Lakers 98, Magic 92
Shannon Brown began the day with an invitation to the slam dunk contest. He ended it by showing he's got a whole lot more than just hops and jams in his growing game.
And the Los Angeles Lakers reminded the Orlando Magic there's much more to these champions than just Kobe Bryant.
Brown scored a career-high 22 points, Pau Gasol had 17 points and 10 rebounds, and Los Angeles scored the first 15 points of the fourth quarter Monday night for a 98-92 victory in the first rematch of last season's NBA finals.
The Lakers (32-9) reached the midway point of the regular season and sent themselves off on an eight-game road trip with a late surge that showed exactly what they can do without much help from Bryant. Although the superstar scored just 11 points on 4-of-19 shooting after taking a hard hit on his broken finger early on, his teammates led Los Angeles to its 18th win in 19 home games.
Brown scored nine points in the fourth, while Lamar Odom and Jordan Farmar combined for 13 straight points while the Lakers roared away in the opening minutes of the final period.
``We knew they were going to be ready to get some kind of revenge from the series, so we knew how the (reserves) played would be really important,'' said Brown, whose ferocious dunking has made him an early favorite for the All-Star showcase next month in Dallas. ``If you want to be the best at this game, you've got to have a great all-around game. I definitely work on more than my dunks.''
The Lakers have played 26 of their first 41 games at home, an advantage that will even up during a 14-day trip that begins Thursday at Cleveland in a meeting of the NBA's two conference leaders. The Lakers haven't lost at home since the Cavaliers' visit on Christmas, winning seven straight.
Farmar scored 11 points and Odom had nine points and 16 rebounds for the Lakers, who trounced the Magic in five games in the finals last summer. While Los Angeles appears to be a clear title contender, Orlando's future is murkier after seven losses in nine games.
``We started (the season) out great, and then teams started changing their game plans against us,'' Dwight Howard said. ``So we've just got to do a better job of figuring out other teams' game plans and go forth from there. I know we've been in a tough stretch, but we've just got to continue to work. We're going to get over this.''
Howard had 24 points - but just one field goal after halftime - and 12 rebounds for the Magic, who wrapped up a four-game road trip with their third straight defeat. The way Orlando lost was even more disconcerting, with a wildly up-and-down performance that bottomed out in the fourth, when the Magic didn't manage a field goal for nearly six minutes.
``I don't think they put the clamps on me (in the second half),'' Howard said. ``They just double-teamed, and I had to pass it out to guys who hit shots. We just turned the ball over too much in the second half, and they went on a big run.''
Momentum reversed abruptly throughout the night, with the Lakers dominating much of the first half before Orlando overwhelmed them in the third quarter with a 20-2 run, turning a nine-point deficit into a nine-point lead in less than 7 minutes.
Odom and Farmar then took charge entering the fourth quarter, erasing the Magic's 68-64 lead. Gasol's jumper put the Lakers up 79-68 with 7:42 left, and the Magic never got closer than four points on Vince Carter's 3-pointer in the final seconds.
``It just took us a minute to collect ourselves a little bit, and then we got back to it,'' said Bryant, whose finger hampered his game. ``Every time it gets hit real good like it did tonight, it really feels fractured. I've just got to take it as it comes.''
Bryant managed just four points in the first half before a 1-for-8 effort in the third quarter, falling well short of the 30 points he needed to become the youngest player in NBA history to score 25,000 points.
Orlando also got little from Carter, who's struggling with his sprained left shoulder. He has played sparingly in January, sitting out three games before returning at Portland last Friday. Although he went to the bench late in the second quarter grimacing and holding his shoulder, he returned in the second half to finish his nine-point, 3-of-11 performance.
``I got hit (on the shoulder) three times. The first one was the worst one,'' Carter said. ``It's a little sore and swollen, and that's just the way it's going to be until it has time to heal. It's one of those things, like, how long do you sit out? Is it good enough to move? Yeah, but when it gets hit, then it's a little sore. It's a tough situation.''
Notes: Unless Bryant goes nearly scoreless for the next month, he'll be the youngest player to score 25,000 points. He also was the youngest player to score 23,000 and 24,000, although he had a big head start over Wilt Chamberlain by skipping college. ... Courtside fans included Adam Sandler, Leonardo DiCaprio and model Bar Refaeli, and California first lady Maria Shriver.