Good win for the Lakers tonight. Coming off that grueling four-game swing through Houston, Dallas, New Orleans and Houston, this would’ve been an easy game to lose focus and lose to a lesser opponent. But the Lakers got off to another fast start and put Seattle away by the end of the third quarter to keep their one game lead on Houston and New Orleans.
Here’s the story:
By Ramona Shelburne
And better yet, Thank God It’s the Sonics.
After a grueling four-game, seven-day roadtrip through Utah, Dallas, Houston and New Orleans the Lakers returned home to the Staples Center Friday night and got a little reward from the NBA’s schedule-makers.
With their legs still a bit weary, and the intensity dialed down a bit from the playoff atmosphere that greeted them at every stop along this past trip, the Lakers managed to summon just enough energy to dispatch the hapless Sonics 130-105 to complete a sweep of the season series with Seattle for the first time in 18 years.
And this time, Kobe Bryant didn’t have to do it all.
The Lakers (48-21) dished out a season-high 36 assists Friday night, and eight players scored in double figures as the Lakers maintained their one-game lead over Houston and New Orleans atop the Western Conference standings, despite being without Pau Gasol (ankle) for the fourth consecutive game.
“We’ve been playing together for a long time, so I think our ball movement and our passing ability is second to none in the league,” Bryant said. “We’ve all been on board (with the triangle offense) since day one.
“But then you add Pau Gasol to the mix, with his passing ability, and it makes us a very dangerous team,”
Dangerous enough to be considered frontrunners in the tightly-bunched Western Conference?
“I certainly like our chances,” Bryant said. “I think the size we have, and the versatility we have makes teams have to adjust to us, and the way we play.”
Friday night, Bryant led the way with 23 points and five assists, all five starters scored in double figures, Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar again provided a nice spark off the bench with 13 points and 14 points respectively, and you know it’s a good night when D.J. Mbenga (eight points), Coby Karl (two points) and the newly-signed Ira Newble (two points) get into the box score.
The Lakers are now 21-1 when at least six players score in double figures.
Six players also had at least four assists, but surprisingly, no one player had more than six.
“It’s just moving the balland finding the guy who is open at the right moment, that’s what’s triggering the assists,” forward Vladimir Radmanovic said. “And, we have people who are capable of knocking down shots. You have to make shots in order to get assists.”
Friday’s sharing and caring was quite different from some of their other meetings with the Sonics this year.
Bryant had averaged 34.7 points in the previous three games against Seattle, including the 48 points on 21-of-44 shooting he posted in an overtime-victory over the Sonics on January 14 as the Lakers were still regrouping after Andrew Bynum went down with a knee injury.
Since that game, the Lakers have figured things out quickly, winning 22 of their next 32 games, while the Sonics (16-53) embraced their youth movement and accepted the accompanying growing pains as they fell to the bottom of the conference standings.
Friday marked Seattle’s 10th-straight loss. The Sonics are now 2-21 away from Key Arena since Dec. 15 and have two double-digit losing streaks.
All that mattered to the Lakers Friday night though, was avoiding a slip-up against the Western Conference’s worst team.
“Those are the tricky games,” said Turiaf, who scored 14 and had a career-best six assists in 27 minutes on Friday. “We left a lot of energy just trying to fight those big dogs in Utah so I thought we did a really good job just staying focused and taking care of business.”
They did it the way they’ve been winning games for the past two months: By starting quickly.
The Lakers jumped out to a 10-0 lead before Seattle even got on the board. By the end of the first quarter, L.A. had built the lead to 34-21.
The Sonics hung around a bit in the second and third quarters. Donyell Marshall drained a 3-pointer at the end of the half to cause some consternation for the Lakers, but order was restored late in the third quarter as the Lakers went on a 12-4 run over the final two minutes of the period to put the game out of reach.
Kevin Durant and Earl Watson each scored 20 points to pace Seattle, but the Sonics other three starters were just 7-for-25 from the field.
The Lakers play six of their next seven games at home.
“I think we’re the frontrunner,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “If we had a healthy roster, I’d feel much more comfrotable saying that, but at this point, given our schedule, I think we have a really good opportunity.”