The Lakers got plenty of easy baskets in the first half of tonight’s game against the Phoenix Suns, scoring 38 of their 53 points in the paint. They also outrebounded the Suns, 25-16.
They didn’t lead at halftime, however. The Suns seemed willing to trade two points for three in the first half. Phoenix made 12 of 20 shots from beyond the 3-point arc (60 percent). They were 21 of 42 overall (50 percent). Jason Richardson led Phoenix with 18 points on 7-for-9 shooting, including 4 of 5 on 3s. Lamar Odom had 15 points and Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant added 14 points each. Bryant was the only one of the two to shoot a 3. He was 1-for-2. He also had seven assists and five rebounds and a triple-double was possible.
Backup guard Steve Blake came down with an upset stomach and was not on the active roster for tonight’s game against the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center. His absence figured to open some playing time for Sasha Vujacic, who has hardly played at all this season. Lakers coach Phil Jackson has used four guards in his rotation, and Vujacic has been No. 5.
Andrew Bynum’s return to the practice court remains uncertain, but he did shoot baskets on an adjacent hoops while his teammates went through their practice today. Later, he went through some rehab exercises as the rest of the team headed to the showers or the weight room. Lakers coach Phil Jackson said he expected Bynum to participate in some drills with his teammates soon, but not before the team returns from a trip to play Milwaukee on Tuesday, Detroit on Wednesday and Minnesota on Friday. It’s also not clear how much longer it might be before Bynum can make his 2010-11 debut. Jackson said last month it might not be until Thanksgiving, but Thanksgiving is coming up fast.
Not exactly earth-shattering news, but TNT commentator and former NBA superstar Charles Barkley likes the Lakers. He said after the Lakers’ loss Thursday to the Denver Nuggets: “They have the best closer (in Kobe Bryant), they have the best big man (Gasol). This is the best Lakers team with the addition of (Matt) Barnes, (Steve) Blake and Theo Ratliff. This is their best team.” Presumably he meant during the last few seasons. it would be hard to top the talent and depth of the championship teams of 2000 through ’02 or the sustained excellence of the Showtime Era title winners of the 1980s. Then again …
DENVER — The streak is dead. The Lakers learned a painful lesson about closing out games tonight, when they lost for the first time in nine games to start the season. The Denver Nuggets took them apart in the fourth quarter, capitalizing on runs of 16-0 and 11-0. The Lakers took too many 3-pointers to suit Coach Phil Jackson and they couldn’t stop Ty Lawson or Carmelo Anthony in the fourth quarter. Denver outscored the Lakers, 33-19, in the fourth quarter while shooting 60 percent to the Lakers’ 29.2.
“That is what they do,” Kobe Bryant said of the Nuggets. “We know this team very well. We know what they are capable of doing. Ty Lawson is very good at that, J.R. (Smith) is obviously, too, so we are not surprised by that.”
Of Anthony, who scored 32 points, Bryant said: “That is a bad boy.”
DENVER — Kobe Bryant went into tonight’s game against the Denver Nuggets needing 17 points to reach 26,000 for his career, the 12th player in league history to reach the mark. He also would have been the youngest, at 32 years, 80 days, faster than Wilt Chamberlain (32 years, 114 days). Bryant hit the milestone when he scored on a short turnaround jumper in the opening moments of the second half. He scored 13 points in the first half.
DENVER — Hard to figure out what to make of the first half tonight. The Lakers shot enough bricks to build a house, but still managed to lead the Denver Nuggets. Kobe Bryant scored 13 points on 4-for-15 shooting. Ron Artest had 14 points on 5-for-6 shooting, the only Lakers starter shooting above 50 percent in the first half. The highlights of the game so far included a driving dunk by Shannon Brown and a wild brawl in the stands. Several unruly fans were ejected from the arena by some late-arriving security personnel.
Here’s what Derek Fisher said during his postgame rant after the Lakers beat the Timberwolves on Tuesday for their eighth consecutive victory to start the season:
“The way we played tonight was irresponsible and it was reckless and it was disrespectful. I can’t get any clearer than that. There was an air of complacency of arrogance of ‘we don’t have to play as hard as the other team to win’ that I didn’t like tonight. That goes for all of us. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to play perfectly every night or that we’re going to win all 82 games, I’m not that optimistic. But it didn’t have to be that way.”
Reporter: Is this going to be addressed to the team?
Fisher: “I don’t know. But I guess we’ll read it and hear about it tomorrow. We just finished and so obviously my emotions are higher now than they might be tomorrow, but that’s just how I feel about it. It didn’t have to take place the way that it did. It wasn’t the right way to play the game. I think prior to tonight we’ve done a fairly good job in respecting each opponent and each game for what it presents. Tonight we didn’t do that. It’s that simple.”
Reporter: Did any stat jump off the page at you?
Fisher: “I don’t even have to look at a stat sheet. I don’t know what the numbers are, what the stats are, we just didn’t play the game they way it was supposed to be played. It has nothing to do with the opponent. I’ve said that before. I don’t care who we play, there’s a certain type of basketball that we have to play in order to be who we are and that’s not how we played tonight. regardless of who the opponent is, you have a higher chance of losing if you play the way that we played tonight. We can’t do this against anybody. It doesn’t matter what the records are …”
Eight-and-oh, but hardly perfect. The Lakers hard their share of flaws during their victory tonight over the Minnesota Timberwolves. They didn’t play with enough effort to please Phil Jackson, who gave the team the day off Monday and figured a clunker might be in the works. Kobe Bryant didn’t sound too concerned after scoring a season-high 33 points. “We don’t take much out of it,” he said after making 12 of 28 shots. “The regular season is just about powering enough wins, just trying to get better, and tonight we did that.” Former UCLA standout Kevin Love scored 23 points and grabbed a career-high 24 rebounds, but the Timberwolves still lost their sixth consecutive game and fell to 1-7 to start the season.
Ho-hum, the Lakers held a modest lead by halftime tonight. Kobe Bryant scored 23 points on 9-for-15 shooting, and there was no way the Minnesota Timberwolves had anyone capable of stopping him. He seemed destined for a big night when he scored 11 in the first quarter. Bryant scored the Lakers’ final eight points of the first half, helping them to a six-point lead. The Lakers had their hands full with the Timberwolves, however. Kevin Love, the former UCLA standout, had 12 points and 11 rebounds in the first half.