Lakers are put through paces again

Should the Lakers be fortunate enough to make it to the NBA Finals, they can be thankful for one thing.

The Indiana Pacers won’t be there.

Cleveland, Boston and Orlando are headline-takers in the Eastern Conference, but the well-under-.500 Pacers are simply headline-makers for the Lakers.

A little more than a month after beating the Lakers in Indianapolis, the Pacers gave them another good run before losing, 121-119, Friday night at Staples Center.


Kobe Bryant continued his recent surge, making the winning shot with three seconds to play. Bryant backed down Jarrett Jack near the free-throw line and connected on an 18-foot turnaround jump shot, completing a frenetic finish.

“It felt good,” Bryant said. “But you know, I’ve had shots in the past, and the last one in Miami felt good, but it came in and came out. So I made sure that one stayed down.”

The game figured to be a fireworks show, seeing as how Indiana entered with the league’s fifth-best offensive attack, and the Lakers had the top-scoring offense.

Indeed, it was fiery.

Bryant had 36 points on 10-for-20 shooting and dished a season-high 13 assists. Pau Gasol had 21 points and 11 rebounds for the Lakers (29-6), who remained tied with Cleveland for the NBA’s best record.

Andrew Bynum pitched in with another solid effort, scoring a season-high 20 points on a pristine eight-for-10 shooting.

The Lakers lost to Indiana last month, 118-117, on a last-second tip-in that capped a Pacers comeback from a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit.

Victory on Friday didn’t become official until backup center Jeff Foster paused too long with the ball after taking an inbounds pass inside the three-point line after a timeout. Foster failed to get off a shot in time, and the game was over.

“We were never quite comfortable in that game,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.

The score was tied at 80-80 near the midpoint of the third quarter before Bryant took over.

He fed Bynum for a layup that became a three-point play after a foul. Then he made an eight-footer, followed by a seven-foot runner, a 21-footer and a six-foot running bank shot. Then he fed Josh Powell for a 21-footer and finished the scoring in the quarter with two free throws to give the Lakers a 96-84 lead.

The Pacers (13-23), however, wouldn’t go away.

Danny Granger (28 points) made two free throws to trim the Lakers’ edge to 115-114 with 1:22 to play. Then Mike Dunleavy’s three-pointer tied the score at 119-119 with 26.4 seconds to play.

But then came Bryant’s turnaround.

“He stayed with it and made some plays for us down the stretch,” Jackson said.

Beyond the final score, the game didn’t come without tense moments for the Lakers.

Trevor Ariza was called for a technical foul in the fourth quarter after glowering at Granger while the Pacers forward was down on the court after Ariza fouled him. Jackson and Ariza then exchanged words on the bench after a timeout.

Then Vladimir Radmanovic was called for a technical foul after appearing to swipe at Foster after the two got tangled up while going for a rebound with 58.8 seconds left and the Lakers ahead, 117-114.

“Both Vlade and Trevor had a little bit of my ire at the end of the game because of the technicals that they got,” Jackson said. “You have to control your emotions in this game and both were emotional outbursts. We don’t think there’s any place for it, especially at the end of the game in situations like that.”

Indiana was also in a feisty mood. With 47 seconds left, Granger fouled out of the game and had to be restrained by Pacers Coach Jim O’Brien after yelling at the referees.

In the end, the Lakers escaped, but just barely.