Just good defense or were the Lakers cheating in Game 1?

Tomorrow’s story tonight …

So, exactly how did the Lakers muzzle the Denver Nuggets in Game 1, limiting them to only 88 points on 35.6 percent shooting Sunday afternoon at Staples Center? The Lakers said it was a good defense; the Nuggets said it was cheating.

Denver coach George Karl said Lakers center Andrew Bynum was guilty of playing an illegal zone defense on “about 30″ possessions, which helped to account for his NBA-record tying 10 blocked shots.

“If people cut through the lane, you can touch them and you can stand there the whole time,” a smiling Bynum said when told of Karl’s accusation after the Lakers’ practice Monday in El Segundo. “That’s part of the game.”

The Nuggets seemed determined to take the ball at Bynum and fellow 7-footer Pau Gasol, and they paid the price. The Lakers blocked a playoff franchise record 15 shots and were never threatened late en route to a 103-88 victory.

The Lakers did an especially fine job of containing Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson, who averaged a team-leading 16.4 points during the regular season but scored only seven points on 3-for-11 shooting with two assists.

Additionally, the Lakers limited the Nuggets to only a handful of fast breaks in Game 1. Denver, the league’s top scoring team during the regular season with an average of 104.1 points, scored only 19 points on the run.

The Lakers held the Nuggets to 99 points or fewer in five games this season. The Lakers won three of four games during the regular season, limiting the Nuggets to 44.3 percent shooting. Denver averaged 47.6 percent shooting during the regular season.

“When we defend, we’re a very, very good team,” said Bynum, who also had 10 points and 13 rebounds Sunday. “When we try to outscore teams, it’s a toss-up. … Our guys did a great job of getting back. (Denver) didn’t get those quick outlet passes.”

Bynum said he expects the Nuggets to attempt to force the Lakers to play at a much faster pace tonight in Game 2, adding, “I think they’re going to try to speed the game up more than anything and make it a track meet.”

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Jordan Hill charged with alleged assault of ex-girlfriend in Houston (updated)

Jordan Hill has been charged with an alleged assault of a former girlfriend by the Harris County District Attorney in Houston, a felony. The celebrity gossip website TMZ first reported the story Monday. The website obtained a copy of a police report that indicates Hill allegedly assaulted former girlfriend Darlene Luna, leaving bruises on her legs and then attempted to choke her. The report was filed one month after the alleged incident.

Hill has not been arrested. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison.

He said in a statement: “I’m saddened to learn of the accusations that were filed against me today. At this time I cannot comment further other than to say that my attorneys are working to gather all of the facts and evidence and I plan to cooperate completely with the authorities.

“I’d like to apologize to the Lakers organization and to all of their fans for the untimeliness of these accusations. I promise to keep my focus and attention on the playoffs during this time and to helping my team win another championship.”

Hill later told reporters he didn’t expect to miss any games or practices.

The Lakers acquired Hill from the Houston Rockets for Derek Fisher and a first-round draft pick March 15, part of a restructuring of their roster. Hill played only limited minutes until winning a place in the rotation in the final week of the regular season. He scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the Lakers’ victory Sunday over the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of their opening-round playoff series.

“We are aware of the media reports alleging an incident involving Jordan Hill from two months ago when he was a member of the Houston Rockets,” the Lakers said in a statement emailed to reporters. “We do not have any details regarding these reports and therefore, as well as due to the personal and leg aspects, it would not be appropriate for us to comment.”

The Lakers referred further questions to Hill’s agent, Kevin Bradbury.

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Kobe Bryant asking more of his Lakers teammates

Tomorrow’s story tonight …

The playoffs were once the exclusive Lakers domain of superstar guard Kobe Bryant. Anything and everything seemed to be centered on him, and his teammates were simply along for the ride as the Lakers charged through the postseason.

It worked well enough while they won two championships in three trips to the NBA Finals from 2008 to 2010. He won consecutive Finals MVP awards while guiding the Lakers to victories over the Orlando Magic in ’09 and the Boston Celtics in ’10.

New postseason, new routine.

Bryant has encouraged — or maybe demanded — the rest of the team step up. They are no longer a supporting cast, acting as his wingmen, but active participants because he trusts them and knows they can play to a higher level.

Certainly, it was evident as the Lakers edged away from the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 on Sunday afternoon at Staples Center. Bryant asked his teammates to do more, and they delivered during a comprehensive 103-88 victory.

