Lakers’ cruise gets a little choppy

On The Lakers

The Lakers have started to hit their stride, winning four consecutive games, all of them by double digits.

The latest victims were the New York Knicks.

A quick 17-point strike by the Lakers in the third quarter helped them build a 25-point lead, allowing Los Angeles to avoid an embarrassment due to the shaky play of their reserves during a 100-90 victory over the Knicks on Tuesday night at Staples Center.

L.A. began beating down the opposition about a week ago, starting with a 13-point victory over Detroit, followed by a 15-point rout of Chicago and then a 16-point thrashing of Oklahoma City.

So when the Lakers opened a huge margin early in the fourth, it looked like it was going to be another easy night, a night in which the Lakers’ starters could sit out the entire fourth.

But the reserves got sloppy and careless and that forced Lakers Coach Phil Jackson to bring starters Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest back into the game with 5:02 left and the Lakers’ lead sliced to 14 points. It eventually got all the way down to 98-90 with 57.9 seconds left.

“I don’t know what to say about the game,” Jackson said. “We won the game.”

Jackson didn’t want to place all the blame on his substitutes, but many of them haven’t been up to par all season.

He had to take out Sasha Vujacic and Shannon Brown when the Knicks made their run.

“Right now, they are just filling in minutes for guys that are getting rest on the bench,” Jackson said about his reserves. “We’ve got to have better than that.”

Jackson is getting it from his starters, all of whom scored in double figures.

Bryant led the way with another efficient game, scoring 34 points on 14-for-20 shooting. He also had five rebounds and four assists.

Pau Gasol, in his third game back after missing the first 11 because of a strained right hamstring, produced a double-double with 11 points and 16 rebounds.

Artest had 17 points, seven rebounds, four assists and six turnovers. The Lakers dominated the boards, with a 60-36 rebounding edge.

The Knicks entered the game as the second-worst defensive team in the NBA, giving up 107.9 points, and it showed when the Lakers went on a 17-0 run in the third quarter to turn a close game into what many figured would be a runaway.

Holding a 59-52 in the third, the Lakers went into overdrive and the Knicks were unable to keep up, falling behind, 76-52.

The Lakers outscored the Knicks 28-17 in the third.

The Knicks, who arrived 43 minutes late to the arena because they were stuck in Los Angeles traffic, didn’t go away.

Wilson Chandler (15 points) and Nate Robinson (15) tried to carry the Knicks late.

The Lakers, on the other hand, didn’t finish the game to Jackson’s liking. He lamented the fact that the Lakers had 25 turnovers.

“It was a game we won,” Jackson said. “It was one of those games that got plodding in the last six, eight minutes of the ballgame. So it doesn’t leave you with a great feeling when you walk out. You know you won the game, but it’s not like a game where you felt that was well played and we all did well.”