Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, right, makes his way past Dallas center Tyson… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)
The Lakers are winning and they are feisty about it, putting the top two teams in Texas on notice while becoming increasingly acquainted with the NBA discipline office.
These aren't the Lakers that ignored incredibly high expectations and meekly accepted the NBA's sixth-best record going into the All-Star break.
These are the ones that get ejected from games, commit flagrant fouls and continually thump the opposition, shedding whatever soft label might have accompanied them.
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The latest display came in a 110-82 thrashing of the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday at Staples Center.
Lakers reserves Steve Blake and Matt Barnes weren't around to watch it, ejected after a fourth-quarter altercation that escalated quickly.
It began when Dallas guard Jason Terry shoved Blake down after a drive to the basket. It continued when Blake popped up and bumped Terry in the chest. Then Matt Barnes jumped into the fray and pushed Terry.
It ended when Barnes pried the hands of Dallas assistant coach Terry Stotts from around his waist while Stotts tried to corral him off to the side. Stotts then fell into the courtside seats.
The referees took several minutes to sort it out, even calling both head coaches to the scorer's table at one point.
Terry and Dallas center Brendan Haywood were ejected. Terry was also given a flagrant foul two. The Lakers led at the time, 90-73, with 9:23 to play.
Then a woman who was partially naked began sprinting down the steps toward the Mavericks' bench and was quickly escorted away amid a sea of red-coated security guards.
Was the chaos over? Not entirely.
Later in the fourth quarter, Shannon Brown was ejected after shoving reserve Dallas forward Brian Cardinal. Brown was unhappy because Cardinal smacked Pau Gasol in the back of the head while the Lakers' forward attempted a shot down low.
Oh, and Kobe Bryant had 28 points, Gasol had 20, Andrew Bynum had 18 and the Lakers took a 1 1/2-game lead over Dallas for second place in the Western Conference.
"They're not going to come into our house and throw us around," Barnes said.
Said Blake about his brush with Terry: "He pushed me. I don't like to be pushed."
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Lakers Coach Phil Jackson seemed amused by it all. "There was no fight," he said. "They were two cock-roosters bumping chests. Just some pushing and shoving going on."
Of significant big-picture importance, the Lakers (54-20) trail the reeling San Antonio Spurs by 21/2 games.
The Lakers also matched the franchise's best run after the All-Star break, improving to 16-1 since that forgettable night in Cleveland.
At some point, it was a competitive game, the Lakers up at halftime, 54-51.
Then the second half started. It seemed like it would never end.
Lamar Odom won a personal battle against Terry, outscoring him, 16-5, and also taking 11 rebounds. The two are enmeshed in the race for an individual accolade.
"It was definitely a showcase for his sixth-man award," Jackson said.
After Odom hit back-to-back three-pointers, Bryant walked off the bench during a time-out, yelled out to him and delivered a chest bump.
Terry, for his part, was left to explain why he got ejected.
"It was just a hard foul. It's been a long week for me," said Terry, who was in Seattle on Monday for an aunt's funeral. "The emotions got the best of me tonight and I've already apologized to the team. You can't let that happen in big games. But the game was getting out of hand. So, things happen.''
Terry said he didn't think his actions warranted a suspension.
"In an 82-game season, you're bound to get thrown out of one of them. It wasn't my first ejection and probably won't be my last. It's not a suspension. It was a flagrant foul, but there was no intention to hurt him.''
Ron Artest again kissed his biceps, this time after a one-handed layup. What was so special about it? Dallas forward Peja Stojakovic had grabbed his right arm and was called for a foul.
The Lakers won the season series against Dallas, 2-1. They also control the main playoff tiebreaker if the teams have the same regular-season record. The Lakers would get the nod because they are division winners, unlike the Mavericks … unless Dallas somehow passes San Antonio in the next two weeks.
At any rate, the Lakers will probably be in contact with the league office…again. Another suspension is possible, particularly for Barnes. The Lakers play at Utah on Friday.
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Bynum was recently suspended for two games after slamming Michael Beasley to the court with a hard foul. Last week, Derek Fisher was retroactively assessed a flagrant foul for striking Clippers center Chris Kaman near the face while going through a screen.
These are the new Lakers. From wherever they came, they're winning.