Reporting from East Rutherford, N.J. – Unfortunately for the New Jersey Nets, the toughest thing the Lakers had to face Saturday night was the weather.
No knock on the Nets, who have been knocked around plenty this season, but the Lakers ripped through them, eventually, after a bland first half while a blizzard swirled outside the Izod Center.
Kobe Bryant had 29 points and 10 rebounds and the Lakers beat the Nets, 103-84, before trying to beat the elements and get to Detroit for tonight’s game against the Pistons.
After a road game, players typically take a shower, talk to reporters and board a private bus bound for the closest airport, where they take a charter flight to the next city.
Enter a storm that slammed the mid-Atlantic region Saturday, dumping record-setting amounts of snow in Washington before heading north to New York.
The Lakers brushed the snow off their coats and stepped on to their buses, en route to a very long night, assuming they made it to Detroit.
“You might not [get there],” Coach Phil Jackson said to a reporter. “But we’re going to get there for sure.”
Bryant had 13 points in the third quarter to help the Lakers extend out to a 74-64 edge going into the fourth.
He then cruised through traffic under the basket and scored on a notable reverse layup, completing a three-point play after getting fouled to give the Lakers an 86-69 lead with 9:09 to play. New Jersey didn’t threaten again.
Pau Gasol had 14 points and 14 rebounds, giving him 92 rebounds in his last five games.
Within a few days, he is expected to sign an extension that will keep him under contract with the Lakers through 2013-14.
“It looks like things are going really well,” Gasol said. “On the date it is finalized, I’ll be extremely excited, but until that day I’m pretty conservative.”
There’s one thing he doesn’t mind discussing more liberally.
“I think the team and the ownership is doing their best to keep this nucleus together,” he said. “Obviously, I’d love to be a part of it as long as possible.”
The Lakers didn’t even appear to be trying in the first half, emptying their bench with surprising quickness.
Adam Morrison made an appearance in the first quarter. DJ Mbenga got some time early in the second quarter.
Then Josh Powell entered near the midpoint of the second.
“I screwed up the game playing all those guys, 11 guys in the first half, [trying to] get some rest for the guys that have to play back to back,” Jackson said. “We came out and played the kind of game we had to play in the second half.”
The Nets actually led at halftime, 48-46, but then the third quarter began. The Nets were down by 21 midway through the fourth.
The Lakers improved to 21-4, a game ahead of Boston for the league’s best record.
It was a strange, sparse atmosphere from the start, Lakers fans practically outnumbering Nets fans who braved the snowy roads.
In fact, there appeared to be more boos than cheers when Nets guard Devin Harris fouled Bryant by wrapping his arms around him and preventing a layup attempt midway through the third quarter. Lakers fans rewarded Bryant with an “M-V-P” chant as he shot free throws.
The Nets fell to an incomprehensible 2-26 on their way to four more dismal months.
They have already had a record-breaking season, slogging to the worst start in NBA history, 0-18, before beating Charlotte.
They fell to 1-10 at home and were swept by the Lakers for the third time in the last four seasons.
Three road victories in a row. Time to celebrate? Nah.
“We’re picking some better opponents,” Jackson said with sarcasm. “The schedule favored us. These teams are not .500 teams.”