Kobe still taking his anger out on Suns
LOS ANGELES -- Whenever Kobe Bryant spots Phoenix coming up on the schedule, he makes it a point to tell anyone within earshot about how much he dislikes the Suns.
"Yeah, I definitely feel that way," the league's leading scorer said. "There's a lot of history between these two franchises and things have been said that I'll never forget."
On Friday night he reminded Phoenix how deep his feelings run, scoring 36 points to lead the Lakers to a 111-99 win at Staples Center. In two games against the Suns, Bryant has scored 84 points, dropping 48 on them when they met Jan. 10. The Lakers won that one as well, 99-83.
Los Angeles is now 18-12 — 13-2 at Staples Center — and rank fifth in the Western Conference. The Suns have now lost four straight and are 12-19 — 7-11 away from home — and currently out of the playoff picture.
The Lakers defense has carried the team all season, but it took a back seat to the offense for once, as they scored a season-high 111 points. In fact, the defense had a huge letdown in late third and most of the fourth quarter, coasting along with a 20-point lead that was cut to five with 4:28 left.
Derek Fisher re-entered the game, hit a shot, and 2½ minutes later dropped a 3-pointer, giving the Lakers an 11-point lead and sealing the victory. It's been an extremely rough season so far for the veteran Fisher, averaging just 5.1 points and 3.7 assists in 25.7 minutes going into Friday's game. But he still has the knack of hitting the crucial bucket, a trait that hasn't gone unnoticed by head coach Mike Brown.
"Derek...was very solid for us throughout the course of the game," Brown said. "He was pretty efficient shooting the basketball. He came back in the game (in the fourth quarter) and hit (that) big shot from the baseline to get us a little bit of momentum back.
"Even when he's struggled in games, he's dangerous because of his ability to hit a big shot or make a play."
Of course, it was the all-world play of Bryant that had everyone buzzing throughout the second half.
The 14-time All Star had nine rebounds, six assists and four steals and he scored 18 of his 36 in the third quarter. He made the Suns pay for their lack of interior defense by scoring 6 of his 8 baskets in the third quarter from 7 feet or closer, including a layup.
"I'd say so," the Lakers guard acknowledged when asked if playing the Suns brings out the best in him. "Like I've said, I just don't like that franchise. I don't really get into the reasons but one day when I'm retired I'll see some of the players and let them know how I feel."
Much — if not all — of it stems from the first round of the 2006 playoffs. The Lakers jumped out to a 3-1 series lead, before the Suns took the last three to advance. In Game 5, Raja Bell viciously clotheslined Bryant (Bell received a one-game suspension) and in the deciding Game 7, Kobe scored just one point in the second half of the loss. The Lakers lost to Phoenix four games to one in 2007, and Bryant has said that he was furious with the way things went down those two years, especially some chirping done by the Suns — specifically Bell and Tim Thomas — who are long gone from the Valley of the Sun. Why Bryant chooses to let it continue to rile him is known only to him, but it works as the Lakers have won three in a row against Phoenix and five of the past six.
The rest of the team seemed equally motivated with Andrew Bynum scoring 17 points and grabbing 14 rebounds; Pau Gasol with 10 points and 13 rebounds; Fisher had 12; and Matt Barnes came off the bench for 17 points on 6-7 shooting and seven rebounds. Bryant says his team is finally putting it together on both ends of the floor.
"We're getting there," Bryant said. "It's a process, and we don't have much practice time. So we're getting our practices in (during the games). But it's getting better, yeah.
"I think we're doing good for this stretch in the first half (of the season). It's been difficult, but I'm fairly pleased with where we are at this point."
NOTES: Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping was at the game, arriving in the second quarter. He was greeted outside Staples Center by protesters waving banners condemning China's alleged human rights abuse.
Center Marcin Gortat was a force, leading the Suns with 21 points and 16 rebounds. Point guard Steve Nash had 11 points and 17 assists. Former Laker Shannon Brown — who hadn't played in six of the past seven games, scored 15 points in 20 minutes.
The Lakers travel to Phoenix for a Sunday evening game against the Suns.