Too much Kobe for Pistons
By LARRY LAGE,
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) Kobe Bryant simply took a step forward, rebounded his missed free throw and easily made a jumper.
The Los Angeles Lakers star said it was luck.
The Detroit Pistons saw it differently.
Bryant scored 28 points and helped the Lakers build a big lead in a 93-81 victory over Detroit on Sunday night.
Los Angeles closed a trip with a four-game winning streak and an NBA-best 22-4 record, but Bryant says the defending champions can improve.
“It’s a great sign,” he said. “We believe we can be better and we will be better because we push each other.”
Three of Detroit’s best players wore sportcoats: Richard Hamilton, Ben Gordon and Tayshaun Prince.
The Lakers, though, didn’t have much sympathy because travel woes led to them getting to their Detroit-area hotel at 4 a.m. Sunday after beating the New Jersey Nets on Saturday night.
Bryant said he fell asleep at about 6 a.m.
He looked more awake late in the first quarter, when Detroit allowed him to grab a ball that bounced in the lane after his miss at the line, setting him up for a shot that gave the Lakers a 22-13 lead.
“It’s pretty rare,” he said. “It’s just luck.”
The Pistons disagreed.
“Those are the little things that end up biting you in the butt,” Detroit coach John Kuester said.
That wasn’t the only play in which the Lakers played with more energy.
Los Angeles took the lead with an 11-0 run midway through the first quarter, started the second ahead by 12, had an 18-point lead at halftime and a 21-point cushion after three quarters.
“They were the aggressor,” Kuester said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson seemed to be resting Bryant, Ron Artest and Pau Gasol for the final quarter, but he put the trio back in with 5-plus minutes left and a 15-point lead.
“We answered the bell for about the first half of the first round,” Jackson said. “After that, it was one of the our most poorly played games of the year.
“Even with the lead we had built, we still had to use our starters down the stretch to finish off the game. We’ve got to be better than this going forward.”
Bryant likely gave Jackson what he was looking for, hustling to make a steal a couple minutes later and scoring on a layup.
Detroit pulled within eight points with 1:45 left, but Jackson called a timeout and Bryant made a basket, the Lakers got a stop and Gasol hit a layup to make it 93-81.
“I hate the way that game ended,” Lamar Odom said. “Fourth quarters like that are my pet peeve – we get up by 20 and stop playing.”
Andrew Bynum scored 16 points, Artest had 14 points and a season-high nine assists, and Gasol added 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Lakers.
“Energy is never going to be a problem for that team because they’ve got so many guys to throw at you that they don’t have to worry about getting tired,” Detroit’s Chucky Atkins said. “If Kobe gets tired, they go to Pau Gasol. If he gets tired, they’ve got Ron Artest, then there is Bynum, and Derek Fisher hits a couple 3s, and they can bring Lamar Odom off the bench.”
Rodney Stuckey scored 16 points, Swedish rookie Jonas Jerebko had 15 and rookie reserve Austin Daye added 10 points for the Pistons, who have lost four straight after winning five in a row.
The Pistons were without Hamilton (right hamstring), Gordon (left ankle) and Prince (back) because of nagging injuries.
“I thought we were going to beat them,” Kuester insisted. “I believe in the guys we have dressed.”
Artest’s recent comments about Ben Wallace added intrigue to the matchup, but it ended up being very uneventful.
Artest said in a Sporting News interview he was still ready to fight Wallace – the player who shoved him on the play that started the 2004 brawl with the Pistons, Pacers and fans at The Palace.
Artest was often booed when he had the ball, but that was the extent of the jeering while he and Wallace showed no signs of animosity on the court.
“I don’t have any problem with Ben or anyone here,” Artest said. “But that was five years ago and I’ve given a lot of quotes about it. I have to save some.”
Artest was asked if the feud with Wallace was over.
“That’s up to y’all,” he said.
NOTES: Bryant was called for a technical early in the second quarter, arguing about a call that didn’t go his way. … Larry Foote and Dewayne White of the Lions had front-row seats at the game, which started less than 2 hours after a loss to Arizona. … The Pistons had won five straight at home.
Updated December 20, 2009