Lakers-Pistons: Win could provide a push forward
Lakers 108, Pistons 83 (final)
It wasn't impressive and it wasn't always pretty. But it must have been big because when the final buzzer sounded on the Lakers' one-sided win over the Pistons, purple and gold streamers fell from the rafters.
And the Lakers will gladly take all that since the victory not only halted a skid that had seen them lose four of their previous six games but it gives them something to build on.
Key to that was a second half in which they outscored Detroit 63-41, providing much-needed momentum heading into Wednesday's game in Phoenix.
Despite soap-opera story lines swirling everywhere, the Lakers were able to focus on basketball for 48 minutes. Pau Gasol, who openly challenged his teammates to get the ball inside more often, backed up his words with 21 points and seven rebounds in just three quarters of play. Ron Artest, who, Coach Phil Jackson said, apologized to his teammates for being "a distraction," had eight points and four assists. And Kobe Bryant, both hands sporting wraps to protect various injuries, nearly had a triple-double despite sitting out the final period. Bryant, held to just a free throw in the first quarter, finished with 17 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.
That helped move him past Dominique Wilkins into 10th on the NBA's all-time scoring list. Bryant finished the night with 26,671 points. Next up is Oscar Robertson with 26,710.
Lakers 76, Pistons 59 (end of third quarter)
Ron Artest and Derek Fisher hit three-pointers to begin the half, starting the Lakers on a 16-2 run that gave them a 61-44 lead less than six minutes into the third period. Less than two minutes later, they would extend the margin to 18 points and eventually to 20.
Kobe Bryant is beginning to exert himself as well, scoring eight points in the quarter to give him 17 on the night. He also has eight assists and seven rebounds. Pau Gasol had eight points in the period too, giving him the scoring lead on the night with 21 on seven-of-11 shooting. Gasol also has seven rebounds, sharing game-high honors with Bryant.
The Lakers display some impressive ball movement at times but they aren't always hitting the open shots that passing gets them. In fact, the Lakers are shooting just 44.6% from the floor -- even Detroit's doing better than that.
Andrew Bynum and his three fouls came on to start the second half, with Bynum playing most of the period.
Lakers 45, Pistons 42 (end of second quarter)
After a first period he which he missed all nine of his shots from the field, Kobe Bryant spent the first 3 1/2 minutes of the second quarter on the bench.
Bryant has been bothered by arthritis in the index finger on his right hand and he has a sprained pinkie on his right hand and a sprained middle finger on his left hand. Both hands had wrappings on them Tuesday.
Still, Bryant got his first field goal on a short jumper shortly after checking back in and added another basket a minute later. He also scored the final Lakers points of the period, dropping in a layup and drawing a foul with 31 seconds left, finishing the half with nine points. Pau Gasol led all scorers through two periods with 13 points.
The Pistons only occasionally offered competition, falling behind by 10 midway through the second period, rallying to cut the lead to five, falling back again, then rallying to within 43-41 in the final minute. Even if the Lakers hold on to win this one, their problems are far from solved. The Pistons look disinterested and still the Lakers can't put them away.
One player who didn't get off the bench much in the period was Andrew Bynum, who picked up his third foul of the game 66 seconds into the quarter and spent the rest of the half watching from the sidelines. With Bynum out, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson had to use Luke Walton on the front line for the final 2 1/2 minutes of the half. The first time Walton touched the ball, he turned it over and a minute later he was called for a defensive three-second violation.
Lakers 24, Pistons 19 (end of first quarter)
Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol both complained at practice Monday that the Lakers haven't been getting the ball inside to their big men enough. Apparently some of their teammates listened because Bynum and Co. had a productive first period to help the Lakers pull away from the Pistons.
Bynum had a game-high eight points and was a perfect 4 for 4 from the field before going to the bench with two fouls midway through the quarter. Gasol finished the quarter with seven points. Combine Bynum's 8 and Gasol's 7 with the 5 points from forward Lamar Odom and those three accounted for 20 of the Lakers' 24 points. The Lakers guards -- Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher -- had just one point.
But perhaps the most noteworthy numbers belonged to Bryant: He had just a free throw at 3:40, while going 0 for 9 from the floor. But he got the ball inside to his big men enough to pick up five assists.
Pregame: Artest apologizes
Phil Jackson took issue with an Internet report that said the coach recently had a loud confrontation with forward Ron Artest after Artest took exception to Jackson's needling.
"No, it's not accurate," Jackson said Tuesday of the report. "But it's close to accurate. It was not a loud confrontation. It was a man-to-man confrontation."
Artest reportedly felt Jackson's comments embarrassed him, which the coach said wasn't the intention.
"It wasn't loud," Jackson said of the discussion. "It was direct."
But, he added, "It's not the first time and it's not going to be the last."
Jackson said Artest later sought him out and apologized to both the coach and his teammates for the "distraction," Jackson said.
As for the Lakers' latest effort on the court, Sunday's one-sided loss to the Grizzlies, Jackson again blamed a lack of focus. But then he added a twist.
"I can put it off to New Year's fatigue at this level. I'll drop that one on you," he said. "A delayed hangover from New Year's."
It's a hangover Jackson clearly hopes his team, loser of four of its last six, can shake off Tuesday night against Detroit.
-- Kevin Baxter