The Lakers weren’t great, just good enough. The Suns weren’t awful. They just came up short, quite literally.
Kobe Bryant scored 24 points and four other Los Angeles players reached double figures as the Lakers held off Phoenix 99-95 on Wednesday night.
”Oh,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said sarcastically, ”We’re a powerhouse now.”
Jared Dudley led the Suns with 21 points, including three of their 11 3-pointers, but the much bigger Lakers dominated the boards 47-31, including 14-5 on the offensive end.
Andrew Bynum scored 14 for Los Angeles, Shannon Brown had 13, Lamar Odom 12 and Ron Artest 11, including a wide-open 3 with 1:30 to play after Phoenix had cut the lead to one.
”He has made big shots before when the money is on the line, big money is on the line,” Bryant said of Artest. ”I have all the faith in the world in him.”
Artest, who got into an intense argument with Jackson in practice this week, said he can do more but sacrifices for the needs of the team.
”I still feel like a top 10 player in the NBA, but who cares?” Artest said. ”It depends on how we feel as a team. I work out a lot and I can take anybody in the post to the hole, get in rhythm and hit big buckets but that don’t really matter. We have a great team and what matters is that we move together. There will be chances to do what you have to do but there is no need to force it. ”
Pau Gasol scored only six points but grabbed nine rebounds for Los Angeles.
Steve Nash had 11 points and 10 assists for Phoenix. Vince Carter scored 14 but his extra-long 3-point attempt was blocked by Gasol in the final minute.
The Lakers won their second game in two nights to improve to 4-4 over their last eight. The Suns have lost 10 of 13.
Despite the loss, Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry thought his team played well.
”We have nothing tangible to show for it,” he said, ”but I think over the long haul, it’s going to help us win. … Last time I checked, they are the world champs. You can talk about them struggling if you want to, but until June rolls around they’re still the world champs.”
The Lakers shot 60 percent in the first quarter and used an 18-2 run to take a 29-17 lead on Brown’s three-point play. Mickael Pietrus, Channing Frye and Dudley sank 3-pointers to start a 22-10 surge that tied it at 39 with 7:08 left in the half.
Nash’s 3-pointer put the Suns up 47-46 with 2:22 to play in the half and Dudley’s third and final 3 of the night made it 50-46. Bryant made one of two free throws, then hit a 12-foot turnaround jumper to cut Phoenix’s lead to 50-49 at the break.
Bryant opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer and scored eight of his team’s first 10 points as the Lakers went back on top 59-53. The Suns cut it to two before the Lakers pulled away to an 80-73 lead entering the fourth.
Grant Hill said the Suns knew a quick charge was coming from the Lakers after halftime.
”Obviously, Kobe came out and was super aggressive,” Hill said, ”hit a bunch of jump shots and had a big quarter for them.”
Down 92-84 after Bryant’s 23-footer, Phoenix scored seven straight, capped by Carter’s 3-pointer from the corner, to cut the Lakers’ lead to 92-91 with 2:24 to go. But Brown made two free throws and, after Carter missed a short jumper, Bryant drove to the basket and found Artest alone in the corner for a 3 that boosted the lead to 97-91 with 1:30 to go.
The Suns, losers of six of their last seven, hadn’t played since an embarrassing 94-89 loss Sunday at Sacramento, where the Kings finished the game on a 19-2 run.
The Lakers’ last game had been their best after their recent struggles, a 108-83 win over Detroit in Los Angeles on Tuesday night.
NOTES: Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton was at the game, five nights before his Auburn team plays Oregon in nearby Glendale for the BCS championship. Ducks players also were in attendance. … The last time the teams played, Phoenix made a franchise-record 22 3-pointers, one shy of the NBA record. … The Lakers won at Phoenix for the second time this season. No other Pacific Division team has won even once at US Airways Center since the start of the 2008-09 season. … Gasol averaged 24.5 points and 12.5 rebounds in the first two meetings. … The Suns are home Friday night against the New York Knicks in Amare Stoudemire’s return to Phoenix.