Kobe Bryant clanks but Lakers don’t tank in win over lowly Suns

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Imagine that. Kobe Bryant had one of the worst games in his 17-year pro career and the Lakers still won.

It somehow made sense in this carnival of a season, where the unexpected keeps popping up, primarily in the loss column and secondarily in the daily soap-opera undertones.

So when Bryant had four points on one-for-eight shooting, plus eight turnovers, people filed it under “strangest damn season” after the Lakers beat the Phoenix Suns, 91-85, Tuesday at Staples Center.

It helped that the Suns have the worst record in the Western Conference. And that Dwight Howard had 19 points and 18 rebounds. And Antawn Jamison had 19 points and 10 rebounds.

But . . . Bryant?

It was his lowest-scoring game since his second NBA season, a two-point effort in March 1998 against Utah.

“Once every 17 years, I guess he’s allowed that. I wouldn’t be too tough on him,” Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said.

Instead of forcing shots, Bryant was forcing passes.

In what might have been a first, Lakers fans begged him to take the ball to the hoop, his first attempt finally coming with 7:30 left in the third quarter.

“Start shooting it Kobe. Don’t be shy,” yelled one fan.

He wasn’t pouting. Not trying to prove a point. He just went too far in his facilitator role. Way too far.

“I thought it was great, actually,” said an upbeat Bryant, who had nine assists. “Obviously, scoring four points and going one for eight isn’t necessarily a recipe for success. But I think the important thing is that we just moved the ball.”

Bryant had no shots in the first half while looking for teammates with his passing, which was somewhat successful at the time (eight assists, four turnovers).

But his assists dropped off, his turnovers rose and his shooting, when it happened, was amiss. His first basket came with 2:10 to play, an eight-footer off a rebound.

“He was trying too hard to get everybody else involved,” D’Antoni said. “You’ve got to walk the fine line and he went way over the other line and he’s got to get back in the middle where he facilitates and is aggressive. Once you get out of rhythm at the end of the game, you have no chance to get back in rhythm.”

The Lakers (25-28) were fortunate to be playing the Suns (17-36), who shot 41% and committed 19 turnovers, matching the Lakers in the latter stat.

Earl Clark had 11 points despite a sore right foot that forced him to undergo an MRI exam, X-ray and CT scan earlier in the day. He was diagnosed with inflammation in the foot, nothing major.

There were funnier times earlier in the game, with the Lakers on the way to a 12-point lead and the scoreboard showing Shaquille O’Neal in a courtside seat. He grabbed a fan next to him and pretended to smooch him during the “Kiss Cam.” Bryant saw it and started cracking up.

Not far from where O’Neal sat, Will Ferrell donned a red blazer in his courtside seat and joined Staples Center security guards for a shift on the court. At the end of the third quarter, Ferrell pretended to handcuff O’Neal and escort him from his seat into the arena’s underbelly. It would have been funnier for Lakers fans if their team wasn’t trailing, 71-65.

Not as humorous: The Lakers scored only nine points in the third quarter, their worst of the season.

The Clippers await them Thursday, their last game before the All-Star break.