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Clean Out Of The Break

Lakers put their pre-All-Star blahs in rearview mirror with a rout of Hawks.

February 23, 2011|Mike Bresnahan

Phil Jackson often uses a quirky, but telling, self-created stat to judge the strength of his teams -- can they get 40 victories before 20 losses?

For all their faults this season, for all their foibles at home heaped upon that embarrassment in Cleveland last week, the Lakers kept alive their chances at making Jackson's mark by drubbing the Atlanta Hawks, 104-80, Tuesday at Staples Center.

Kobe Bryant had 20 points without playing in the fourth quarter, Shannon Brown had 15 points and the Lakers improved to 39-19 after their first game back from All-Star weekend.

They will tilt one way or the other on the 40-20 scale after Wednesday's game in Portland, always a thorny road test for them, but Tuesday marked a remarkably thorough separation from last week's triple meltdown in Orlando, Charlotte and, of course, Cleveland.

Assistant coach Brian Shaw called it a "roll call" game, to see who would and wouldn't make himself noticed after the long weekend.

It didn't pass without its share of early Ron Artest gaffes or a surprising flagrant foul call on Bryant, but the Lakers looked strong, no doubt about it.

They stuffed the Hawks on defense and took advantage of numerous trips to the free-throw line to make their first home game in 19 days a favorable one.

"It was a lot better," said Pau Gasol, who could have been referring to any facet of the Lakers' game.

Gasol had 14 points and 10 rebounds. Andrew Bynum had only five points but 15 rebounds as the Lakers crushed the Hawks on the boards, 54-32. He also blocked three shots and altered several others.

The Hawks (34-22) were the perfect team for the Lakers to face. They haven't beaten the Lakers at Staples Center since February 2006, and they lost three of their last four going into the All-Star break, including home losses to Philadelphia and Charlotte.

Still, Jackson was mildly concerned before tipoff.

"I've always felt like the first game after an All-Star break, you might as well just throw it out. You don't know what you're going to get," he said. "Players are coming back off of . . . you don't know what. I don't think anybody went to Europe but they came back traveling anywhere from Cabo to the Caribbean to get back here."

Wherever the Lakers scattered over the long weekend, they returned as one. They led after the first quarter, 28-15, making 12 of 18 shots, and extended it to 54-33 at halftime, Derek Fisher leading the way with 10 points.

Artest struggled early, committing two turnovers in the first four minutes and missing badly on an open three-point attempt, but he got it going after Gasol fed him for a fastbreak layup and finished with 11 points on four-for-seven shooting.

Bryant was quietly efficient, making all eight of his free-throw attempts and compiling five assists to one turnover. He was, however, called for a flagrant foul after fouling Josh Smith a little too hard in referee Bob Delaney's opinion with 10:04 left in the third quarter.

The Lakers easily won the battle of free throws, making 34 of 40 from the line (85%), but the story of the game was their defense. The Hawks shot only 36.6%, including one of 15 from three-point range (6.7%).

"They missed some open looks, and we understand that, but I think our activity level was good," Gasol said.

The Lakers will be tested Wednesday in Portland, undoubtedly.

They had lost nine consecutive games at the Rose Garden before winning there last February, 99-82.

Trail Blazers fans will be waiting, as will the chance at a whiff of momentum for the defending champs.


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