Lakers Feed on the Hawks


It wouldn’t be a full day in the lives of the Lakers without a bit of reality, uncomfortable as it usually is for them.

So, here goes--those were the Atlanta Hawks, arguably the worst offensive team in basketball, within seven points of the defending NBA champions Friday night.

Beyond that, just another night at Staples Center, where the crowd got interested when the Lakers did, which is whenever the Hawks drew to within seven points, or when free food was on the line.


Playing in their seventh city in 11 days, the Lakers defeated the Hawks, 113-106. They have won three consecutive games and eight of 10. Shaquille O’Neal scored 30 points, 10 in the fourth quarter that pretty much finished the Hawks, who trailed by 17 at the half.

Kobe Bryant did not play again because of his sprained right ankle. He said afterward that he hoped to play Sunday against Orlando, but his tone was not optimistic.

“I am able to put some pressure on it right now,” Bryant said as he walked to his car. “As far as extending it, it’s a little better. It’s getting better.”

Without him, Coach Phil Jackson again went deeper into his bench, and the players down there grinned and happily launched shots.

Jackson actually harbored some fear of the Hawks, considering they arrived with a terrible record and immediately after the Lakers’ six-game trip. As is their tendency, the Lakers chose to expend their energy on offense and save it on defense. The Hawks’ Chris Crawford scored a career-high 27 points and the Lakers gave up 56 second-half points.

For much of the game, O’Neal was matched against Lorenzen Wright, who gave up a couple of inches and nearly 100 pounds. That, and a free-for-all offensive pattern, was plenty.


“It’s hard to lose a game when you have Shaq and they don’t have a center,” said Mike Penberthy, who scored 16 points in 31 minutes, making all four shots, including three three-pointers. “We knew we could dump it in and they could pick their poison, really. If they want to sink they leave me open or Rick [Fox] or Brian [Shaw], guys that can shoot. Or, Shaq can just dominate.”

At the end, fans chanted “cha-lu-pa!” because they wanted free food, given away when the Lakers reach 110 points. The standing ovation, then, came for Devean George, whose free throw with 19.5 seconds remaining thrilled them.

Grousing about his defense, Jackson said, “I think all the players want to redeem that coupon. I told them they could have their darn chalupas.”

There is talk in the Laker locker room that a couple of days watching wouldn’t be so bad for Bryant, that he might spend the time considering how he might better fit his brilliant game around the offense, rather than the other way around.

The Lakers were unpredictable in their two-point victory in San Antonio on Wednesday, and were again against the overmatched Hawks. In an offense that features O’Neal and Bryant, unpredictable is unusual.

Shaw scored a season-high 22 points. George took 12 shots and scored 10 points. Isaiah “J.R.” Rider scored 14.


Jackson said he has not spoken to Bryant about keeping an open mind. He also did not rule it out.

“It’s not the time or the right place to talk about that right now,” Jackson said. “As far as how I feel about it, the ball’s moving a little bit better. But Kobe’s played extremely well for us. There’s times in the fourth quarter or in critical situations when he tried to take some of the load of scoring--well, a lot of the load of scoring--at various times, and that’s obviously a concern. We’re not always happy about that. Yet, he’s had some success and has been a valuable player for us in that regard. So, it’s a balanced line that’s very important.”

Against the team that tattled to the league about his alleged drug use and then waived him, Rider smiled and greeted former teammates with hand slaps.

And while he admitted to some existing hard feelings, Rider didn’t have an unusual edge to him. He just played. They all did, mostly.

“It’s common sense basketball,” O’Neal said. “I’m the kind of player that demands a triple team. If my teammates are cutting to the basket for a 100% shot, it’s my job to get it to them. I’m capable of scoring a lot of points, but I’m also keeping my teammates involved.”



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