All smiles after an all-too-rare victory, Kobe Bryant got a locker-room visit from Attorney General Eric Holder, who wanted to know how the Los Angeles Lakers’ point-guard-by-default was holding up.
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”I’m beat up,” replied Bryant, who sat at his locker with a cold pack on his bothersome back, wraps on both knees and feet in a plastic tub filled with water and ice. ”Trucking along, though.”
Straining to work out the kinks in an offense coach Mike D’Antoni compared to dancing with two left feet, the Lakers ended a four-game losing streak by holding off the worst-in-the-NBA Washington Wizards 102-96 on Friday night, thanks in large part to Bryant’s 30 points and seven assists, along with Jodie Meeks’ 24 points.
”We’re not there yet, we’re not even close. We’re not close to being a good team,” said D’Antoni, who at one point stomped his foot in anger at his 10-14 club. ”But can you build on it? I hope so.”
He also called his players ”lackadaisical” and ”lethargic.”
Bryant made only 9 of 29 shots, and he took one particularly painful tumble to the court, but his performance also included one real highlight-reel play. With a little under 1 1/2 minutes left, he sneaked in from the 3-point arc to tip in a missed free throw by Dwight Howard, who was 4 for 8 at the line and finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds.
”All night, I’m missing easy shots left and right, and I have no idea how that one went in,” Bryant said.
Howard kiddingly called it ”a set play … called `12 Miss,”’ a reference to his uniform number.
He and Bryant appeared to get into a heated exchange on court during a break in the action; Howard said they were discussing defensive strategy after a breakdown.
A night after joking about wanting to face the Washington Generals, the Harlem Globetrotters’ longtime foils, Bryant almost got more than his team could handle against the Wizards.
Led by reserve Cartier Martin’s season-high 21 points, Washington led by as many nine points in the first half and, after trailing by as many 16 in the second, closed to 92-89 on Nene’s free throws with 5 1/2 minutes left in the game.
But Howard made a jump hook, and then, with 4 1/2 minutes remaining, Martell Webster was called for a foul on Bryant on a 3-point attempt, even though a replay appeared to show no contact.
”Controversial call. … I don’t agree with it,” said Webster, who scored 17 points.
Said Wizards coach Randy Wittman: ”I thought there were some very questionable calls down the stretch, but those things tend to do that – go their way.”
Bryant made all three free throws, and the Lakers were on their way, awkward offense and all.
Before tipoff, D’Antoni offered a less-than-flattering description of his team’s choreography.
”Every good offense is a rhythm, and our rhythm is offbeat right now,” D’Antoni said. ”It’s like we’ve got two left shoes, trying to dance.”
D’Antoni had his players do a film session and walkthrough at a ballroom at their hotel.
”I felt like we had a pretty good feel of how Mike, today at morning brunch, kind of communicated how he wanted the offense to flow. Moving the ball, and if you have a shot, take it. If not, continue to let the ball hop,” Bryant said. ”We got the message. We did a pretty good job of it. That’s why you saw Meeks have a big game.”
Neither of these teams is whole at the moment. The Lakers are still without Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, and Jordan Hill sat out Friday with back spasms. The Wizards have been without point guard John Wall, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, all season, and they’re also missing forwards Trevor Ariza and Trevor Booker, along with point guard A.J. Price, at the moment.
A pair of 10-0 runs by Los Angeles in the third quarter appeared to put the outcome beyond doubt.
The second spurt included eight consecutive points from Bryant, who hit a pair of free throws, a 12-foot step-back jumper – with 4 minutes left in the quarter, it was Bryant’s first field goal since the final 10 seconds of the opening period – a 17-foot pull-up jumper, and then a tap-in off an alley-oop pass that made it 78-64.
On that last play, Bryant got knocked to the court. He stayed down on the baseline for a few moments, then moved around gingerly for a bit.
He stayed in, however, and kept scoring.
Afterward – and before his moment with Holder – Bryant was asked if he was excited about his team’s, um, one-game winning streak.
”I am, actually,” Bryant said with a loud laugh. ”I am. I am. I’m very, very happy to win one … game.”
Notes: Nene also had 17 points for the Wizards. … Minus Gasol and Hill, D’Antoni gave F Devin Ebanks his first start of the season. Ebanks had eight points, five rebounds and five fouls in 27 minutes. … Wall can ”ramp things up” as he recovers from a stress injury to his left knee cap, Wittman said, but there’s still no specific timetable for his return. Wall was re-examined in New York by Dr. David Altchek, who said Wall is showing improvement but that there is still some irritation in the knee. Altchek said Wall has been treated with three lubricating injections.