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Bench Mob isn’t playing the part for Lakers

ON THE NBA

Talk about your dream scenario for the Lakers, who got to keep pace with the Cleveland Cavaliers, sweep the season series with their city rivals, and rest their key players, all at the same time. . . .

Almost.

Unfortunately, the Lakers’ non-key players, the former Bench Mob, let the Clippers cut a 19-point lead in half, obliging Coach Phil Jackson to rush his starters back in . . . after which the Clippers cut it to one point . . . before the Lakers eked out an 88-85 victory on Sunday.

Not that Jackson was upset, but he made only a brief statement, announcing he wasn’t happy, that he wouldn’t take questions and the team would practice today.

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So there went any notion of getting the off-day off before Tuesday’s game in Sacramento.

Of course, even greater horrors beckoned for the Lakers with the Clippers putting the ball into play with five seconds left and a chance to send the game into overtime.

As if.

With everyone in Staples Center aware the first option was Eric Gordon, who led all scorers with 24 points, Kobe Bryant lined up on the Clippers’ hot rookie, and said something to him, grinning.

What Bryant said, according to Gordon was, “I’m going to hold you. No way you’re getting the ball.”

Funny, that was precisely what happened.

With Gordon trying to come to the ball off a screen, Bryant circled his arms around him . . . for a second . . . then arm-wrestled him . . . briefly . . . until the Clippers’ Steve Novak was obliged to toss it to Baron Davis, who wound up missing a desperate double-clutch three-pointer.

This was Pure Veteran, with Bryant aware NBA officials are loath to call touch fouls off the ball at the end of games.

Bryant, told what Gordon said, smiled.

“There’s no way,” said Bryant. “There was no way I was going to let him get the ball.”

And the art of holding just enough to tie Gordon up without getting called for a foul?

“He’s just not getting the ball, it’s as simple as that,” said Bryant. “If I’m going to be a lock-down corner, I’m going to be a lock-down corner.”

Of course, if the game was important for the Lakers, it could have been the NBA Finals for the Clippers, after a ghastly season in which many of them looked like they wanted to be somewhere else by Thanksgiving.

This was a Clippers game like any other, with half of them out. Marcus Camby, Chris Kaman, Mardy Collins and Ricky Davis didn’t play and Al Thornton and Novak, who did, were game-time decisions.

Kaman was also a game-time decision with flu-like symptoms, but didn’t go. Of course, after he missed three months with a strained arch, the Clippers are waiting to see if this cold is career-threatening.

This left Coach Mike Dunleavy wondering if he was going to wind up suiting up the coaching staff and the broadcast crew.

“He went and saw the doctor before we went on the trip [to Denver],” said Dunleavy of Kaman. "[The doctor] said he’s contagious, don’t go. . . .

“If he [Kaman] had said, ‘I’m OK, I’m going on the trip,’ that would have been the last and final outing -- get everybody on the whole plane sick, suit up Mike Smith. He’s itching, though.”

The Clippers wound up giving a good account of themselves, for a change.

The Lakers, and especially their reserves, wound up looking slovenly, an all-too often occurrence, leading assistant coach Frank Hamblen to note during the game to Fox Sports’ John Ireland, “The bench mob hasn’t been much of a mob lately.”

Nevertheless, the Lakers, who needed the win, got it.

And the Clippers, who are used to the shaft, got that too.

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mark.heisler@latimes.com


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