Lakers get the results even if it isn't pretty in victory over 76ers
Despite a sluggish start, a Kobe Bryant injury scare and a 76ers comeback, the Lakers still walked out of Wachovia Center in Philadelphia on Friday with a 99-91 victory. The result is the only thing that mattered from this game, no more, no less.
The Lakers (36-11) may have just won their third consecutive contest, a stretch that's yielded improvements in a few statistical categories compared with the 1-2 start on the current eight-game trip.
Consider the discrepancies between the first three and latter three games in points per contest (102.3, 110.7), field-goal percentage (44.8%, 49.6%) and team defense (101.3, 96.7). Then understand that those trends don't mean much simply because all of the Lakers' opponents -- the Washington Wizards, Indiana Pacers and 76ers -- are well below the .500 mark and out of playoff contention. The Lakers' last two games of this trip feature tougher competition with a back-to-back starting Sunday against the Boston Celtics (29-15) followed with the Memphis Grizzlies (25-19).
The Lakers' most recent effort may have featured several lapses, but they quickly found ways to overcome those mistakes.
They shot only 35% from the field in the first quarter, but Ron Artest's 10 points on four-of-five shooting gave the Lakers a 19-18 first-quarter lead. His stat line of 18 points on seven-of-13 shooting was his highest scoring performance all month, after going through a tough January that's featured recovering from a Christmas night concussion, an injured right index finger and, most recently, plantar fasciitis in both of his feet.
Bryant may have only scored two points in the first half, but he finished with a team-high 24 points. This happened even though he collided early in the third quarter with Philadelphia forward and former Clipper Elton Brand, appeared to favor his left knee and limped around the court. Despite rolling his left ankle, Bryant stayed in the game and is now 48 points away from surpassing former Lakers great and general manager Jerry West as the Lakers' all-time leading scorer.
The Lakers' 58-42 third-quarter lead with 10:22 remaining may have been nullified when Philadephia's string of 6-0 and 13-6 runs ultimately cut the lead at the 2:03 mark to 70-67. But Philadelphia went through a four-minute, 35-second stretch in the fourth quarter where they were two of eight from the field, giving the Lakers an 88-80 lead with 3:17 remaining.
The matchup between Allen Iverson (season-high 23 points) and Bryant may have harkened memories of the 2001 NBA Finals, but the circumstances and play from both teams provided no comparison beyond A.I.'s and Mamba's performances. This regular-season matchup won't have many lasting impressions, nor is there a likelihood the game will have a carry-over effect. The only lasting image for the Lakers will be the victory updated in the standings.
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Photo: Philadelphia forward Andre Iguodala slips past Lakers guard Kobe Bryant on a drive in the second quarter Friday night. Credit: Ron Cortes/McClatchey-Tribune