Reporting from Cleveland — This time, the Lakers maintain, they will have a different attitude when they play the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James.
This time, the Lakers insist, they will approach the game differently than on Christmas Day when they were shellacked by the Cavaliers at Staples Center. The Lakers view this matchup with the Cavaliers tonight at Quicken Loans Arena as more than one of 82 games during the regular season.
"Yeah, it's a big game," Lamar Odom admitted.
And why is that?
"Because they kicked our [butts] the last time," Odom said.
Indeed the Cavaliers did.
The Lakers entered Christmas Day saying it was just another game, that Lakers-Cavaliers didn't have the historical rivalry to match a Lakers-Celtics game.
So the Cavaliers entered that game with the attitude that they were playing the NBA champions and that they had something to prove.
And the Cavaliers did, winning by 15 points, being more physical, and perhaps more important, taking the challenge more seriously than the Lakers did.
The Cavaliers out-shot the Lakers, 54% to 37%, and Cleveland's bench outscored the Lakers reserves, 31-17.
The Lakers also lost their composure, with technical fouls called on Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and two on Odom that got him ejected.
The Lakers' bench also was issued a technical foul when Coach Phil Jackson failed to substitute a player quickly enough after Odom's dismissal from the game.
The Lakers' fans behaved childishly during that game, twice throwing the foam-finger giveaways onto the court, delaying the game.
So, yes, the Lakers said, tonight's game will be different. "I think the way the [Christmas] game went down is probably the biggest factor in terms of how our mentality will be going into it," Fisher said.
Fisher pointed to the two games against the Clippers this month as a reference point of the Lakers' change of focus.
The Clippers defeated the Lakers by 11 points in a Clippers "home game" at Staples Center. Nine days later, the Lakers trounced the Clippers by 40 points in their home game at the arena.
"I think emotionally and psychologically you can see guys getting to that place where we know how it felt because [the Cavaliers] came in there and they beat us and they beat us good," Fisher said. "It's more so about individual and collective pride."
But it won't be easy.
The Lakers have the best record in the NBA at 32-9, but Cleveland has the second best at 32-11.
The Cavaliers are 15-3 at home. They had a nearly spotless record at home last year too, having won 23 consecutive games until the Lakers gave them their first loss at home.
Once again, the Cavaliers play some of the best defense in the NBA, holding teams to 94.6 points a game, the fourth-best defense in the NBA.
And they have an MVP candidate in James, who is averaging 29.6 points a game and shooting a career-best 51% from the field, while the Lakers counter with their MVP candidate in Bryant.
The primary assignment for defending James goes to Ron Artest, who was signed by the Lakers last summer with forwards such as James in mind.
But in the Christmas Day game, Artest fouled out and didn't do much to slow down James, who had 26 points and nine assists.
Still, Artest is looking forward to facing James, even if he has his own reasons.
"It's always fun because he's entertaining at that arena," Artest said. "Before LeBron got there, there was nothing going on. He gets there and there's all types of clowns and circus acts around. I haven't been to the circus a lot, so it's fun."
What road trip?
There might be flight delays and trouble with hotel beds, but Bryant provided an alternative spin on the Lakers' eight-game trip.
"It's not like you're necessarily out there struggling," he said. "I mean, you get room service, you have maids to clean the room. . . . You play a game in a different environment, that's all."
Times staff writer Mike Bresnahan contributed to this report.