From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: All is well! Last week, Mitch Kupchak openly wondered how the Lakers would respond to their three-game skid heading into the break. He had plenty of company. Apparently, though, if there was a message to get, the Lakers absorbed it, running out to a 15-point lead in the first quarter, and more or less putting it away by halftime. For one night, at least, the Lakers looked a lot like the team they’re supposed to be, on both sides of the ball. To say they’ve cured what’s ailed them through the season would be a reach, but it’s hard to argue about how they kicked off the post- All-Star stretch run. Here’s how it broke down…
From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Lost worlds of Orlando, Charlotte and Cleveland? An abyss of two-time defending-champion complacency? An All-Star break vacation with an invigorating pool of reflection? Wherever the Lakers were, they made their way back to their usual mountaintop Tuesday night with a 104-80 throttling of the Atlanta Hawks, at full strength and one of the NBA’s better teams at 34-21 coming in. The team defense that was stressed in an extended video session Monday was featured on the court, anchored by Andrew Bynum’s back line, and the Hawks shot 36.6 percent from the field. Pau Gasol (14 points, 10 rebounds, four assists) was an ever-present stabilizer for the Lakers through most of the first half, and Kobe Bryant (20 points, five assists) encouraged the whole group to ride this train by taking 11 field-goal attempts, still the team’s high.
From Mark Medina, LA Times: With so much surrounding the Lakers’ three-game losing streak, the NBA All-Star break and a trade deadline that could spur different emotions and reactions, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant gathered the team together. He then summed up the first game following the break in as succinct terms as possible. “It’s a roll-call game,” Bryant and other teammates said he described the Lakers’ first contest following the All-Star game Tuesday against the Atlanta Hawks. It’s a matchup that usually leaves Coach Phil Jackson uncertain on how each team would handle the extended weekend of rest, parties and overall separation from basketball. Since the Lakers underwent such scrutiny among fans, media and most importantly themselves regarding their nagging inconsistencies, a three-game losing streak, sixth place overall standing in the Western Conference and the upcoming trade deadline, Bryant emphasized that the Lakers solely worrying about perfecting their role will help alleviate all the problems.
From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: You can’t really say this was a must-win for the Lakers. Such a thing doesn’t exist in late February. But had they pulled the same crap-in-a-bag act we saw at the end of their Grammy trip, the stink around this team would’ve got extraordinarily pungent. Graciously enough, they spared us the stench and instead began the regular-season homestretch with in first-rate form, pile-driving the Atlanta Hawks, 104 to 80. The blowout took shape in the first quarter, as the champs built an early 15-point lead, which then reached 21 at halftime and 26 in the third. With the outcome never in doubt, Phil Jackson was able to give light minutes to all of his starters in hopes of keeping some gas in their tanks for tomorrow night’s visit to Portland.
From Bret Lagree, HoopOnion: Yes, the Hawks missed several open shots in the fateful first half but they also made themselves easy to guard. Whatever defensive value starting Jason Collins against Andrew Bynum had was overwhelmed by the value the Lakers gained by being able to defend five-on-four in the half-court. Atlanta’s primary ball-handlers, Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford, approached a defense overloaded to the strong side with lots of dribbling. The resultant offensive stagnation further encouraged Josh Smith to continue his evolution into a spot-up shooter which in turn magnified (possibly exaggerated) the damage of the turnovers he committed when attempting to make an aggressive play.