More absentee ballast
Not that long ago, 19 months to be exact, the Lakers and New Orleans Hornets were enmeshed in a late-season race for the top seeding in the Western Conference.
Now the Hornets can’t even come close to beating the Lakers -- despite another night of only suits and ties for Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.
The Lakers toyed with the Hornets on Sunday night, leading by as many as 27 points on the way to a 104-88 victory at Staples Center.
Kobe Bryant didn’t need to score 41 points again, settling for 28 on a night when the Lakers cruised despite missing two-thirds of their starting frontcourt.
DJ Mbenga had 10 points and 12 rebounds for his first career double-double, and the Lakers’ bench was a plentiful source of scoring for the second consecutive game, out-producing the Hornets’ reserves, 46-40.
The Lakers are now 6-1, despite their injuries and occasional skids of ineffectiveness (see: all 48 minutes against Dallas).
“Kobe got going, Mbenga got going,” Hornets guard Chris Paul said. “They looked like the Lakers.”
They’re not quite there yet, personnel-wise.
It’s becoming redundant to write, but Gasol sat out again because of a strained right hamstring. He has now missed seven regular-season games and six exhibition games. Maybe he’ll be back Thursday against Phoenix. Maybe he won’t.
“There’s not a timetable,” he said. “Every time I put a timetable in my mind, I’ve been disappointed, so I can’t afford that anymore. There’s a time it’s going to get better. When -- who knows? I wish I knew with some certainty because it would help my mind and my spirits, but so far I’ve just got to take it easy and go one day at a time.”
Fellow 7-footer Andrew Bynum also missed Sunday’s game, sidelined by a strained elbow and sore triceps in his right arm. His return is more likely than Gasol’s on Thursday.
The Lakers have a few days between games, an obvious plus for them, but the Suns (6-1) are playing inspired basketball. In other words, this won’t be Memphis or New Orleans on Thursday.
If the Lakers’ bench produces as it did against the Hornets, the Suns might not be a problem.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson was asked whether he could remember such a productive scoring night by the reserves.
“No, can you?” he said.
Actually, the Lakers’ reserves scored 53 points in the regular-season finale last season against Utah, but their effort Sunday dwarfed a mostly quiet season by them.
Shannon Brown scored 15 points and Luke Walton had 11.
“It’s going to be up and down,” Bryant said. “There will be nights where they struggle . . . there will be nights where we struggle [as starters]. They came in tonight and gave us a huge boost and they really extended the game.”
The Lakers finished a game ahead of New Orleans in the 2007-08 standings after passing the Hornets in the frenetic final days of the regular season.
The Hornets lost in the Western Conference semifinals that season and were eliminated in the first round of last season’s playoffs. Now they’re sitting at 2-5, with some noticeable holes in their starting lineup and an aging, ineffective Peja Stojakovic on the bench.
Bryant expected a battle Sunday because the Lakers were short-handed but was surprised by the margin of victory.
“Phil [Jackson] and I both were,” Bryant said. “We believed it was just going to be a really, really tough game. I think because of that, everybody’s antennas were up, everybody was extremely focused and ready to go.”