The Los Angeles Lakers strolled into Arco Arena Wednesday night delivered all that is real.
Clearly, it was too real for the young Sacramento Kings.
It wasn’t just the 12-point victory margin. It was the team-wide defensive intensity combined with a self-knowledge, championship confidence and swagger combined with a discipline of execution that overwhelmed the Kings’ youthful intentions and desires.
The Lakers are what every team wants to be and where every team is attempting to get.
They’ve already won back-to-back titles and nothing was apparent last night to reveal they now aren’t on a similar course.
Could they become better this season than last? Only a season’s evolution and development can lead to that determination.
Yet, as the new-and-still improving almost 31-year-old (Nov. 6) Lamar Odom said, “Better? I hope so. That’s our goal. It’s always realistic, when you strive. Being perfect is like a realistic goal for us. That’s our way of thinking, our thought process.”
Can you get to that? Other teams are attempting to get into the playoffs, perhaps get a high playoff-seed, even. Meanwhile, the Lakers have begun the season 5-0 and have yet to put 23-year-old 7-foot talent Andrew Bynum on the court.
The Lakers seek perfection. Odom sounded like Denzel Washington in “Remember the Titans”, but the sincerity in his delivery and eyes, showed the versatile swingman was deadly serious.
Just as Kobe Bryant always is serious when he steps onto the floor, the Lakers carry themselves with an air of invincibility. That quotient never should be underestimated.
In some ways, Bryant’s presence and dominance manifest themselves in each of the Lakers. That goes the same for legendary coach Phil Jackson.
They don’t get shaken and there never is a situation in which they feel a loss of control.
Listen to how Odom and Derek Fisher speak of Bryant, who had off-season surgery on his right knee for the third time.
Said Odom, “Kobe is coming off surgery. He’s going to will the basketball game to kind of go his way. So, this is nothing different than what I’ve seen since I’ve been playing with him.”
Fisher and Bryant joined the Lakers together in 1996.
“I thought he might start off struggling to find some rhythm,” Fisher said of Bryant, “and he might build some rhythm as things went. But to see him playing this well, this early, he’s on my team, so that’s good for me. But that’s not good for everybody else when he’s playing this good this early.
“It’s not surprising. Nothing that he does surprises me. I’ve just seen too much, too many times. He’s capable of doing pretty much anything and everything.”
That’s the sound of reverence, of ultimate respect and confidence. The Lakers are a finished product that somehow still has an upside.
Meanwhile, the Kings are attempting to find their way with games such as the Lakers contest serving as monitoring levels. Sacramento’s leader on the floor is 21-year-old second-year guard Tyreke Evans.
Evans couldn’t stay on the floor against the Lakers and much of it was his own doing. He picked up his third foul with 1:08 left in the first half while defending Bryant’s shot attempt.
Evans’ fourth foul came with 8:42 left in the third quarter. He was caught reaching 20 feet from the basket as Bryant attempted to catch a pass. He was replaced 34 seconds later and sat the rest of the third.
It was no coincidence the Lakers quickly raced to an 82-62 lead as the Kings offense went ka-put.
Kings coach Paul Westphal didn’t mention Evans by name, but it was apparent the guard’s absence during the third quarter’s final minutes was a crucial factor.
“I thought it was an offensive breakdown in the third quarter,” the coach said. “I thought we were missing a lot of shots in the third quarter and let them get out. They’re too good of a team to let them get (into) transition and just miss, miss, miss over and over.”
Westphal knows how much the Kings (3-2) collectively have to improve to even approach the neighborhood in which the Lakers reside.
“The Lakers don’t even know who we are right now,” he said. “We would like to build a rivalry with the best team in the world, but to answer that question as if there’s a rivalry, that’d be an insult to them.
“We’ve got to win some games before there’s a rivalry. They are where we want to be.”