“You have to force the game on them,” Bryant said. “It’s very easy sometimes when a player has a lot of talent to want to do everything, but that’s not going to get it done. You have to have everybody on the floor making decisions.

“In turn, it makes us a better team.”

Bryant has been after his teammates to accept larger roles all season, but especially after a left shin injury sidelined him for seven games earlier this month. He sat on the bench and played the role of an assistant coach, tutoring and mentoring.

Even two of the newest Lakers got the message.

“He told me, ‘If we go down, we want you shooting the ball. If you shoot 20 shots, shoot 20 shots, but stay aggressive,’” said point guard Ramon Sessions, who scored 14 points on 6-for-11 shooting in his playoff debut.

“If Kobe says it, hey, I’m good to go.”

Jordan Hill, another Laker making his playoff debut, got an earful, too.

Hill added to the Lakers’ newfound balance by scoring 10 points and taking 10 rebounds in 24 minutes, 17 seconds in a reserve role. He and Sessions were acquired in separate trades March 15, no longer newcomers but important contributors.

“Just got to go out and do it,” Hill said. “It’s got to be a team effort. Kobe is relying on everybody on the floor. Everybody is relying on each other. Everybody can do everything. It’s a team thing. Everybody knows Kobe’s the greatest. He can do it.

“But Kobe’s trying to put the team first.”

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Matt Barnes expects to play despite sprained ankle

Matt Barnes said Saturday afternoon that he would play in Game 1 against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday at Staples Center despite suffering from a sprained right ankle that forced him from the Lakers’ victory April 21 over the Oklahoma City Thunder and sidelined him for Thursday’s regular-season finale against the Sacramento Kings.

Barnes expects to serve as a backup to Devin Ebanks at small forward.

Metta World Peace will serve the second game of his seven-game suspension.

“I’m going to play no matter what,” Barnes said. “We know (World Peace) is not here for the first round. There’s nothing we can do about it. We just have to play hard. I want to come in a provide energy and do what I do before I got hurt.”

Asked what troubled him most about his sprained ankle, Barnes said, “Moving.”

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Lakers coach Mike Brown looking forward to playoffs after the grind of the regular season

Friday afternoon reading …

No more games on consecutive nights. No more games on back-to-back-to-back nights either. No more days without practice because the players are too exhausted.

Goodbye lockout-impacted regular season. Hello playoffs.

The third-seeded Lakers begin the postseason Sunday afternoon against the No. 6 Denver Nuggets at Staples Center. Game 2 is Tuesday at Staples, with the best-of-7 series then shifting to Denver’s Pepsi Center for Game 3 on Friday and Game 4 on May 6.

Lakers coach Mike Brown can’t wait. It would seem the hard part is over.

Now the Lakers can show what they’ve learned from their new coach.

“For as short as the season was, with no training camp or practices, I feel good where our team is sitting,” Brown said. “I thought our guys did a nice job of trying to learn whatever we were throwing out to them initially.

“They’ve made changes. We’ve made changes. I think it’s been a good thing.”

Brown didn’t have the time he needed to install his new offensive and defensive schemes after taking over for the retired Phil Jackson last May. Brown had only two weeks and two exhibitions to prepare his team once the lockout ended in December.

The Lakers learned on the run, and after some trials and tribulations, they began to adapt after the All-Star break in late February. It wasn’t easy for them to ditch Jackson’s triangle offense in favor of Brown’s low-post oriented game plan.

They began the season struggling to top 100 points, but by the end they were reaching it comfortably and occasionally at the expense of their defense. Their offense started with Kobe Bryant as the focal point back in December, but became more diverse with 7-footer Andrew Bynum playing a larger role.

“I think our guys have done a marvelous job of finishing third in the West when we could have easily finished sixth, seven, eighth or whatever and not thought twice about it because of all the changes we went through,” Brown said.

“The (offensive) foundation is pretty much the same, but we’ve tweaked it here and there. We’ve also tweaked some of our half-court (plays) to some of our guys’ strengths now that we know what our guys’ strengths are.”

Brown figured it would be difficult, but “it was probably worse,” than he imagined. “It was the toughest season I’ve been a part of,” he added. “All I can say is we had to do stuff on the fly. In the past, I kind of always had a hard time letting things go.”

So, if something didn’t click immediately, he had to try something else.

