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Ben Bolch / On the NBA

Lakers put new mantra to work

Team looks at Sunday's victory over Cleveland as a new beginning to what has been a disappointing season so far.

January 13, 2013|By Ben Bolch, Los Angeles Times

Dwight Howard refused to rest his ailing shoulder even though the Lakers were playing a team 20 games under .500.

Our season starts Sunday.

Steve Nash and Metta World Peace played deep into the fourth quarter even with the Lakers holding a 20-point lead.

Our season starts Sunday.

Rookie Robert Sacre even tried to invoke a karmic reversal by wearing radio personality Vic "the Brick" Jacobs' fox fur hat before the game, a look that could be best described as halt couture.

Our season starts Sunday.

Maybe Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni was onto something more than a catchy mantra Friday when he uttered those four words after another crushing loss. The Lakers took their season out of reverse two days later by pulling out all the stops and making a few too.

In a strange but true story for a team with NBA Finals aspirations, the Lakers' 113-93 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday night at Staples Center was their first triumph of 2013 after six defeats.

"It was huge," Nash said. "Not only mentally but in the standings, momentum. In so many areas it was mandatory to get a win tonight and to build on it."

Yes, it was ugly for long stretches, the Lakers committing turnovers on seven consecutive possessions in the second quarter.

Yes, it got a little scary for the Lakers when the Cavaliers made a few big runs.

Yes, it was against a hapless team and may not mean anything by the end of the week with tougher tests ahead.

All that mattered was that it was a, well, start for a team that can't afford to waste any more time.

"This is a baby step," D'Antoni said, "but it's a step."

Previous clunkers against duds like the Cavaliers have helped bury the Lakers in the standings.

They are 9-5 against teams that began Sunday with records below .500, including unfathomable losses to Dallas, Sacramento, Orlando, Cleveland and Philadelphia.

Any playoff push starts with the Lakers feeding on the NBA's plankton.

They entered Sunday with 20 games left against teams on the wrong side of the break-even mark, needing to win every one of them against the likes of Cleveland. That's why Howard wanted to play even though he was sore Saturday from workouts to help strengthen the torn labrum in his shoulder.

"They beat us the last time," Howard said of the Cavaliers, "so anything is possible."

Howard looked wholly intact in helping the Lakers build a 19-point lead in the first quarter. He finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds before joining Kobe Bryant on the bench for the game's final five minutes.

Bryant turned in one of his better defensive efforts, harassing Kyrie Irving while helping the Lakers hold an opponent under 100 points for the first time since Dec. 28. Fans long in need of free promotional tacos were treated to a Mexican feast.

"This is a good opportunity for us," Bryant said. "We obviously ran into a tough patch last week. We were struggling, we got decimated by injuries and we just so happened to play some of the top teams in the league. But here's an opportunity for us to really pick it up and get going."

The schedule takes a tougher turn again Tuesday against Milwaukee and even more so Thursday against Miami. What was billed as a showdown against the defending champion Heat before the season now has the look of a potentially lopsided affair.

Not that the Lakers are ready to concede defeat.

"Nobody's going to feel sorry about this team that's been assembled," forward Antawn Jamison said. "When things are going south and going the way we don't want to go, a lot of other teams are happy to see that. There's no more excuses. It's not the coaches, it's not the guys not being out there. Whoever is out there on the court, we have enough talent to win games."

The season started Sunday for the Lakers.

Their only hope is that it continues to play out like this for months to come.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

twitter.com/latbbolch

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