Lakers 130, Sonics 105

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
Staff Writer

T.G.I.F.

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.”
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Gasol update

Pau Gasol was able to shoot and do some on-court drills before the game on Friday, but coach Phil Jackson said he wasn’t optimistic about Gasol (ankle) playing in either of the Lakers upcoming games against Golden State: Sunday in Los Angeles or Monday in Oakland.

“I don’t anticipate he’ll play in the Golden State games. I’d like him to. I think that would be a good opponent for him … but that might be impossible for us to even remotely have that as a possibility,” Jackson said. “But I think in the next week there’s a chance he could come back.”

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Lakers sign Ira Newble

With Gasol, Ariza, Mihm and Bynum still out with injuries, this should help give the Lakers some depth until they all heal up.

Anyway, here’s the release from the Lakers:

The Los Angeles Lakers have signed free agent forward Ira Newble to a 10-day contract, it was announced today by General Manager Mitch Kupchak.

Newble, currently in his eighth NBA season, most recently played for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Seattle Supersonics, averaging 4.2 points, 2.7 rebounds and 15.5 minutes in 43 combined games this season, including 13 starts.

Prior to playing in the NBA, Newble played in the International Basketball Association for the Wisconsin Blast (1997-98) and played in the CBA with the Idaho Stampede from the 1997-98 season through the 1999-2000 season.

Undrafted by an NBA team, Newble played two seasons with Mississippi Gulf Coast Junior College before attending Miami (OH) University, where he averaged 8.9 points and 6.4 rebounds in 58 games over two seasons, while being named Honorable Mention All-Mid American Conference his senior year.

In 374 career games including 197 starts, Newble is averaging 5.1 points and 2.9 rebounds in 20.4 minutes.

The Lakers roster now stands at 15.

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Tough test ahead

I know, Lakers fans. Things are going great, right? Fantastic, really.

But how good are the Lakers?

Looks like we’re going to find over the next two weeks or so.

Once Kobe and Co. get through Sacramento (tomorrow), the Clippers (Friday) Sacramento (Sunday) and Toronto (Tue, Mar. 11), they’ll face the toughest stretch of the season.

Road games at New Orleans (Mar. 14), Houston (Mar. 16), Dallas (Mar. 18) and Utah (Mar. 20) will tell the story.

It’s not make or break – and we all know we can’t truly assess this team until Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza return – but it sure will be interesting to see how the Lakers fare on the road against teams with a combined 155-82 record.

By the way, while yesterday’s 52-point performance by Kobe was reminiscent of a number of scoring explosions he’s had in the Post Shaq era – and that wasn’t always a good thing. But Lakers fans can take comfort in this observation:

Prior to this season – and specifically the arrival of Pau Gasol – it was almost required that Kobe carry that sort of load for the Lakers to be successful. Even when he did, there was no guarantee the Lakers would prevail.

Now, it’s almost a luxury.

When the Lakers are getting production throughout the lineup, as they have pretty much the whole year, they don’t need Kobe to go off.

But it sure is nice to know Kobe can still dial it up a notch when the rest of the team is struggling – as was the case yesterday.

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