this year.
They will turn around the Lakers.
The suspicion was confirmed. The theory was proven. What was obscured by the Clippers’ overwhelming dominance three days earlier became clear in what was officially their home opener.
These Lakers are good, and they might even be better than that.
The opponents they dismantled weren’t some no-hopers like the Charlotte Hornets or the Memphis Grizzlies, who will visit Staples Center on Sunday and Tuesday, respectively.
They defeated a Utah Jazz team that won 50 games last season and traded for Mike Conley Jr. over the summer.
The victory made the misery of last season feel like a distant nightmare.
Davis dominated the first half, when he registered 17 of his 21 points. James controlled the second, when he scored 23 of his game-high 32 points and departed from the contest with less than four minutes remaining to a standing ovation.
Davis blocked five shots. James had 10 assists and seven rebounds.
The members of their supporting cast did what was asked of them. Howard pulled down seven rebounds, including three on the offensive end. Troy Daniels made four of eight three-point attempts and finished with 15 points. Danny Green had only nine points, but contributed three steals.
Coach Frank Vogel demanded the Lakers be the “harder-playing team” and they were.
They had an 11-3 advantage in offensive rebounds, a 14-8 edge in steals and a 9-2 lead in blocks.
James expected the Lakers to be sharp.
“I think every day we’ve gotten better,” he said at the team’s morning practice.
He offered the theory the Lakers preseason preparation was disrupted by the team’s now-infamous trip to China.
“A tough trip for us when we went abroad because of the practice times and things of that nature, so we kind of fell behind a little bit,” he said.
But James sounded certain the Lakers had made the most of their time in the aftermath of their loss to the Clippers on Tuesday.
“We talked about it, even after the game, that we would have two days in between our next game to be able to go over the things that we could have done better in the Clipper game, but also just continue to get our system in place offensively and defensively,” James said.
They also had the two best players on the court Friday night. James and Davis connected less than two minutes into the game when Davis was credited with his first two points on an alley-oop dunk.
The Lakers finished the opening quarter with a 24-17 lead, as they ended the quarter on a 10-2 run that included eight points from Davis.
And they closed the second quarter with a 7-2 surge to head into halftime with a 43-37 advantage. The stretch included a five- or six-second sequence that defines this team. The play started on the defensive end with Davis extending his arm skyward to obstruct the path of a shot by Donovan Mitchell. James collected the loose ball, dribbled a few strides, then delivered a pass that led Davis into the key, where he eurostepped around Joe Ingles for a layup.
The game was decided in the third quarter, when James erupted for 12 points. The Jazz came out of the intermission fast and tied the score 43-43. But over the final nine minutes and 46 seconds of the period, the Lakers outscored them 28-12.
With 12 minutes to play, the Lakers led 74-55.
When the game ended, fans had to be ordered by ushers to leave the arena. They wanted to stay. They didn’t want the night to end. In some ways, it won’t. There will be more nights like this.