It's the smallest of stepping stones to be sure, but the Los Angeles Lakers' 102-84 victory over the visiting Utah Jazz offered a brief moment of reprieve from what's been a nightmare 2012-13 NBA season.
The Lakers entered the night riding a four-game losing streak, while the Jazz came into Staples Center having won eight of their past 10 games.
But for one night, L.A. finally showed glimpses of what it can become, systematically dismantling Utah throughout.
The Lakers finally had given the Staples Center faithful something to enjoy, something far more tangible than the simple thrill of victory:
The Lakers are playing so well tonight, Lakers fans might actually walk away with free tacos— Mark Medina (@MedinaLakersNBA) January 26, 2013
Kobe Bryant fell one rebound shy of a triple-double, finishing the night with 14 points, nine rebounds and a season-high 14 assists. Metta World Peace scored 17 points, as did Dwight Howard, who added 13 rebounds.
This assist total for Bryant was the biggest surprise:
Kobe Bryant finished w/ 14 assists, 1 assist shy of tying career high (had 15 against Washington in 2002)— Mark Medina (@MedinaLakersNBA) January 26, 2013
Bryant's 10 field-goal attempts matched his season low. His decision to involve his teammates early and often appeared to energize the Lakers on both ends of the floor.
Why the sudden change Friday night?
Kobe said he realized he needed to take a bit of pressure off of Steve and become more of a playmaker (on @twcsportsnet)— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) January 26, 2013
It was a welcome development for Lakers fans, and one not lost on one of the game's all-time great distributors:
Referring to Kobe and Dwight as "our two big guns," @stevenash said: "Kobe was brilliant, setting the table for Dwight."— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) January 26, 2013
Will this convince Bryant to make this type of performance a regularity and not an anomaly? His league-leading 22.1 field-goal attempts per game would suggest otherwise.
Reporters tried to bait Howard into calling for a more generous Bryant, but he resisted:
Dwight was asked if Kobe (14 dimes) should play like this every night. Smiled a big "Not stepping in that land mine" smile. BK— Kamenetzky Brothers (@KamBrothers) January 26, 2013
A smart decision by Howard, who made his answer well known through his spirited play:
The Lakers were also uncharacteristically hot from deep in this game, connecting on 42.9 percent of their three-point attempts. World Peace led that charge, burying five of his 11 tries.
Given that the team entered the night with just the 14th-best three-point percentage (35.4), that too may have been an anomaly.
So, what does a January win over the Jazz actually represent?
It's not a season-saving performance, but it's clearly one that this team desperately needed. As poor as they'd looked on the court, the frustration level appeared to have hit a boiling point of late. There could not have been a better remedy:
Lots of laughing in the Lakers locker room. Smiles have been few and far between in this room this season.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) January 26, 2013
The game also trims a number off their race to 45 wins (27 and counting), a number that should be enough to punch their playoff ticket. A postseason appearance would be the actual reset button to the year that Mike D'Antoni and Howard have both tried pressing this month:
I'm past the point of identifying turning point games but tonight is an example of why you wouldn't want to play the Lakers in the playoffs.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) January 26, 2013
The Lakers won't have long to celebrate this victory, with a Sunday night matchup looming with the 34-10 Oklahoma City Thunder.
But Lakers fans can take comfort in knowing that Howard's already got a solid game plan for the Western Conference showdown:
Dwight Howard on Lakers' W over Utah: "We all had Skittles before the game." Key to beating OKC on Sunday: "More Skittles."— J.A. Adande (@jadande) January 26, 2013
At least Howard finally has something to joke about.