By Mike Bresnahan Los Angeles Times January 14, 2011
Maybe it was the nostalgia of seeing two former teammates on the other side of the court, if such a weighty phrase of past times could even apply to a pair of recent breakups.
More likely it was merely the Lakers’ reverting back to the Lakers, messing around against sub-.500 teams, making a game out of what should have been a gallop to the official halfway point of the regular season.
Nobody expected a 55-point blowout for the second time in two games at Staples Center, but the New Jersey Nets came into Friday with a 3-18 road record and made the Lakers sweat for more than three quarters of a 100-88 victory.
Kobe Bryant followed up his 39-point outburst against Golden State with 27 points against a Nets team that used center Brook Lopez to peck away down low at the Lakers.
Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic had their moments in returning to play their former teammates, but Lopez had 35 points on 13-for-19 shooting.
Lopez was easily the best big man on the court, outdueling Andrew Bynum (two points, five fouls) and Pau Gasol (20 points, six-for-15 shooting).
After so many steps forward, the Lakers took one sideways, good enough to extend their winning streak to seven games but not strong enough to garner many postgame accolades.
“It took us a while to get ourselves in sync,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. “Lopez was a real tough handle for our big guys tonight and we didn’t give them much help.”
On the other hand, the Lakers (30-11) continued to break their habit of losing to under-.500 teams at home, gaffes against Indiana, Milwaukee and Memphis drifting a bit further into the distance.
From the start, it was a night to remember former teammates.
Farmar received his championship ring beforehand and the recently traded Vujacic was acknowledged via video tribute in the first quarter, complete with a “Thanks Machine” ending.
Vujacic had seen a dramatic statistical increase in his first 12 games with the Nets, averaging 11.3 points and 27.3 minutes, and he straightened out after a two-for-nine start Friday.
Vujacic had 17 points on seven-for-16 shooting and Farmar had 12 points on five-for-11 shooting.
To no one’s surprise, Bryant didn’t show them much mercy.
He dunked over Vujacic in the first quarter and also spun around Farmar for a reverse layup. In fact, Bryant had another efficient night, shooting at least 50% for the fifth time in six games.
“I think he’s got a real good ‘game mind’ going with himself . . . picking his spots and directing the traffic well,” Jackson said. “He’s been quick and he’s been quick [jumping] off the floor.”
The Nets (10-29) gave the Lakers problems in New Jersey last month, blasting them in the paint, 58-32, before eventually fading in the final minutes of a 99-92 Lakers victory.
The Lakers’ big men were ineffective in the first half Friday, Bynum going scoreless while attracting three fouls and Gasol making two of nine shots for six quiet points.
“[Lopez] had a good game,” Bynum said. “You’ve got to take your lumps when you get them.”
The Lakers’ 45-40 halftime edge eventually grew when Gasol made a few shots and Bryant kept hitting, though the Lakers lost again to the Nets in points in the paint, 44-36.
There was finally time for the Lakers to exhale after Shannon Brown’s 22-footer gave them an 84-76 lead with 5:55 to play. Bryant’s three-point play off a driving layup and a foul also helped on the next possession.