Kobe’s 40 lift Lakers past Warriors

LOS ANGELES — Despite his recent claims of being tired, Kobe Bryant followed one of
the worst shooting games of his career with one of his best this
season.

Bryant came out with that “Black Mamba” look in his eyes
Sunday night, scoring 40 points on 16-of-28 shooting in a 120-112 win
over Golden State. It came one night after he missed his first 15 shots
against New Orleans, then scored 11 points in the fourth quarter to lead
the Lakers to an 88-85 win.

”It’s always interesting to me to
hear people talk after a game like that,” Bryant said, referring to the
critics who pounced on his struggles Saturday. ”The amount of idiots
that live out here after 16 years baffle me. I guess people just get
dumber over the years.”

Pau Gasol stepped up and took charge of
the middle with Andrew Bynum missing after spraining his left ankle in
the first quarter. Gasol went 11 for 17 from the field for 26 points to
go with 11 boards, six assists and three blocks. Ramon Sessions ran the
offense superbly again, scoring 23 points, his most as a Laker, with
nine assists and just three turnovers. L.A. also pulled down 50 rebounds
to the Warriors’ 29.

But the Lakers (33-20) once again struggled
to dispatch one of the league’s worst teams, leading to more talk of a
tired team. They’ve been one of the NBA’s best defensive units most of
the season, but haven’t gotten any easy wins lately, and the minutes
played keep adding up — especially for Bryant.

The future Hall of
Famer is the oldest Laker at 33 and leads in minutes per game with 38.6
—2 minutes and 10 seconds more than his career average. Last season he
averaged just 33.9 minutes, shooting 45.1 percent and scoring 25.3
points. This season Bryant is scoring 27.9 points but shooting just 42.1
percent, his worst mark since his rookie year of 1996-97. In his past
nine games he’s shooting 36.4 percent (71 of 195). Are too many minutes
starting to negatively affect his game?

“That might have something
to do with it, sure,” said Bryant, who was on the floor for more than
37 minutes against the Warriors. “But sometimes I’m getting good looks,
taking good shots and just missing. That happens. And sometimes you have
to sacrifice a little bit of stamina in order to make (key plays).”

Coach Mike Brown was dismissive when talking about the wear and tear on Bryant and the rest of his team.

“Sure,
I’d love to not have to play him as much; a couple minutes less (per
game) would be ideal,” Brown said. “But sometimes that’s the way it
goes. When I call for him, he’s always ready to go. Hopefully I can get
his and some of the others’ minutes down for the rest of the year,
because that would be ideal. But we’re playing to win.”

However,
wins haven’t been easy to come by lately, even at home where the Lakers
have a 22-5 record, fifth best in the league. Brown said the record
isn’t really indicative of a team that has dominated its home court.

“Our
home record is good,” Brown said to a reporter, “but maybe you can help
me here. How many times with 10 minutes left in the game have I been
able to undo my tie and cross my feet? I don’t know if we’ve owned (our
home court), because we aren’t beating teams by 20 or 15 or anything
like that.

“It’s been a dogfight for us at home or on the road.”

Whether
it’s fatigue, inconsistent effort or not enough practice time that
makes every contest seem like a war, Bryant is confident that will all
change once the playoffs arrive.

“With all the time in between
games, we’ll have plenty of rest,” Bryant insisted. “We’ll have more
practice time and less travel. That should take care of a lot of it.
We’ll be ready when the playoffs get here.”

NOTES: X-rays on
Bynum’s ankle showed a moderate sprain and he’ll be evaluated again at
Monday’s practice. ”He was able to walk out fine,” Brown said about
Bynum, who left before speaking with reporters. … The Lakers are 1½
games ahead of the Clippers for first place in the Pacific Division.
They’re 7½ behind Oklahoma City for the top spot in the Western
Conference. … Golden State’s bench gave the L.A. defense many more
problems than a bad team should. The Warriors’ reserves outscored the
Lakers’ 41-22, with Nate Robinson (17) and Richard Jefferson (16)
combining for 33 points, going 9 of 10 from behind the 3-point arc.