Passing the ball wasn’t working, so Kobe Bryant decided it was better to focus on his scoring.
Good idea, since nobody does that better at Madison Square Garden.
Bryant scored 33 points in another effortless night in the arena, and the Los Angeles Lakers cruised to a 113-96 victory over the struggling New York Knicks on Friday night.
Bryant scored 19 points in the first quarter, and perhaps only the lopsided score kept him from recording a sixth 40-point game here. He raised his career average at MSG to 30.5 points, edging past Carmelo Anthony and into the lead for tops among active players. Bryant also grabbed 10 rebounds, but it was his two quick turnovers on sloppy passes that helped the Knicks race to an 11-3 lead.
”I wanted to come out and play a good floor game, but they jumped us on early. They got momentum early, so try to see if I could get something going and try to get the momentum back,” Bryant said. ”Because I know if I knock down two or three shots in a row, all of sudden everybody says, ‘It’s going to be one of those nights.’ That takes momentum away from them.”
He took more than that, according to Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni.
”I thought Kobe definitely took us out of our game and took our hearts a little bit,” D’Antoni said. ”He made some tough shots, especially the first quarter.”
Pau Gasol added 20 points for the Lakers, who beat the Knicks for the eighth straight time overall and fifth in a row at the Garden, where Bryant owns the scoring record of 61 points that might’ve been in jeopardy if he played more than 29 minutes.
He sat on the bench in the fourth quarter, rising only to pump his fist a few times after baskets by teammates who were too good for the Knicks even without him.
Bryant shot 12 of 17 from the field and hit four three-pointers as the Lakers made 54 percent of their shots, two nights after the Clippers had no trouble with New York’s defense.
”We’re feeling good about what we’re doing,” Gasol said. ”We’ve been successful playing the way we’re playing. Active defensively. Understanding the important job on the defensive end and then playing pretty solid on the offensive end. We like the way things are going. We just got to keep it up.”
Amar’e Stoudemire had 24 points and 10 rebounds for the Knicks, who lost for the fourth time in five games and fell to 26-26, the first time they’ve been at .500 since they were 9-9 after beating Detroit on Nov. 28.
”We’ve got to get back on the right track. We’ve got to get our confidence back up, got to play solid basketball, doing the little things on the court with energy and with swagger,” Stoudemire said. ”We haven’t quite had our swagger for the past 2 1/2 weeks, so we’ve got to get back to what we’re used to doing and what we did well to start the year.”
Worse for New York, the All-Star forward picked up his 14th technical foul of the season, moving him two away from an automatic one-game suspension that seems a certainty with the pace he’s accumulated them.
The Lakers followed their 92-86 victory over archival Boston on Thursday by improving to 4-0 on a seven-game road trip while Staples Center prepares to host the Grammys. A stop in New York was a nice benefit for the Lakers, since regulars Ron Artest and Lamar Odom are from the city, coach Phil Jackson played and might’ve been coaching for the final time here, and Bryant loves playing in the building.
Knicks fans booed when he heard the usual ”MVP! MVP!” chants he gets here, but he was simply too good to keep his fans quiet for too long. His points came so easily early in the game that it seemed the record at the current building he set on Feb. 2, 2009, could fall.
But Knicks guard Raymond Felton, who scored 20, disagreed with D’Antoni about the effect of Bryant’s performance.
”He didn’t take my heart,” Felton said. ”He had a great game. He was hitting a lot of tough shots. But nobody takes my heart.”
Bryant’s jumper early in the third quarter had the lead up to 18, which the Knicks quickly cut in half. Bryant settled things down with a jumper, then pump-faked before nailing a three-pointer that put the Lakers ahead 77-62 with four minutes left in the period, and his night was over soon after.
Jackson has said this will be his last season as a coach, but said he wasn’t feeling nostalgic about this perhaps being his final game at Madison Square Garden.
”I’m not prone to that,” Jackson said, adding that riding up the elevator to the fifth floor at the arena ”makes you want to think about, ‘You know, I don’t want to do this anymore.”’
Bryant scored 20 points in the second half of Thursday’s win, and picked up right where he left off with 19 points on 7 of 9 shooting in the first quarter. His jumper at the buzzer gave Los Angeles a 30-28 lead.
The Lakers extended the lead with Bryant on the bench, with an acrobatic slam by backup Shannon Brown highlighting a 13-4 spurt that made it 48-37 midway through the second quarter. Los Angeles led by as much as 17 later in the period before taking a 62-48 advantage into the half.
NOTES: The Lakers improved to 9-1 on the second night of back-to-back games. … The Knicks were wearing the road uniforms they wore during the 1969-70 championship season, a team Jackson was on. … Bryant said he wouldn’t be opposed to playing in Italy if there is a lockout, but isn’t locked into that country. ”I’m not locked in to anywhere. I’m locked out,” he said. … The crowd included rapper Kanye West, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan — wearing a Walt Frazier Knicks jersey — and Vogue Magazine editor in chief Anna Wintour. … The Knicks last beat the Lakers on Feb. 13, 2007.