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Lakers 'as prepared as you can be,' Phil Jackson says

NBA PLAYOFFS

At the Lakers' last pre-NBA Finals shoot-around, the players aren't in a joking mood.

June 05, 2009|MIKE BRESNAHAN | ON THE LAKERS

Wait, which one was supposed to be Superman?

Kobe Bryant, not Dwight Howard, was the one weaving his way through the defense, scoring at will, and pushing his team to a decisive Game 1 victory Thursday in the NBA Finals.

Bryant scored 40 points, more than he ever had in the Finals, and stole Howard's heroic moniker for at least one night as the Lakers blew past the Orlando Magic, 100-75, at Staples Center.

As for Howard, Orlando's gregarious center, somebody obviously stepped on his cape.

He had 12 points on one-for-six shooting. No dunks, no game-turning plays, just a seven-foot hook shot two minutes into the first quarter, followed by a lot of misses and a lot of free throws.

Game 1 was all Bryant, all the time. Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Sunday, also at Staples Center.

"Offensively, he was amazing. Defensively as well," Lakers forward Lamar Odom said. "When he gets it going, he's one of the best players of all time. There isn't anything he can't do."

Bryant had eight rebounds and eight assists, putting his prints on just about every column in the box score. He also had two steals, two blocked shots and only one turnover in almost 38 minutes.

Bryant was irritable at worst, tight-lipped at best, as the days to Game 1 counted down. Then came tipoff, and the driven Bryant became the driving force for the Lakers.

It all made sense after the Lakers acted like goofballs in last season's Finals, a tone Bryant hoped to eradicate this time around.

So far, his grimace has Lakers fans grinning.

This certainly wasn't the Game 1 flameout 365 days ago against Boston, the Celtics hammering the Lakers on the boards and Bryant enduring a dreadful nine-for-26 shooting night in a 98-88 loss.

Bryant maintained a serious demeanor after Thursday's game, offering a brief smile or two but not much else emotionally.

"My kids call me Grumpy from the Seven Dwarfs," Bryant said. "That's how I've been at home, just a grouch."

If Bryant was crabby, Orlando Coach Stan Van Gundy wasn't much better.

After all, this wasn't just a loss for the Magic. It was the worst of these playoffs for Orlando, which rolled into the Finals with brawn in the middle and brash from the outside, armed with Howard and a phalanx of three-point marksmen.

The Magic made eight of 23 three-point attempts -- not awful, but not enough to keep the game close as Orlando shot 29.9% overall. The Magic actually held a 24-22 lead after the first quarter but slid badly from there.

"Clearly, after the first quarter, we were totally dominated at both ends of the floor and on the boards," Van Gundy said. "There was nothing I liked. . . . What was there to like?"

Searching for inspiration after the game, Van Gundy mentioned the "Memorial Day Massacre" in which the Lakers were drilled by 34 points by Boston in Game 1 of the 1985 Finals but came back to win the series in six games.

"I know this: We're a lot better than what we showed," Van Gundy said. "We'll come back on Sunday, I think, and give it a lot better effort and play a lot better basketball game."

It would have to start with Howard, who came into Thursday's game with playoff averages of 21.7 points and 15.4 rebounds.

He hit the mark with 15 rebounds, but the Lakers shut him down on offense.

"He didn't get dunks, and that's a big part of his game," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.

The Lakers outrebounded Orlando, 55-41. Pau Gasol had 16 points and eight rebounds. Odom had 11 points and 14 rebounds.

Bryant had scored 36 points twice in the Finals, but it became obvious that this game would be different.

He ended up taking 34 shots, making 16 of them. He made all eight of his free-throw attempts.

He missed six of his first nine shots as the Lakers trailed, 33-28, but he had 12 points in the second quarter, including a driving layup with 4.3 seconds left that gave the Lakers a 53-43 halftime lead.

Perhaps his best play started with a crossover dribble, then a few more dribbles as he measured up Mickael Pietrus, drove on him and delivered a double-pump nine-foot bank shot after being fouled. The made free throw gave the Lakers a 75-52 lead with 3:17 left in the third quarter.

Bryant, who had 18 points in the third quarter, refused to claim any sort of victory.

"We haven't found anything," he said. "It's one game. No big deal."

Amid an amped-up crowd that was dripping with Hollywood types, actor David Arquette might have summed it up best with a T-shirt that said, "U Can't Beat L.A."

Not in Game 1. Not with Bryant playing the way he did.

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

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