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Lakers' second-half run key in 122-99 victory over Indiana Pacers

March 3, 2010 | 12:38 am

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The dam was just about to break.

After grabbing the rebound off a missed shot from Indiana forward Troy Murphy, Lakers forward Pau Gasol immediately found Kobe Bryant up court. He then passed to the far right corner where Ron Artest was open behind the perimeter. He followed with an alley oop lob to Andrew Bynum, who dunked it home for an eight-point lead, prompting Indiana to call timeout with 5:27 remaining in the third quarter.

It was the kind of play that typified the Lakers’ third-quarter run. And it was just the beginning. By the time the Lakers entered the fourth quarter, the only pressing thing entailed whether the 18,997 fans at Staples Center would get free tacos. With Jordan Farmar's late-game steal, the fans got what they wanted in addition to a 122-99 victory Tuesday over the Indiana Pacers. 

"I'm not playing for tacos, man," said Farmar, laughing, after putting together 19 points on eight of 10 shooting off the bench. 

Instead, the Lakers played to ensure an easy victory after it appeared to be the makings of a trap game. But as far as what to make of it? There was a reason Lakers Coach Phil Jackson described the game as a "good win" before quickly shifting focus to the team's upcoming trip with stops to Miami  (Thursday), Charlotte (Friday) and Orlando (Sunday). The Lakers (46-15) pounded on a team they were supposed to beat, with Indiana (20-40) faring only better than the New Jersey Nets (6-53) in the Eastern Conference. 

"You have games like this where you can do things," Jackson said.

Sure, there were some developing story lines. 

You can focus on the latest update of Bryant's shooting struggles in his fifth game since returning from a left ankle sprain. He went five of 14 from the field, including a zero of four clip in the first quarter. But he scored his team-leading 24 points with constant drives to the basket, and going 14 of 15 from the stripe. 

"That’s kind of how you get your rhythm back. Get to the free throw line a little bit," Bryant said. "They gave me more space. It was a lot easier to penetrate and get in there. Normally you always have somebody down there and it’s tough to get to the basket. Tonight we opened it up a little bit more and I was able to get to the free throw line." 

"I think he felt like his outside game wasn’t going and he had to take the ball to the basket," Jackson said. "Getting to the foul line was the way he scored for us tonight. That’s certainly part of the plan. I think it can be brutal. I think it can be injury prone. You have to take care of yourself when you go to the basket a lot. But I think he found a way to play tonight."

You can focus on Artest locking in on Indiana forward Danny Granger, and holding him to nine points on two of nine shooting. You can focus on Artest's five steals in the third quarter. And you can focus on this being the latest sign that Artest has shaped up defensively. He shared again that the improvement started after the All-Star break as his new diet helped him become more agile. But there was another reason why Artest has been a changed man as of late. 

"I sensed that everybody was making so many trades, but we didn’t make no trades," Artest said. "I wanted to make sure I could be a whole new person after the new trade. Its kind of like a new trade. They brought me in twice. It was a hell of a deal."

"We're starting to adjust to what he can do defensively, which I think helps us too," said Jackson, whose explanation made more sense. "He asks us not to send double teams and he'll let a guy take a guy out on his own and that allows us to play tighter defense on the other side of the court, especially in isolation when he's caught."

You can focus on Farmar's 19 points on a season-high eight field goals. He revealed afterwards he's been playing with a hurt pinkie since last week's game against Memphis. Farmar didn't make it to shootaround since he was getting his pinkie taped, but he didn't lose his touch. 

"Sometimes our system is going to be like that," Farmar said "Some nights you'll have more opportunities. Some nights like against Denver I had two looks. I went two for two but I had only two shots. That’s how it goes sometimes. Sometimes you're going to get 10, 12, 14 looks, sometimes you get one, two. You just go take it. You got to play the right way and not try to do too much, but be aggressive and be ready for your opportunities."

Or you can focus on some other story lines. There was Gasol and Bynum exploiting Indiana's undersized lineup with 56 points in the paint. There was reserve forward Adam Morrison scoring six points in 15 minutes. And there was reserve guard Shannon Brown suffering an injured right thumb in the third quarter. 

"I really can't describe it," Brown said. "I don't really know what happened. All I knew was I went to block the shot and then my thumb hit the ball. It just started hurting."

Or you can focus on the game itself. 

The Lakers initially played as if the energy was spent on beating Denver on Sunday. They shot zero of seven from the field and didn’t record their first field goal until Gasol made an eight-footer with 6:21 left in the first quarter. They trailed 10-8 at the time thanks to converting on all their trips to the free throw line. And the Pacers led 28-27 at the end of the first quarter, an effort that included the Lakers shooting 38.1%. The only energy that seemed present was during the Kiss Cam segment early in the game that featured a great acting job from Sophia Vergara (Gloria) & Ty Burrell (Phil) of ABC's "Modern Family."

The contest had the makings of a trap game, or at least another game that featured a less than impressive win against an inferior opponent, much like the Lakers' performance last week against Philadelphia.  But the Lakers started avoiding that from happening in the second quarter. A lineup that featured Brown, Farmar, Morrison, Odom and Gasol put together a 14-8 run and earned a 41-36 lead with 7:15 remaining in the second quarter. And after that timeout with 5:27 leftin the third quarter, the Lakers outscored Indiana, 26-6, en route to a 98-71 lead after the third quarter. 

"We just got used to their style of play," Bryant said. "It’s a different style of play in the post and they play the high post offense. We settled in a little bit and got back in transition."

Even though I devoted amounts of copy to the aforementioned storylines, they don't mean much beyond the Lakers did what they needed to do. That's because the Lakers have tougher business to handle fairly soon.

"I haven't been impressed with our last week or so," Jackson said. "I don't think we've gotten out to good starts. That'll come along."

--Mark Medina

Follow the L.A. Times Lakers blog on Twitter. E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Photo: Kobe Bryant, shown making an inside move on Indiana's Brandon Rush, had 24 points and six assists to lead the Lakers to a 122-99 victory Tuesday night at Staples Center. Credit: Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times.


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