The Lakers were not going to knock the occasional fall-out-of-the-sky miracle, whatever it was that happened on the same floor a couple of nights before.
But routine had its place too, something about them leaning on the same two guys, gaining a little on a first month misspent, playing through the ends of most quarters.
They defeated the Utah Jazz, 110-101, Sunday night at Staples Center because Shaquille O'Neal drew closer to his usual game, and because Kobe Bryant again played well in all of the corners they needed him to.
It was their second consecutive win, and you'd only need to have paid attention for a short while to know that's not too small of an accomplishment. A win Tuesday in Golden State would give them their first three-game winning streak, by then 23 games into a season they're hoping will meld into a fourth consecutive title.
O'Neal had 32 points -- he made 13 of 19 shots -- and 11 rebounds. Bryant, on a sore groin that tightened again in the fourth quarter, had 25 points and 14 assists, the latter one shy of his career high. He also had five steals.
Last week they lost dismally by eight points in Utah, where their energy was shot and their postgame patience short, O'Neal actually calling for more manpower. Karl Malone scored 29 points then; he had 11 -- on three-for-16 shooting -- Sunday. And so the Lakers appear to have emerged from the Dallas Maverick experience -- the 27-point fourth-quarter comeback -- with a healthy desire to hold that momentum.
"We understand the importance of these games now," Bryant said. "We have to come ready to play. And we're back to playing Laker-style basketball."
O'Neal might have thought so, too, but the world would never know. Around the time the locker room opened for reporters to enter, he was rolling from the parking lot in his new Hummer. This much is true: It appears to be becoming an easier game for O'Neal, who is jumping higher, quicker and without having to load up. He blocked three shots, and was around the rim more often.
"And," Coach Phil Jackson said, "he recovered a missed shot, was back at the rim quickly. In fact, Tex [Winter] mentioned to him he looked like he was getting himself back into game shape."
The Lakers led by as many as 20 points midway through the fourth quarter, and for most of the game kept the Jazz at arm's length. There remained a habit for turnovers (21, leading to 25 Jazz points) and the occasional defensive lapse (Andrei Kirilenko scored 30 points in 36 minutes), but Jackson was otherwise satisfied.
"I liked our aggressive behavior tonight," he said.
Before the first quarter was done, Utah center Greg Ostertag and Coach Jerry Sloan were ejected by the same referee.
It left the Jazz with six fewer fouls and seven fewer feet to use against O'Neal, a problem for Utah on a night O'Neal became a little more mobile, a little more physical.
"You are never going to guard Shaq anyways," Sloan said. "He is going to score with ease. They let him sit in the lane for a half-hour, he's got an advantage to start with."
The Lakers, of course, see that quite differently. Ostertag, Bryant said, "didn't want to play against Shaq. That's the whole reason he did that."
Jarron Collins and John Amaechi took their shots, and by the end of the first quarter O'Neal had made seven of eight attempts and scored 16 points.
It looked hopeless for the Jazz. Utah had won three games in a row and nine of 10, then looked startled by the Lakers' fast start, a 34-point first quarter, but wasn't totally overrun.
After playing dismal basketball for the better part of six weeks, the Lakers had put up back-to-back, end-to-end quarters, outscoring the Mavericks and Jazz by a combined 78-36.
Ostertag left the floor arguing that he'd been fouled by O'Neal, and in the arms of teammate Matt Harpring, who tried in vain to keep his center in the game. Ostertag's fit on his way to the locker room included kicking a pile of towels near the Utah bench and tearing down part of a tarp over the tunnel, a spectacular show for an adult. Sloan was gone six minutes later, run off by referee Derek Richardson as well.
The Lakers played on, only too happy for the help. They improved to 9-13, 6-4 with O'Neal in their lineup, knowing they're just getting started on the routine again.
"All in all, I think the confidence seems to be pretty up," Bryant said. "Guys came out and really started hitting some shots. Hopefully, that will keep up."