Kareem Rush faced his old team for the first time since the end of his days as a Laker, with his points, minutes and confidence having increased to the degree that he was upset Kobe Bryant wouldn’t be joining him on the court.
“I’m a little sad he’s not going to play,” said Rush, traded from the Lakers to the Charlotte Bobcats last month for second-round picks in 2005 and 2008. “I’d love to go against him. I went against him for two years in practice.”
Instead, Rush was guarded by Caron Butler and had 13 points on five-for-16 shooting Sunday in the Lakers’ 101-90 victory. He had 10 points in the first quarter.
Rush, who averaged 0.9 points in 14 games with the Lakers this season, was averaging 12.3 with the Bobcats before Sunday. He had totaled 45 points in games against Toronto and Chicago before playing the Lakers.
In his two-plus seasons with the Lakers, he had been radiant at times, cool at others. His top moment as a Laker came when he made six of seven three-pointers to help eliminate Minnesota in Game 6 of last season’s Western Conference finals.
“I learned from Kobe my first couple of years but it was time for me to move on and become my own player,” said Rush, who spoke with Bryant by phone Saturday. “I was out of tune for a while playing behind Kobe and those guys the last couple of years. [Charlotte Coach] Bernie [Bickerstaff] has given me a good opportunity to go out there and show what I can do.”
Rush, 24, is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
Laker assistant Frank Hamblen was in the head coach’s chair for the first time in more than 14 years, taking over the Lakers for a game because Rudy Tomjanovich was home because of a stomach virus.
Hamblen, the longest-tenured assistant in the league, was the interim head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks after replacing Del Harris 17 games into the 1991-92 season. He finished with a 23-42 record, and the Bucks hired Mike Dunleavy as their coach for the 1992-93 season.
“A long time ago,” Hamblen said.
Hamblen, who spent three seasons under Phil Jackson in Chicago and is in his sixth season with the Lakers, said he wanted to run more of the triangle offense Sunday “to get everybody to touch the ball and make them feel like they’re playing basketball out there.”
Center Jamal Sampson, selected by the Bobcats in last year’s expansion draft after being left unprotected by the Lakers, had four points and 12 rebounds in 19 minutes Sunday. ... Bryant sat on the Laker bench for the first time since spraining his right ankle, which has improved to the point that he no longer receives treatment during games. Bryant said he did not know when he would return.