“You had to move on to the next thing because you don’t want to overload the guys with information,” Brown said after the regular-season finale Thursday. “It’s been a year of change for me, I know that much. A lot of learning, yes.”

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Metta World Peace: ‘I didn’t lose it’

Metta World Peace insisted Wednesday he did not “lose it” when he elbowed James Harden of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the head giving him a concussion during the Lakers’ double-overtime victory Sunday afternoon at Staples Center.

World Peace also said he reached out to Harden through a third party and was happy to learn he was OK. Harden couldn’t continue in Sunday’s game and did not play in the Thunder’s contest Tuesday against the Sacramento Kings.

“We’re probably going to see each other in the playoffs, potentially, so I didn’t want to do any direct calls. Stay competitive,” World Peace said after the Lakers’ practice. “Through a friend, they said he was doing OK. …

“It was a brutal elbow. When I seen it (on a replay), I was, like, ugh, immediately.”

The NBA suspended World Peace for seven games, including Thursday’s regular-season finale against the Kings in Sacramento. He could be done for the season if the Lakers lose a first-round playoff series against either Dallas or Denver.

World Peace expressed surprise at the length of his 14th career suspension during the latest edition of his podcast, which was released Wednesday. He declined to repeat his comments when reporters asked him about it after the Lakers’ practice, however.

“I should say what’s on my mind, but I don’t want to make any excuses right now,” he said. “It’s no time for excuses. If I start talking about that, I’m going to open myself up to excuses. It’s hard for me to speak about the (number of) games (of the ban).”

He went on to describe what happened on the play before he struck Harden.

“I was just way too emotional,” he said. “There was a lot of passion involved, but it was erratic. It was way too much. Definitely wasn’t meant to hit him how I hit him. That’s the best way I could describe those sequence of plays and that erratic passion. …

“Who can write up a left-hand dunk and then all of a sudden somebody is right behind you? It’s hard to draw that up and to play something like that. It was just the worst timing for me. The way I’m feeling right now, (I’m) back to that elite level.

“It’s funny because a lot of guys that was able to guard me early (in the season), they have no chance now. They can’t guard me. My game’s feeling great. It’s just the worse timing for me right now, but I’m happy that James is OK.”

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Metta World Peace draws a seven-game suspension

So much for World Peace.

Metta World Peace of the Lakers received a seven-game suspension Tuesday from the NBA for his wicked elbow to the head of James Harden of the Oklahoma City Thunder during Sunday afternoon’s game at Staples Center.

Harden suffered a concussion and was unable to play in tonight’s game against the Sacramento Kings. World Peace’s suspension will begin with the Lakers’ regular-season finale Thursday against the Kings and continue into the playoffs.

The punishment figured to be harsh, but perhaps not as much as it could have been given his history. World Peace, then known as Ron Artest, received a league-record 86-game suspension for fighting with fans in Auburn Hills, Mich., in November 2004.

“The concussion suffered by James Harden demonstrates the danger posed by violent acts of this kind, particularly when they’re directed at the head area,” NBA commissioner David Stern said in a statement. “We remain committed to protect the safety of NBA players, including the imposition of appropriate penalties for players with a history of on-court altercations.”

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said he supported the league’s ruling.

“Metta has for the most part been a model citizen both on and off the court since joining the Lakers,” Kupchak said in a statement. “Still, his most recent lapse in judgment is not to be condoned or accepted. His actions could have seriously injured another player, and his absence during this suspension will hurt our team as well. While we accept the league’s decision, we will be supportive of Metta and try to help him be more professional on the court.”

Lakers coach Mike Brown said he spoke to World Peace about Sunday’s incident and heard him tell the same story he told reporters in a brief statement after the game, after which he declined to take questions.

“He said he went up and dunked the ball,” Brown said. “He said he was celebrating. As he came down the floor, he said he hit the kid with an elbow. He said it was an accident. Whether it was an accident or not, I don’t know. … Should that have happened? No, it shouldn’t have happened.”

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Lakers center Andrew Bynum: ‘I just played poorly’

Andrew Bynum’s line in the final box score told only part of the story of his play Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He scored 10 points on 5-for-15 shooting with eight rebounds and five blocked shots in 28 minutes, 57 seconds.

