LOS ANGELES -- With Cleveland in town to play the Lakers, I thought I'd check out the latest LeBron James versus Kobe Bryant battle.
Imagine my surprise when the Cavaliers took the court without LeBron. Who knew? I wish they'd publicize this stuff.
But seriously, folks ...
Before Tuesday night's game, Cleveland's first-year coach Byron Scott conceded that his James-less and injury-decimated team may be young, inexperienced, overmatched in the talent department and saddled with the worst record in the NBA, but he can sell them with this inspiring message: "Every day you go to practice or a game, you get another opportunity to play."
For the Lakers, of course, it was an opportunity to take it easy and win at the same time -- as in the eye-popping final score of 112-57.
"I'm looking forward to seeing these players I've never heard of before," Phil Jackson said of the Cavs, drawing laughter in his pregame media chat.
He wasn't the only one having trouble identifying the visitors. When Alonzo Gee scored a rare first-quarter basket for the Cavs, longtime Staples Center announcer Lawrence Tanter intoned, "Basket, Anthony Gee."
Could have been David Letterman's foil Rupert Gee for all it mattered. The Lakers used Cleveland to post a franchise record, shot clock-era low in points allowed. They made it look like one of those preseason college exhibitions between Duke and St. Augustine's. It was 92-41 after three quarters, and then it got bad.
Think the Cavs miss LeBron?
James isn't the only one absent from the Cavs' sorrowful lineup, of course. His former running mates Anderson Varejao, Anthony Parker and Daniel Gibson were out Tuesday, part of a long line of injuries that has turned Cleveland into a ghost town of a basketball team.
Now they're just one more NBA cupcake for the Lakers to build their winning streak upon. It was just over a week ago, of course, that the Lakers were the subject of doomsday talk, with Ron Artest getting the scapegoat treatment.
Trouble? What trouble? The happy visit from the Cavs made it five straight wins. Artest led the way with a co-high 15 points.
"Just go with it," Artest said when someone asked about the bad times-good times swing. "You take the good with the bad."
There was also rest time for the starters. Bryant, who is picking and choosing when to practice these days because of his aging, surgically repaired knees, was able to skip the fourth quarter. His shining moment was the third, when he rattled in 11 of his 13 points.
With former Lakers star Scott in the building, there also was a nostalgic connection to franchise history. Scott, who played on three Magic Johnson-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar championship teams, also can say he saw Kobe coming. His last year with the Lakers in 1996-97 was Bryant's first, and the Cavs coach remembered a conversation with the rookie.
"He said he wanted to be the best in the league," recalled Scott of the rookie Bryant. "The way he worked, I said, 'You probably will be.'
"He wasn't like any 18-year-old I knew. He had this incredible drive. I knew he had it in him."
The next-in-line best player in the NBA -- LeBron James -- will be in the building Wednesday night with his new team, Miami, to play the Clippers, missing the wreckage by a day.
And there's nothing for anyone to do but take the good with the bad.