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How the Lakers rediscovered the fun with Mike D'Antoni vs. Denver

By Matt Moore | NBA writer
The Lakers superstars got on track vs. Denver. (Getty Images)

The Denver Nuggets entered Staples Center at the end of yet another road trip in their brutal early schedule ( amazingly, they have not rested any starters, as if they can actually play through such things). They were worn out, out of sorts, and not emotionally or physically prepared for the onslaught they ran into.

But while Denver has independent issues defensively and offensively to solve, the truth of their loss the Lakers Friday night was simple.

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They ran into a Lakers team that finally truly found the joy of a Mike D'Antoni offense.

Against the Nuggets, you saw the truly awesome power of a team as loaded in talent as the Lakers under the guise of a coach that preaches fun, fast, and firepower. L.A. shot 54 percent from the field and 17-33 from three against Denver. Their bench which has been a no-show the entire season had a huge breakout behind blistering shooting from Antawn Jamison (?!) and Jodie Meeks. Chris Duhon made a three.

But crucial to understanding how the Lakers got their groove back is the way they spread the ball, spread their options, and used the constant balance of inside-out to force the Nuggets into impossible decisions. Dwight Howard finished with 16 points and 5 rebounds in the first quarter. And when the defense adjusted, the Lakers punished Denver with perimeter passing.

Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol combined for 16 assists, and those are numbers that don't reflect the passing acumen by the team as a whole. They were quick with every decision, and that may be the biggest change for the Lakers. No hesitation. No second-guessing. Just go.

And that's Mike D'Antoni. It wasn't reckless, it was just confident. And that confidence carries over to the shooting, which is why you find Meeks and Jamison lighting up the scoreboard. Confidence and consistency are the two words players use most and no coach inspires the confidence offensively D'Antoni does.

Jamison finished with 33 points, Meeks with 21, while the Lakers starters stat-stuffed. 20 rebounds for Dwight Howard, 7 rebounds, 8 assists for Pau Gasol, 14 points, 8 assists for Kobe Bryant. They blitzed the Nuggets with efficiency, with ball-movement, with confidence.

It was reminiscent of those nights in Phoenix for D'Antoni's 7 Seconds or Less Suns. Not as fast, but the same performance that left you saying "they can't keep shooting like this" until they did. Some teams have these games every once in a while. Mike D'Antoni's teams have these all the time. It's what they do.

The Lakers will face better defenses than what Denver, who has been up and down but overall solid defensively this season, brought to the table. But it gave them a template for what they can do. This can be the devastating team it was brought together to be. It can be bright, and loose, and as always with D'Antoni, it can be fun. For everyone but their opponents.

The Lakers struggled through their early games and this may have just been an outlier game against a tired team in a bad spot. But with the way Pau Gasol was lobbing to Dwight Howard, how Kobe Bryant was manipulating the defense and finding the open man, and with how the shooters had confidence and control, you realize that it's possible the Lakers are buying into what Mike D'Antoni is selling.

After a start to the year that has not gone according to the Hollywood script, it's possible the Lakers have found the plot. And that's bad news for everyone else in the NBA.

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