But it was the way Bynum played that forced coach Mike Brown to find someone else to play the key moments of the Lakers’ double-overtime victory over the Thunder. Brown picked Jordan Hill to replace Bynum for the fourth quarter plus OT.

“I was playing terribly and he made the right decision,” Bynum said. “I didn’t play well and Jordan played great, so credit Jordan with the win. He came up big for us, (Devin) Ebanks came up huge and (Steve) Blake made only two 3s, but they were huge.

Bynum’s lack of aggression was overshadowed by the Lakers’ rally from an 18-point deficit in the third quarter, Kobe Bryant scoring 21 of his 26 points after halftime, Hill’s 14 points and 15 rebounds and Metta World Peace’s second-quarter ejection.

Bynum is averaging career-bests of 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds this season, but has come under heavy criticism for some rather immature behavior, including an ill-advised 3-pionter that got him benched for part of a March 27 game against Golden State.

“I just played poorly,” Bynum said after the Lakers’ 114-106 victory over the Thunder. “It’s easily fixable. I don’t think I was posting up hard and they (the Thunder’s defenders) were getting in front of me. I wasn’t being aggressive.”

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Olympics are not in Andrew Bynum’s summer plans

SAN ANTONIO — Team USA lost its starting center when Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic decided to undergo season-ending back surgery that also will keep him out of the 2012 London Games.

Andrew Bynum, the Lakers’ 7-foot center, would seem to be a logical choice to replace Howard except for the fact that he believes he would be better off spending the summer relaxing with a cool drink under an umbrella somewhere warm.

“Probably not,” Bynum said when asked if he would consider playing in the Olympics. “I’ve got to take care of my legs in the offseason. I’ve got some things (treatment) planned on my knees. I need it. I need to have some therapy.”

Bynum’s history of knee trouble began when he suffered a partial dislocation of his left knee in a game Jan. 13, 2008 against the Memphis Grizzlies. He tore the medial-collateral ligament in his right knee Jan. 31, 2009 against the Grizzlies.

“For selfish reasons you always worry about Andrew’s knees and health and the wear and tear on that part of his body, so the more games and more practices he has it’s more wear and tear,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said Friday morning.

“You hope he takes the summer and rests, especially after a long playoff run.”

Bynum made the Western Conference All-Star team for the first time this season and was averaging career-bests of 18.9 points and 12.1 rebounds going into the Lakers’ game Friday night against the San Antonio Spurs.

Bynum has not played for Team USA in the past, which figures to be a strike against him as the June 1 deadline for the roster’s selection approaches. The style of play in the Olympics also might not make it necessary to find a replacement for Howard.

“I think the international game is a little different, you don’t necessarily have to have a power guy or skill guy around the basket, especially the way these international teams play and the zones you face,” Brown said.

“Yeah, I think he’d be great for anybody and everybody, but it’s just a matter of what Coach K (coach Mike Krzyzewski) and his staff, and (USA Basketball chairman Jerry) Colangelo are looking for.”

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Lakers ready to welcome Kobe Bryant back with open arms

Afternoon reading …

SAN ANTONIO — The Lakers said they don’t expect a significant adjustment period when superstar guard Kobe Bryant returns to their starting lineup Friday against the San Antonio Spurs, although it took them several games to learn to play well without him and it might take time for them to learn to play with him again.

The Lakers were 5-2 with Bryant sat out with an injured left shin.

“It will be good to have him back because we need to get used to playing the way we play with him, and we play at our best with him in the lineup,” power forward Pau Gasol said after scoring 22 points and adding 11 rebounds and 11 assists in the Lakers’ victory Wednesday over the undersized and inexperienced Golden State Warriors.

“I can’t wait to have Kobe back,” World Peace said. “I just can’t wait. I’ll be so happy to have him back and get him back in shape. I came here to play with Kobe. I know what type of player Kobe is, and I want to win some rings.

“That’s why I came to Los Angeles.”

World Peace was a member of the Lakers’ 2009-10 championship team, when he was known as Ron Artest. He changed his name last summer.

“We’ve been playing well (without Bryant),” World Peace said. “We’ve just been finding out a lot of things about ourselves. I had to do this when I was in Sacramento with Kevin Martin and John Salmons. I had to sit out some games. I was scoring a lot, but I didn’t see what other guys could do and I wasn’t giving other guys the opportunity. then I realized that these guys would really play and then that grew confidence in guys.

“It’s the same situation. Kobe is seeing something.”

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