Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 1/26/13
LOS ANGELES -- After a week of hand-wringing, meetings, contemplation, challenges and promises, the Los Angeles Lakers were finally ready to do something fun Friday. Specifically, win a basketball game. While their 102-84 victory over the Utah Jazz at Staples Center wasn't perfect and it certainly won't erase the misery that's been the first two months of their season, maybe it can be a catalyst for a new beginning. That remains to be seen, of course and, with Oklahoma City visiting Los Angeles on Sunday, the Lakers' Friday fun night might be short lived. But considering the tumultuous week they just experienced, their star players seemed to be on the same page at the same time. Dwight Howard, back in the lineup after leaving Wednesday's game in Memphis after aggravating a shoulder injury, played contently in Mike D'Antoni's offense. He was effective on both ends of the floor, scoring 17 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. Kobe Bryant played patiently and unselfishly, scoring 14 points, but dishing out 14 assists and grabbing nine rebounds. "It was a concerted effort to force the game a little bit on my teammates," Bryant said. The Jazz noticed. "(Bryant) had 14 assists and he's only had 12 in the last 20 games," Utah's Al Jefferson said. "When he's moving the ball like that the way he did tonight, it just gives everybody a chance to get in a good groove. They became a difficult team to stop." Pau Gasol, coming off the bench now, added 15 points and seven rebounds for the Lakers in their first win in more than a week. In all, five Lakers scored in double figures while defensively, they delivered one of their best efforts of the season. "We got in some good pick-and-roll situations and we kept it balanced," Bryant said. The Jazz saw its four-game winning streak come to a halt, dropping its first game against the Lakers this year after beating them in two previous meetings. Derrick Favors had 14 points and Gordon Hayward had 13 off the bench for Utah while Al Jefferson had 12 points. "They were the more desperate team tonight and came out with a lot of energy," Hayward said. "And for whatever reason we didn't respond." It didn't help the Jazz made just 34 of 81 shots, including 3 of 14 on 3-pointers, while allowing the Lakers to have their way offensively on 43 of 80 shooting from the field. "They were able to get the shots they wanted," Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said. "They attacked the basket." And they smoothly executed D'Antoni's offense for one of the few times all year, with Bryant playing the facilitator. He attempted just 10 field goals, making seven of them. Meanwhile his 14 assists were a season high and one short of his career high. "There were a lot of good things he did," D'Antoni said. "I thought he set a good tone, good pace to the game, and it was easy for him." And that filtered out to the rest of the team, with the Lakers playing as unified as they have all year. "Now we just have to sustain it," Howard said. "We have to play together and we have to play for each other. That's what it's going to take." NOTES: In a season of mostly bad news, the Lakers got a bit of the good kind when Howard was cleared to play against the Jazz Friday, two days after aggravating a right shoulder injury. Howard left Wednesday's game at Memphis late in the second quarter after tweaking the torn labrum in his shoulder while fighting through a pick, but was checked out by doctors in Los Angeles on Thursday and given the green light to play Friday. Howard originally suffered the injury on Jan. 4 against the Clippers and missed three games. ... .Meanwhile, less than 48 hours after saying the key to the Lakers turning their season around starts with him -- but falling short of committing himself beyond this season to the Lakers -- Howard remained noncommittal about his Los Angeles future. "I want to keep my mind clear of the offseason stuff," Howard said. "I haven't even thought about it. I know what's being said. But right now, we're four games out and have an opportunity to turn this thing around. We have to stay positive."... The Jazz had won the previous two meetings against the Lakers. ... The Lakers have played just five times with their expected starting five coming into the season -- Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Metta World-Peace --and have lost all five.
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