Another Day Above the Fray for Lakers
Nobody does the Lakers quite like the Lakers, because the Lakers fray and spit and glare and then, more often than not, they win, sometimes right through the end of June.
So, even as Gary Payton found his niche among the issues and Phil Jackson resisted the seemingly simple solution of giving Payton his minutes, the Lakers held to Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal and beat the Washington Wizards, 122-110, Saturday afternoon at MCI Center.
Back to his seamless, breezy game, Bryant had 25 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists, his first triple-double in a year and the ninth of his career. Five of Bryant’s assists went to O’Neal, who scored 29 points, 18 -- on eight-for-nine shooting -- in the second half.
“When they told me after the game, I was pretty surprised,” Bryant said. “I felt like I was playing a pretty good all-around game, but I didn’t know that I had a triple-double.”
On the first of a four-game trip that continues today in New Jersey, the Lakers shuffled around against the overmatched Wizards for three quarters, brushed by them on a fourth-quarter 14-2 run and scored more points than they had all season. They scored 121 the last time they played the Wizards.
When the Wizards bickered for a while, when Kwame Brown implied Gilbert Arenas didn’t have his teammates in mind, Arenas replied the next game by not shooting for the game’s first 42 minutes. And, Saturday, with their building filled by those enthralled by the Lakers and perhaps curious about the local team, the Wizards lost for the 39th time.
Dysfunction being an art form -- to review, Bryant and O’Neal aren’t so happy with each other, Karl Malone isn’t so happy with the doctor and Payton, now, isn’t so happy with Jackson -- the Lakers won for the 37th time, and actually have gained a game in the Pacific Division since losing at home to the Sacramento Kings on Thursday.
Bryant has declared he will opt out of his contract, Payton hinted strongly at it Saturday and Laker management informed Jackson recently that there would be no more contract negotiations until summer. Malone, who has worn a bemused expression for months, also can back away come summer. That’s a big to-do list for General Manager Mitch Kupchak in June, unless the Lakers lose first, allowing Kupchak to get to it in May.
While everybody considered that, and as word spread through the Laker locker room that Payton’s two-month-long irritation had gone public, the Lakers rolled out and shot 55.6% from the field, scored 64 points in the second half and so merely needed to dabble in defense.
It was, it seemed, good to be back among the patsies for a change, after difficult games in Denver and against the Kings, both of which pushed the Lakers into the final seconds. As it was, the Wizards, who had won two in a row but hadn’t won three in a row in more than a year, were within 94-93 with 7:29 remaining.
Then, as Wizard Coach Eddie Jordan observed, “They make shots.”
Three minutes later, again with Luke Walton and Kareem Rush on the floor, the Lakers led, 108-95, and the people in the crowd started searching for their things. Rush scored 10 points in the fourth quarter and Walton scored five. Combined, they were six for eight from the floor.
It was enough to run off from the Wizards, who got 35 points from Arenas (who was eight for 11 from the three-point arc, again an issue for the Lakers) and made 11 of 16 three-point attempts.
That’s six wins in seven games for the Lakers, and eight in 10, and Malone’s on the trip, beginning to look antsy.
“We are going to get Mr. Malone back, probably in a week or two,” O’Neal said optimistically. “We will get to play at least 15 games with him. We are going to have a special kind of focus in the playoffs.... We all know and understand what is at stake.”