Posted Apr 29 2011 1:46AM
NEW ORLEANS -- It had been building from nothing except memories, from laboring to beat the Spurs JV lineup to doing their best to give away the Sacramento game at the end of the regular season to losing the playoff opener at home as a heavy favorite, until Thursday night, and the Lakers finally playing like the Lakers again.
They also behaved like the Lakers, sometimes unfortunately so, but that's part of it. That may be the biggest part, actually. They played with a champions' swagger more than any time in weeks, the way Phil Jackson banged the city of New Orleans and Ron Artest posed and Kobe Bryant hushed. There was a brash certainty and no apologies.
The Lakers emerged from their first-round series, in some ways survived it through health concerns and a lack of focus, but this was not just getting by. The 98-80 victory over the Hornets in Game 6 did not feel like the end of the escape from Chris Paul and the rest of the underdogs as much as the start of the push now that the playoffs had finally reached the locker room.
"We wanted to win, we wanted to smash 'em," Andrew Bynum said after 18 points and 12 rebounds. "I think everybody was upset with themselves. We wanted to right the wrong of having to come back out here and working overtime, basically.
"We wanted to go out and we wanted to close the series. That's the big thing with the playoffs. You don't allow other teams to breathe. And we did. Consequently, we had to come back out here. This series should have been over in five. We failed the last time, so we came out with the extra focus that we needed and played hard."
Extra focus? Try extra attitude.
Kobe Bryant took a pass from Ron Artest, hit a wide-open jumper from the right side that pushed the lead to 10 late in the third quarter, then took a couple steps back on defense with his right index finger up to his mouth. Shhhhhhhh. The Lakers were never threatened again.
A little later, Artest pushed Chris Paul. (And got away without a call.)
Artest was under the basket another time, the Lakers in the process of building the cushion to 21 points midway through the fourth quarter, and faced the crowd beyond the baseline for a bicep flex. Arms up, fists balled, attitude flared.
Bryant was at the scorer's table, checking into a 19-point game with 5:23 remaining, when a lady about 20 feet away in the stands yelled, "Kobe, sit down!" He looked up, turned his head in that direction, and smiled right at her. There would be no sitting down.
And then there was Jackson, as always. His series of digs at New Orleans -- the latest in line, after Sacramento, Orlando and one of the Spurs titles -- had reached all the way to the day the Lakers were trying to clinch a series. The local paper, the Times-Picayune, had a story at the top of the front page of the paper, not the front page of the sports section, with Jackson pointing and a headline WHY DOES HE HATE US? So another city had taken the bait.
It may have ended there, Jackson in full-tweak mode, except he was asked about an hour before tipoff and seemed bothered enough to ask if anyone from the paper was among the media scrum. None were present. It could have ended there.
Jackson, though, went on about water in New Orleans: "Well, it is the bottom of the country, is it not? And all the sludge comes out of the Plains states and all the irrigation and the insecticides and everything."
The Lakers win big, Jackson takes to the raised head table in the interview room, and the questions stick to the game, to the series, to the work ahead in the next series. All basketball. He finishes and gets up.
He stops as he is standing.
"And by the way," Jackson says as an aside, "I drank the water today in New Orleans, for those people that are from New Orleans. I did. Swear to God. I didn't mean to. But I drank it."
It was one of those kinds of nights.
"Playing with swagger is sometimes the reason why we lose," Lamar Odom said. "I think that's always there. Confidence as a team and individually, that's something that we always have. I think we met the demands on how they wanted to play. Whatever game you want from us, you can get it."
OK, then. What do you call it if not swagger?
"Business," Odom said.
Consider the Lakers back to work.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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