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MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

Lakers finally have pizzazz

And it's no coincidence that it happens with the return of Pau Gasol to the lineup.

November 23, 2009|Mark Heisler
  • Lakers forward Pau Gasol scores over the defense of Oklahoma City's Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka in the second quarter Sunday.
Lakers forward Pau Gasol scores over the defense of Oklahoma City's… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

At long last, awe.

The Lakers won a title last season but missed the greatness predicted for them by a wide margin, as in their second-round series against Houston when ABC's Mark Jackson railed at their effort and swore he'd never pick them again, to which Kobe Bryant replied, "Mark's right."

Nor was anyone wowed by this season's start. The annual talk about the Chicago Bulls' record lasted two games, after which they were 1-1.

This just in: Bulls' Record in Jeopardy Again.

Actually, it isn't, barring a 63-6 finish, but these are no longer last season's by-hook-or-crook champions, following Thursday's rout of the Bulls by crushing Oklahoma City's Prekocious Kids, 101-85, Sunday night to run their Awesome Streak to two.

The Thunder, which took the Lakers into overtime before losing their first meeting, trailed by 27 points in this one, learning an important lesson:

If this is Prime Time, they're not ready for it.

The Lakers' last two games, of course, coincide with Pau Gasol's return, but perennial All-Star that he is, he's not that good.

He is that important, though, like Chauncey Billups, whose arrival in Denver last season chilled out Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith, so it was like getting four players, not one.

With Gasol, Bryant immediately goes from I Must Carry Us Mode, to I'll Facilitate Too, and between them, that's a lot of facilitating.

"They have so many dynamic players and Pau is just another one," said Thunder Coach Scott Brooks, the former UC Irvine Anteaters great.

"Now Lamar [Odom] is off the bench. It's a special team. . . . They're a fun team to watch, but not when they're doing what they did to us tonight."

Making it even more fun, or agonizing, depending on your perspective, the Lakers finally have both Gasol and Andrew Bynum going, which hadn't happened often before.

Bynum was gone for the duration when Gasol arrived two seasons ago. They played together last season, but Bynum was a long way from where he is now.

Brooks was unhappy that his players didn't match the Lakers' "physicality," but their big mistake was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Chicago's Joakim Noah said their game was like "the varsity against the JVs." This was like the varsity against the first five guys they found off the sidewalk.

The Lakers went up by 19 points in the first quarter as Bynum kept reaching over Etan Thomas like a grown-up reaching over a tot to get something off a high shelf.

Meanwhile, Bryant was lobbing one over the backboard after being pushed over the baseline . . . which dropped while he was asking the referee where the foul call was . . . and hitting a 17-foot left-handed bank shot at the buzzer to end the first quarter.

The spectacle never ends in Lakerdom. Good times are when it's on the court.

Owner Jerry Buss sat down with the beat writers before the game, noting again that he was turning over the team's day-to-day affairs to his son Jim.

Jim, of course, once zinged Phil Jackson on the radio, whereupon Jackson zinged him back on the radio, and Jeanie Buss, Jim's sister and Jackson's Significant Other, zinged her brother on the radio too.

"Oh, I never zinged Jim," Jackson said. "I think there was the perception he zinged our coaching staff."

The perception may have arisen after Jim said Jackson shouldn't rip his players publicly, and Jackson replied Jim hadn't delivered the players he promised.

"I forget things like that," Jackson said, laughing. "It's great to be my age, isn't it?

"That was the other thing about me [according to Jim], that we have coaches who don't know how to coach young players.

"I didn't have to go to my defense. My watchdog went after him."

Hard to beat on the court, unmatched off it. They don't make organizations like this anymore.

As H.I. says in "Raising Arizona," when his wife complains they don't have a proper home to raise the baby they kidnapped:

"Well, it ain't Ozzie and Harriet."

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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