SACRAMENTO — The Lakers took another step tonight with their victory over the Sacramento Kings at Arco Arena. They broke open the game with a 9-0 run that bridged the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth. Kobe Bryant scored 30 points and added nine rebounds and seven assist as the Lakers won their 50th game of the season. Pau Gasol had 28 points and 12 rebounds and Andrew Bynum had 21 points and 12 rebounds. The Lakers haven’t had three players with 20 or more points plus 10 or more rebounds in the same game since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and James Worthy did it in a game Dec. 21, 1984 against the Phoenix Suns.
SACRAMENTO — The Lakers were great when they tossed the ball into the paint and let Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol do their stuff against the Sacramento Kings in the first half tonight. When they didn’t, when they tried to run up and down and play a frenetic pace, they weren’t very good. The Lakers led by as many as 13 points in the first half, then settled for a one-point lead at halftime. Kobe Bryant had 18 points, five rebounds and three assists, Bynum had 17 points and nine rebounds and Gasol scored 11 points. The Western Conference-leading Lakers sought their second victory in as many nights and their fourth overall.
SACRAMENTO — Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant are the NBA’s toughest defenders, according to the results of a poll of the league’s players conducted by Sports Illustrated. Artest was named by 42 percent of the players and Bryant was named by 13 percent. Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic was third with 12 percent, with Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics fourth with 6 percent and Shane Battier of the Houston Rockets fifth with 4 percent. Full disclosure, I have helped SI with the poll the last three seasons.
OAKLAND — if you looked at the final score and a few selected statistics, you might have thought the Lakers played a fine game while defeating the Golden State Warriors tonight. But then there was the number 24. That was the number of turnovers the Lakers had during their ninth straight win over the Warriors. Golden State feasted on the Lakers’ mistakes, turning their turnovers into 29 points. In other words, it would have been a rout instead of a nail-biter if the Lakers had taken care of the ball. Kobe Bryant scored 29 points for the Lakers and Stephen Curry had 29 for the Warriors. Monta Ellis missed a 3 at the buzzer that would have tied the score and sent the game to overtime.
OAKLAND — OK, that was ugly. The Lakers had 15 turnovers in the first half tonight, which pretty much accounted for their deficit to the lowly Golden State Warriors. The Lakers shot 21 for 36 (58.3 percent). They outrebounded the undersized Warriors, 25-13. They also went to the free throw line 20 times, making 13. The Warriors were 7 for 8 from the line. The high number of turnovers hindered the Lakers, however. Pau Gasol had 14 points, Kobe Bryant had 12, Lamar Odom had 11 and Andrew Bynum added 10. Chris Hunter scored 16 points to lead the Warriors, and Corey Maggette had 12 on 6-for-6 shooting.
OAKLAND — Upon further review, the NBA decided to upgrade Pau Gasol’s hard foul Friday on Louis Amundson of the Phoenix Suns to a flagrant-1. Gasol cracked Amundson in the head in the second half of the Lakers’ victory. Phoenix Suns coach Alvin Gentry protested a little too vigorously and was ejected and later fined $25,000.
With backup guard Jordan Farmar playing only limited minutes during the Lakers’ victory Friday night over the Phoenix Suns, fellow Bench Mobber Sasha Vujacic got a good, long run. Farmar aggravated his broken left pinky in the first half and did not play in the second. So, Vujacic got to play extended minutes in his second game back from a sprained right shoulder that sidelined him for eight contests. Now, we all know the Machine has needed some serious repairs for most of this season. But is Vujacic now a Defensive Machine? He certainly made a pest of himself at times Friday. After all, he pressured Grant Hill into a traveling violation, which helped to trigger the Lakers’ electric 10-0 run to end the first half. It was an overlooked play at the time, but one that paid big dividends. Let’s see if there’s more to come on the defensive end for Vujacic.
PHOENIX — The Lakers took a significant stride tonight toward regaining their championship swagger. OK, maybe they just took a halting step toward playing more like a team that might challenge for a title. Whatever it was, they played with far more fire and determination than in recent games. They took the lead over the Suns near the end of the first half and held it most of the rest of the way. Kobe Bryant scored 21 points to lead five Lakers in double figures. He also had 10 rebounds, eight assists and seven turnovers. He blamed the turnovers on his broken right index finger. “I can’t hold the ball. It’s a little frustrating,” he said. Amare Stoudemire led Phoenix by scoring 19 of his 29 in the first half.
“Our execution wasn’t so great,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “I thought we tried to do some things that were beyond our level, running out and shooting 3s on fastbreaks, but the effort was there. … We were aggressive and guys stayed aggressive out there.”
Said Bryant: “We just took what they gave us. … I think, all in all, we attacked wherever they put two guys. Wherever they double(-teamed) us, we did a good job spacing out (the floor), making shots, shot the 3 pretty well. Defensively, we were very solid.”
PHOENIX — After struggling to stop Amare Stoudemire, after slumping offensively against the Phoenix Suns’ zone defense, after getting into foul trouble, the Lakers finished the first half tonight with a 10-0 run that carried them to a modest lead. Andrew Bynum led the Lakers with 11 points and Ron Artest had 10. Lakers coach Phil Jackson played everyone on the active roster but DJ Mbenga. Stoudemire led the Suns with 19 points and nine rebounds. The Lakers held the Suns to 17-for-44 shooting (38.6 percent).
PHOENIX — Here’s what Suns coach Alvin Gentry said about the Lakers tonight:
“They, obviously, struggled on the road, but vulnerable in what sense? I don’t know if there’s any team out there playing that can beat them four out of seven games. I don’t know if that’s possible. They’ve got a completely different agenda than what we have. We’re trying to get ourselves into the playoffs. They’re trying to get themselves ready for a championship run. I don’t know if vulnerable is the word I would use.
“They haven’t closed out a few games. Charlotte played great against them. Even the Toronto game, they struggled in that and once again (Bryant) rescued them. At the end of the day, whatever happens in the West is going to go through L.A. I mean, Dallas is playing real good right now and they feel good about themselves. Utah’s playing great and Oklahoma City is playing real good. Denver, I think they have to have K-Mart (Kenyon Martin) back (from an injury) to make a run at them. They’ve played great against them. It’s a good matchup. For some reason, they match up great against the Lakers.
“I still say whatever happens, you’re going to have to win some games in L.A. to get to where you want to go.”