Even the Golden State Warriors have become a tough chore for the Lakers.
The unsteady play continued, no letup in sight for the suddenly herky-jerky nature of the team with the NBA’s best record.
The Lakers didn’t beat the Warriors as much as they outlasted them, slowly pulling away by winning a battle of free throws in the final minutes of a 124-118 victory Tuesday night at Staples Center.
On the day Ron Artest granted his first interview since a Christmas night incident, the Lakers stumbled and almost crumbled against the Warriors, looking disjointed from the start but recovering in the end.
Kobe Bryant had 44 points and 11 assists, and Pau Gasol had a season-high 27 points to go with 12 rebounds for the Lakers (25-6).
The Lakers had an easy time with the Warriors in a 130-97 rout last month at Golden State, but this was anything but simple.
With the Lakers ahead, 118-115, Ronny Turiaf missed two free-throw attempts with 1:22 to play. Bryant then made two free throws at the other end and Gasol added two more a few seconds later to give the Lakers a 122-115.
Exhilarating? Nope. A victory? Uh, sure.
“I told them they have to get better defensively,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. “I told them . . . we were going to outlast [the Warriors] in this one. I think we were able to.”
Golden State, the last-place team in the Pacific Division, fell to 9-22. The Warriors came in having allowed 111.9 points per game, almost six more than any other team.
There were scattered boos in the second quarter as the Lakers fell behind by 15 and their fans weren’t enthralled to see Turiaf hustling under the basket and, worse, Vladimir Radmanovic actually contributing for the Warriors.
The two former Lakers turned out to be the least of the home team’s problems in a first half that concluded with the Lakers trailing, 60-53.
Bryant had 27 points in the second half, shrugging off finger and elbow injuries to carry the Lakers to a victory. He made 16 of 16 free-throw attempts.
“He was able to sustain the effort and get to the foul line and get some things done,” Jackson said. “By his effort alone, I think we have to credit this game in the ‘W’ column.”
Artest missed his third consecutive game because of a concussion but spoke to reporters at halftime, his first public words since the team sent out a news release saying he fell down a flight of stairs Christmas night.
More than anything, reporters were curious about details of the incident. Artest said he was going up some stairs outside his Beverly Hills home when he fell. He said the knockout blow came when he hit the concrete at the bottom of the stairs.
“I was enjoying Christmas and coming home,” he said. “One minute, I’m about to walk into my house and the next minute, I wake up and my wife is asking me, ‘Are you all right?’ and for a second I didn’t even know who she was. The first person I texted [was] Kobe and I said ‘I can’t remember nothing and I’m going to the hospital.’ ”
Artest said he needed staples in the back of his head and also stitches in his left elbow. He said he was “getting better” and might play Friday against Sacramento. He will run on a treadmill today to see if an increased heart rate adversely affects him.
Artest watched Tuesday’s game with Jerry Buss in the team owner’s suite. The Lakers could have used him on the court.