Physical play defines Lakers' 110-82 victory over Dallas Mavericks
One win drastically affected the Western Conference standings, continued the Lakers' dominant play and left everyone else wondering if anyone can stop them.
One game provided a definitive preview of a playoff matchup, sparked possible suspensions and prompted Staples Center security to handle fan behavior.
Yes, the Lakers' 110-82 victory Thursday over the Dallas Mavericks featured all of the above. It provided enough drama to keep Lamar Odom's reality televison show crew satisfied and with a never-ending challenge on what to cut during the editing process. It sparked enough tension among the 18,997 fans at Staples Center, who witnessed eight ejections, including three from the stands. And it allowed the Lakers (54-20) to increase their mark to 16-1 since the All-Star break, extend their lead to 1 1/2 games over Dallas (53-22) for second place in the conference and cut San Antonio's (57-18) stake for first place to a 2 1/2-game cushion after the Spurs' fifth consecutive loss, the latest at the hands of the Boston Celtics. It's not often Laker fans are rooting for their arch rival, but this was one of those nights.
"We don't want the game to end up like that, but you want to see players competing and caring about the game at a level that brings that kind of intensity," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "It's just a buildup for what we can see down the road."
That buildup reached its zenith on one play that signified all the testiness. The Lakers led 90-73 with less than 9:30 remaining in the game when Lakers guard Steve Blake drove the lane past Dallas guard Jason Terry, only to lose the ball out of bounds. The Lakers soon had reason to be upset with Terry beyond his wrongful contention that Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher couldn't keep up with Dallas' reserves. After getting shoved to the court by Terry, Blake immediately sprang up and jawed with Terry.
"I don't like to be pushed," Blake said as he walked down the hallway of Staples Center, "and no one else does either."
Referee Sean Wright stepped in to separate the two, but Mavericks and Lakers alike surrounded them. Lakers forward Matt Barnes rushed in and pushed Terry, a sign that confirmed to Blake that "I know he has my back." Moments after Barnes was separated and ejected, he walked toward the court with Terry angling near him. Referee Joey Crawford, whom Jackson said "ejects guys if they have a hangnail," then pushed Barnes toward the Dallas bench so that he'd be far from the fray. But he was just entering it. Mavericks assistant coach Terry Stotts wrapped his arms around Barnes, a gesture he described as a "bearhug" and an action Jackson said "that's not what you do; you grab your own players." In turn, Barnes threw his hands out and pushed Stotts. Barnes then left the court immediately as he removed his jersey and tossed it into the stands.
"Joey bodied me all the way in the middle of their bench," said Barnes, who acknowledged uncertainty on whether the NBA would suspend him. "I'm just trying to walk to our bench and somebody is trying to bearhug me. I didn't realize it was a coach until I turned around and he was off me. I definitely didn't want to push a coach, but he was bearhugging me right on their bench. I was trying to get back on our bench."
But that wasn't the end of it. Terry picked up a flagrant foul type 2 and earned immediate ejections along with Blake and Brandon Haywood. The testiness lingered, though. Shannon Brown earned an ejection after pushing Brian Cardinal for his foul on Pau Gasol, a gesture that Cardinal appeared to exaggerate as he nearly tripped over Gasol as he lay on the ground and an action Jackson said "was nothing." Staples Center security didn't reach the same assessment regarding the three fans that were escorted from the stands, including a half-naked female that ran down the aisle toward the Mavericks' bench, a male involved in a fight behind the basket along Dallas' bench and a male who kept yelling profanity behind the Mavericks bench. "Joey had nothing to do with that one?" Jackson asked rhetorically. The only thing that could've been weirder is the fact Theo Ratliff made his first appearance since being limited to eight games because of arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.
Jackson won't call it a fight. He'll describe it as "two cock-roosters bumping chests; just some pushing and shoving going on." The Lakers won't conclude the recent altercations continue a pattern of dirty play and lost composure. Andrew Bynum earned a two-game suspension for a flagrant foul 2 on Minnesota's Michael Beasley, who fell hard to the ground after being forearmed. Fisher picked up a retroactive flagrant foul on the Clippers' Chris Kaman, who was struck near the face while going through a screen. Bryant will argue all those plays were necessary. And the Lakers won't lament a possible Barnes suspension. They'll revel in the bond it forged.
"We love Matt for his feistiness. He did it to us," Odom said, referring to Barnes' playing physical with Bryant and pretending to throw an inbounds pass at his face when he played last season with Orlando. "He's playing with us now so he better do it to the other team."
Nothing brings the Lakers closer together than victories. The Lakers have won eight consecutive games and won the regular-season series against Dallas, a crucial component should the Lakers hold a tiebreaker with the Mavericks at the end of the season. A game that Bryant touted as a "measuring stick game" revealed plenty of things the Lakers can offer.
"We're playing well against high-level opponents," Bryant said. "They've come in playing extremely well too and were able to match up and get a blowout victory against them. I think it says a lot about how we're playing right now."
Gasol (20 points, seven rebounds) and Bynum (18 points, 13 rebounds) can forever tout their size advantage, including a dunk that led Bynum soaring with enthusiasm and high-fiving teammates in the first quarter. Ron Artest can become a focal part of the Lakers' offense, a factor Dallas owner Mark Cuban argued was one of the keys to beating the Lakers. But with Artest finishing with 13 points on five-of-10 shooting and kissing his biceps for scoring a one-handed layup and drawing a foul on Dallas forward Peja Stojakovic, that formula can yield punishing results. And Odom should be strongly considered for the NBA's sixth man award after dropping 16 points on six-of-10 shooting and grabbing 11 rebounds, an effort Jackson described as a "showcase for his sixth man award," including fancy passes and three consecutive three-pointers to open in the middle of the second half that was part of him scoring 11 consecutive points for the team.
"Hopefully I can finish the season out and win that sixth man award," said Odom, who became the 23rd player in NBA history to reach 12,000 points, 7,000 rebounds and 3,000 assists and the ninth fastest to reach such a milestone. "It's about making the right play. When I come in, I try to make the right play. The right play can change the momentum."
The Lakers aren't showing any signs that momentum will stop, a bad proposition for Dallas. The Lakers will likely meet the Mavericks in the Western Conference semifinals with home-court advantage, renewed toughness and increased swagger, three elements that they fully displayed through one game, one win and one shove.
E-mail the Lakers blog at firstname.lastname@example.org
Top photo: Lakers guard Steve Blake, left, and Dallas guard Jason Terry confront one another during the second half of the Lakers' 110-82 victory Thursday at Staples Center. Both players were ejected following the play. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times
Bottom photo: Lakers forward Matt Barnes, front, tries to put up a shot over Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki during the first half of the Lakers' 110-82 victory Thursday at Staples Center. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times