Bryant Looks Like a Winner
One team ran an offense. The other didn’t. One team defended its basket as if its season depended on it. The other didn’t. One team seized moment after moment. The other didn’t.
This L.A. hoops story was the same as it ever was.
By game’s end, after the Lakers had sufficiently schooled the Clippers on the fundamentals, it was clear one Southland basketball team might truly be headed for an 0-7 start. The Lakers took a 108-93 victory Friday from the Clippers before a record crowd of 20,474 at Staples Center.
Kobe Bryant led the Lakers (1-2) where they needed to go, scoring 33 points, taking a career-best 15 rebounds and adding 12 assists. It was his fourth career triple-double and he accomplished it before the fourth quarter began.
The Clippers (0-2) made one strong run at the Lakers near the end of the third quarter, drawing within 74-67 on two free throws from Corey Maggette with four minutes left. Moments later, Bryant raced ahead of a pack of chasing Clippers to dunk, then attracted a crowd on a drive before passing to an open Robert Horry for a three-point basket.
The Clippers’ momentum fizzled and the Lakers pushed their lead to 88-73 after Bryant swished a three-pointer moments into the fourth quarter. The Lakers were never threatened the rest of the way.
“The bottom line is it was a totally dominant performance by Kobe,” Clipper Coach Alvin Gentry said. “I thought he controlled the game from start to finish. He got everybody involved. I guess all that stuff about him being a selfish player was greatly exaggerated.”
Duly motivated by an Internet report that quoted Laker assistant Tex Winter as saying Bryant was difficult to coach, Bryant soared over and around the flat-footed Clippers. He also set up teammates for easy baskets and went after rebounds with a passion normally reserved for the postseason.
“I definitely had a lot of motivation to play this game,” Bryant said. “This is the style of basketball I want to play all season long.
“Hopefully, it’s a confidence boost for some of these guys, that we can win some basketball games without Shaq [O’Neal].”
Bryant playing at close to his best was but one critical element that separated the Lakers from the Clippers on Friday. The Lakers’ devotion to a team game was another. The Clippers’ willingness to play like a bunch of guys playing pickup ball on their lunch break was one more.
The Lakers moved without the ball, leaving Clipper defenders trailing in their wake and scoring easy baskets. All too often, the Clippers made one pass and took a hurried shot that missed the mark with plenty of time left on the shot clock.
The Lakers built a 60-41 lead by halftime.
Laker Coach Phil Jackson had joked that the Lakers could go into a funk without O’Neal, whose bum toe will sideline him for at least another week or so.
As ever, Jackson seemed to be on the mark after the Lakers shot 39% during belly flops Tuesday against the San Antonio Spurs and Wednesday against the Portland Trail Blazers in their first two games.
Along came the Clippers and everything seemed right in the Lakers’ world.
“They definitely played with that kind of intensity,” Jackson said of the Lakers’ desire to halt their losing streak. “They knew it was time to stop that leak.”
Now, it would seem the Clippers could be the ones headed toward an 0-7 start and a long, miserable season of trying to rejoin the playoff race. The Clippers play the Detroit Pistons at Staples on Sunday before heading on the road to Philadelphia, New Jersey, Orlando and Miami.
Gentry says the Clippers could use another month-long training camp, the better to recover from an injury-riddled October that left them unprepared for the rigors of what many believed would be the best of their 19 seasons in L.A.
“We got off to such a terrible start,” Gentry said. “We didn’t play well.
“It’s really disappointing. Hopefully, it’s not a trend. We’ve got to find a way to start playing together. We’re not clicking together. We struggled to get into any rhythm.”
The Clippers would draw within striking distance in the third quarter. But with Elton Brand and Michael Olowokandi still getting their games together after sitting out training camp because of knee trouble, they couldn’t overtake the Lakers.
Brand, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Sept. 26 and was scoreless against the Cavaliers in the opener Wednesday, had 19 points and 12 rebounds in 40 minutes against the Lakers. Olowokandi had 12 points and five rebounds in 36 minutes.
Andre Miller led the Clippers with 22 points.
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Shaquille O’Neal has missed 83 (17.9 %) regular-season games in his career with the Lakers -- including injuries and suspension. A seasonal breakdown:
*--* 1996-1997 REC PPG PAPG with Shaq 38-13 99.3 94.8 without Shaq 18-13 99.7 97.0 1997-1998 REC PPG PAPG with Shaq 47-13 106.7 97.5 without Shaq 14-8 102.4 98.5 1998-1999 REC PPG PAPG with Shaq 31-18 99.5 96.2 without Shaq 0-1 75.0 86.0 1999-2000 REC PPG PAPG with Shaq 67-12 101.3 92.0 without Shaq 0-3 89.0 99.3 2000-2001 REC PPG PAPG with Shaq 51-23 101.7 98.2 without Shaq 5-3 91.0 88.9 2001-2002 REC PPG PAPG with Shaq 51-16 101.7 95.4 without Shaq 7-8 99.2 88.7 2002-2003 REC PPG PAPG with Shaq -- -- -- without Shaq 1-2 93.0 94.0 PPG-points per game; PAPG-points against per game