Kobe Bryant never even emerged from the Los Angeles Lakers’ locker room, slowed by his sprained ankle and leveled by an apparent case of the flu.
The Lakers didn’t seem to miss him much while they rolled to another win in what’s turning into an awfully interesting second half of the season.
Antawn Jamison scored 27 points, Metta World Peace added 22, and the Lakers beat the Sacramento Kings 113-102 Sunday night for their sixth victory in seven games.
With Bryant missing his first game of the season to rest his sprained left ankle, the Lakers tightened their resolve and their rotation. Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni used just seven players, but Jamison and fellow reserve Steve Blake took charge in the second half as the Lakers (36-32) pulled away in the fourth quarter, keeping their one-game lead over Utah (34-32) for eighth place in the Western Conference and moving within a half-game of Houston (36-31) for seventh.
”We’re just not making any excuses,” Jamison said. ”We just looked ourselves in the mirror and said, `It’s up to us to turn this thing around.’ And I think we’ve been doing that since the All-Star break. We’re finally playing the way we’re capable of playing.”
Two days after beating Indiana for one of their most impressive road victories of the year, the Lakers persevered with nearly 57-percent shooting and balanced scoring in Bryant’s absence. The fifth-leading scorer in NBA history was hurt in the waning seconds of Los Angeles’ loss last Wednesday in Atlanta, and he played only the first quarter at Indiana.
Bryant decided not to play shortly before tipoff, and the Lakers said Bryant also is doubtful for Monday’s game at Phoenix.
Nobody thinks the Lakers are a better team without Bryant, but their smooth offensive movement suggested they know what to do with the ball when Kobe isn’t dominating it.
”That ball moves, and there are some good guys out there on the floor,” D’Antoni said. ”That ball needs to move, and if it does, then we’re really good.”
Steve Nash had 19 points and 12 assists, and Dwight Howard added 12 points and 17 rebounds in another superb all-around game as the Lakers pulled away in the fourth quarter of their seventh straight home win – and their first victory without Bryant and Pau Gasol in their lineup since Gasol joined the club on Feb. 1, 2008.
Although Howard went scoreless in the second half, he continued his impressive stretch of play after the All-Star break, grabbing at least 12 rebounds for the 14th straight game while blocking five shots. The All-Star center even made his first four free throws – before missing six straight.
”It’s tough for teams to play defense when the ball is moving like that,” Howard said. ”I was just happy with our effort. We had to really talk to each other. They hit a lot of 3’s, but it didn’t take us away from our principles.”
Blake had 16 points and eight assists while playing 34 minutes off the bench for the Lakers, who moved four games above .500 for the first time in their tumultuous season.
The Lakers lost a 10-point lead in the second quarter, but methodically moved ahead in the third. Los Angeles took its biggest lead of the game at 90-78 with 10 1/2 minutes to play, but Sacramento trimmed the margin with a 10-0 run before Blake’s defense foiled a 4-on-1 Kings fast break and catalyzed an 11-0 Lakers run to seal it.
”That was a good play for him,” said Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans, who scored 13 points on 6-for-19 shooting. ”But 4-on-1, we’ve got to get a bucket off that. … We didn’t make shots and didn’t get any fouls called. We stopped going to the basket and took a lot of jump shots, and they came down and made all their shots.”
Isaiah Thomas scored 26 points and Patrick Patterson had 22 for the Kings, who have lost 12 of 13 on the road. The Kings played without DeMarcus Cousins, who has a bruised left quadriceps.
The Kings have been one of the NBA’s highest-scoring teams since the All-Star break, and they routed Chicago in their last game. Sacramento couldn’t duplicate that scoring performance against the Lakers despite committing just three turnovers in the first three quarters.
”Some of their guys played great basketball, like they’ve done over their careers,” Kings coach Keith Smart said. ”Jamison is not a slouch. He comes in and plays a great role for them, and he made his jump shots. Steve Blake made some big-time 3s. Steve Nash is going to do his job. Dwight Howard is going show his post presence and do his job.”
Along with Bryant’s woes, Gasol hasn’t played for the Lakers since Feb. 5, missing 19 straight games with an injured right foot. The 7-foot Spaniard still hopes to return next week despite feeling discomfort during 2-on-2 drills Saturday.
NOTES:Howard has matched the longest stretch of his career with at least 12 rebounds in every game, equaling a 14-game stretch with Orlando in 2011. It’s also the longest such stretch by a player in the NBA this season. … Cousins didn’t make the trip to Los Angeles with the Kings, missing his second straight game. Jason Thompson struggled as Sacramento’s starting center, scoring four points on 2-for-8 shooting in 25 minutes. … Jack Nicholson wore neon-green sneakers at his courtside seat.