Hopeful, curious, maybe even somewhat intrigued, they filed into Staples Center. The days when the Lakers filled the arena with electricity and Hollywood glitz and championships fell immediately into a distant past with last season’s humbling 48-loss season. The Lakers started the new home season Thursday with lowered expectations the new mantra, from planning their annual assault on the championship to hoping simply to squeeze into the playoffs. The team that fell so flat last season returned with seven new players, none of seeming consequence unless you count Smush Parker – and apparently you may have to. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week Yet there remains a slight new buzz about the team because of the $30 million addition of a coach, who when last seen, was promoting his book “The Last Season.” Thursday marked the return of Phil Jackson as the Lakers’ coach, and if no one was screaming savior, he did receive the largest ovation during team introductions. Coaches seldom sell tickets, and if they do, not for long. Thursday Jackson didn’t make a basket, didn’t dazzle with a single pass, didn’t sky for a lone rebound. His presence was certainly felt though, and with it a fresh optimism the Lakers sorely need. The sellout crowd of 18,997 at Staples Center came almost longing for that old Lakers panache, hungry for reason to believe they can return to something approaching prominence. The stars did their part, turning out like it really was the old days. Jack Nicholson was back in his courtside seat, as were Dyan Cannon and Magic Johnson. Denzel Washington, who quickly disappeared as last season’s losses mounted, was back courtside. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was there for a presentation. Barry Bonds was in attendance. If it wasn’t the dizzy days of Shaq and Kobe and June confetti, it did for an opener. Jackson knows well it is the play on the court that will ultimately signal a revived interest in the Lakers, not his limping along the sideline. Jackson was a gangly forward for the New York Knicks when Willis Reed returned to coach the Knicks in 1977-78 and pique the New York interest. “It went for a while,” Jackson said. “But people come to watch the play. They don’t come to watch the coaches. They admire the strategy that goes on. “But that’s not what excites people. The excitement is on the floor.” This is probably Jackson’s biggest challenge as a coach, and he has already made it clear he will be more active than in seasons past, if only because he needs to be. In Wednesday’s season opener in Denver, he elected to have forward Kwame Brown take the final shot in overtime instead of star Kobe Bryant, who had missed at the end of regulation. Brown missed, got his own rebound and fed to Kobe, who swished the game-winner with less than a second to play. Thursday, no doubt displeased with the uninspiring play of Chris Mihm in Denver, he benched the center in the second game of the season. The arena itself has changed little since last season. There are new color scoreboards for scoring totals, that if anything, are more difficult to read than the old two-tone ones. There were a few new Laker Girls. The triangle offense was back and a new commitment to defense. The Phoenix Suns arrived without injured superstar Amare Stoudemire, but with forward Brian Grant, currently being paid nearly $15 million by the Lakers after being released prior to camp. The Suns came ready to run and test these curious new Lakers, owning absolutely no sympathy for their having played the night before in Denver and arriving back in L.A. at 3 a.m. The Suns led 31-30 at the end of the first quarter, and then their second unit outscored the Lakers’ second unit 10-0 to open the second quarter. The Lakers began the second quarter with a lineup of Aaron McKie, Sasha Vujacic, Laron Profit, Devean George and Mihm. It could be a long season. Then again, it could be any kind of season. “Dr. Buss wants to get back in the playoffs,” Jackson said. “I think that’s the goal you have to have, reaching the playoffs. “If we don’t reach the playoffs, we’re disappointed. That’s ultimately the bar we have to attain.” It’s a much different bar than the Lakers are used to aiming for, but then Thursday marked the beginning of a much different home season for Jackson and the Lakers. Steve Dilbeck’s column appears in the Daily News four times a week. He can be reached at [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!