Whether or not he explicitly asked for the ball, the Lakers gave it to Dwight Howard from the opening tip -- which Howard won, incidentally.
Coach Mike D’Antoni revealed that the first possession of the game was drawn up to go directly to Howard. The next possession also went to Howard, and that would not change while the Lakers’ big man was on the floor.
In the first quarter, Howard was 4-5 from the field and 1-1 from the free throw line, far more involved than he was in Denver.
In Denver, a frustrated Howard was 4-6 in two and a half quarters prior to taking himself out of the game with a flagrant foul that ultimately cost $35,000. This time around, the Lakers used their big advantage on the inside, and it paid off.
Howard was so effective that the Portland Trail Blazers decided to employ the "Hack-a-Howard" strategy with 6:20 remaining in the first half.
Howard promptly stepped forward and drained two free throws. Next chance the Blazers got, they tried the same strategy. Howard made two more foul shots. That was the end of "Hack-a-Howard," and the game was hardly a contest by the time halftime rolled around. The Lakers were up by 14 at the break.
At halftime, Lakers legend Jamaal Wilkes took center stage with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Elgin Baylor, and Jerry West all watching from the sidelines. The Lakers retired Wilkes #52 jersey in a heartwarming ceremony, and seeing the old champions made this a particularly nostalgic and star-studded event.
In the second half, the game was never a contest. The Blazers closed to 12 points on three occasions, but the Lakers ballooned it to a 22 point lead entering the fourth quarter. Even Abdul-Jabbar, West, and Baylor didn’t bother hanging around to see the final score.
Everything went right for the Lakers on Friday night. They got an early lead, Kobe Bryant and Howard combined for 48 points on 51.6 percent from the field, Pau Gasol made two of his three 3-pointers, and Steve Nash didn’t break his leg.
The Lakers' "triple threat" of Howard, Bryant, and Nash (name of this blog…bookmark it) did not even step foot on the floor in the fourth quarter, as the Lakers coasted to a 104-87 final score.
The Lakers play Philadelphia on Wednesday, but all eyes in the city cannot help buy look ahead to next Friday. That is when the Lakers "travel" to face the LA Clippers, the team with the best record in the league.
That game will be the first true test D’Antoni’s Lakers face, and losing to the Clippers is not acceptable regardless of the records.
Friday’s win over the Blazers gives fans hope that the Lakers may be up to the challenge of reclaiming the city on the basketball court, because off the court, Los Angeles will always be a Laker town.