The Laker opponent Sunday was merely the expansion Charlotte Bobcats, only nine victories and 41 games into their existence.
Call it an example of a lesson learned, but the Lakers weren’t about to treat anybody with a light touch after their loss Friday to the depleted New Jersey Nets.
With Coach Rudy Tomjanovich stuck at home because of a stomach virus, the Lakers stopped a three-game losing streak by defeating the Bobcats, 101-90, in front of 18,532 at Staples Center.
Assistant coach Frank Hamblen took over for a game, and the Lakers improved to 4-4 since Kobe Bryant landed awkwardly on the foot of Cleveland guard Ira Newble on Jan. 13.
Hamblen called Tomjanovich after the game to give him a quick recap and inform him that practice was scheduled for noon today. There was no answer, and a message was left.
“I basically said that he owed me 1/82nd of his salary,” Hamblen said.
It’s the least Tomjanovich could do.
Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins each had 20 points, and Chris Mihm had 16 points and 12 rebounds, shrugging off shin splints and a deep bruise in his right calf that had been limiting his lift off the floor.
Lamar Odom approached a triple-double -- 15 points, nine rebounds and seven assists -- and the Lakers avoided what would have been only their fourth four-game losing streak since the 1994-95 season.
“It was simple,” Odom said. “The thought pattern coming in was we had to win. Three-game losing streak, our longest of the year. No snowball effect.”
There was not an extension of Friday’s loss, in which the Lakers allowed the Nets to make 53.1% of their shots despite suiting up only eight players because of injuries.
The Bobcats made only 38 of 91 shots (41.8%) and never led after a 20-18 edge in the final few minutes of the first quarter.
“We came out tonight wanting to end the losing streak,” Atkins said. “We played against Charlotte, a team ripe for the picking.”
The day began with the Lakers needing to pick a new coach, at least for one night, after Tomjanovich called before the morning shoot-around to deliver the news of his sickness.
Hamblen, who has 35 years of experience as an assistant, was the clear choice as the only member of Tomjanovich’s staff who has been a head coach.
“Obviously it’s different in regard from making suggestions to accepting suggestions,” said Hamblen, who guided the Milwaukee Bucks to a 24-43 record as an interim head coach in 1991-92. “It’s a fun experience, especially when you win. I hadn’t been in that position in a long time.”
The Lakers’ next game is Tuesday against Portland. Tomjanovich is expected back by then.
Meanwhile, the Laker defense looked notably better, in part because of their opponent and in part because of Mihm’s presence. He had five blocked shots and said he felt more like himself after four substandard games in which he had totaled 32 points and 21 rebounds.
“I had my legs under me and had a good balance tonight and was able to do a good job on the boards, keep people out of the paint and block shots,” Mihm said. “I had pop in my legs again and felt that explosion I’m used to having.”
The Lakers made eight of 17 three-point attempts, their effectiveness there helping lead to an 18-point advantage in the third quarter, when they made six of seven from behind the arc.
On the other side, the Bobcats struggled. Kareem Rush, traded by the Lakers last month for two second-round draft picks, gave Charlotte a quick push with 10 first-quarter points. But he made only five of 16 shots and finished with 13 points.
“I was excited, but not nervous,” Rush said. “There is no pressure. I am not trying to go out there and do something I can’t do.
“I came from a winning team but I knew coming into this team that expectations were not as high. It’s an expansion team [so] a lot of people don’t think we are going to win a championship.”