A few hours after the Los Angeles Lakers’ top brass abruptly fired coach Mike Brown and threw their season into turmoil before mid-November, Brown’s former players demonstrated why there’s still ample reason to think this team can be saved.
The Lakers should find out soon whether Phil Jackson gets the chance to do the saving — again.
Kobe Bryant scored 27 points, Pau Gasol added 14 points and 16 rebounds, and the Lakers doubled their win total with a 101-77 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Friday night.
Jordan Hill scored 14 points for the Lakers, who were uniformly stunned by Brown’s dismissal after just 18 months on the job. Following a bumpy first half against Golden State under interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff, they pulled away in the third quarter with a 25-9 run led by Bryant, who also had nine rebounds and seven assists.
”I think everybody didn’t know how to react to it emotionally,” Bryant said. ”Everybody had to just go about their business and play basketball. … A lot of the emotion that was picked up was kind of unleashed when we played.”
The comfortable victory capped one of the most tumultuous days in recent history for a franchise that’s never short on drama. With the high-priced veteran club off to a Western Conference-worst 1-4 start following a winless preseason, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and owner Jim Buss abruptly dismissed Brown, informing players during their morning shootaround.
Bickerstaff ran the Lakers as the interim coach, but the veteran NBA bench boss isn’t likely to be a candidate for the full-time job. Kupchak is searching for a replacement, possibly making a selection before the Lakers’ next game on Sunday against Sacramento.
The Lakers’ crowd quickly made its choice known: A chant of ”We want Phil!” rose out of the stands while Bryant shot a free throw in the third quarter, and echoed a few more times later in the half.
”I can understand why,” Bickerstaff said. ”The guy’s got the rings.”
Jackson, the 11-time NBA champion coach who won five rings in two previous stints running the Lakers, is near the top of Kupchak’s list again, the GM acknowledged. Mike D’Antoni, the former Knicks and Suns coach, also is thought to be a prime candidate.
Bryant said he would be thoroughly happy with Jackson, D’Antoni or former Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw in charge. Bryant’s injury struggles during Jackson’s final season would give him particular motivation for a third stint together.
”I wasn’t able to give him my real self because I was playing on one leg,” Bryant said. ”It’s always kind of eaten away at me that in the last year of his career … I couldn’t give him everything I had because I was playing on one knee.”
Dwight Howard had six points and eight rebounds while playing just 24 minutes for the Lakers in his ongoing return from offseason back surgery. Steve Nash, the other major addition to the club, watched from behind the bench, missing his fourth straight game with a small fracture in his leg. Nash will be out for at least another week, the Lakers announced after the game.
After the protracted drama between Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy and the six-time All-Star center, Howard met questions about the Lakers’ coaching staff with a smile and silence.
”I’m going to keep that to myself,” Howard said. ”I learned my lesson last year.”
Brown never got the chance to integrate the two stars into his new offense while they were dogged by health issues. Kupchak and Buss still needed to see more progress than the Lakers managed in the past six weeks, particularly on defense – and they saw it against the Warriors, who managed just 33.7 percent shooting and made 19 turnovers.
”We were just out of sync, no excuse,” Golden State coach Mark Jackson said. ”If you’re going to beat a good team on the road, you’ve got to take care of the basketball. We came in with the mindset to run, and they outscored us even in fast-break points. Just disappointed overall.”
Stephen Curry scored 18 points and Klay Thompson had 15 for the Warriors, who have lost five straight to the Lakers overall, and nine in a row at Staples Center since March 2008.
”I think we played well, but the score doesn’t say that,” Curry said. ”Defensively, we did a pretty good job. We’re just undersized down there, trying to battle the boards and the paint.”
The Lakers’ offensive struggles evaporated in the third quarter while they leaped to an 18-point lead over the undermanned Warriors, who struggled to contend inside without injured center Andrew Bogut.
Darius Morris had career highs of 10 points and five rebounds while playing the majority of the Lakers’ minutes at point guard. Los Angeles’ reserves have been largely ineffective during Brown’s tenure, but Morris and Hill led a spirited effort against the Warriors, outscoring their counterparts with Golden State 37-17.
NOTES: Lakers F Devin Ebanks was inactive after getting arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs early Friday morning. Rookie Darius Johnson-Odom made his NBA debut in the final minutes. … Warriors C Andris Biedrins came up roughly 2 feet short on an airballed free throw in the first half. The Latvian veteran has a career free throw shooting percentage just over 50 percent. … Brown went 42-29 with the Lakers, coaching them to the second round of the playoffs during the strike-shortened season before his abbreviated start to this fall.