Kobe scores 28, Gasol 13 as Lakers handle Spain's FC Barcelona
Gasol, who was born in Barcelona and lives there during the offseason, spent five years with the team he helped beat at Staples Center. He finished with 13 points and five rebounds in 19 minutes.
"It was a lot of fun. It was a special game," Gasol said. "I have a few friends and former teammates there. It's always special to me, to play against the city where I was born and the team that I grew up with as a player."
Juan Carlos Navarro, the only member of FC Barcelona who played for Spain at the Beijing Olympics, scored 34 points in 41 minutes.
"He's offensive-minded and he's not shy at all," Gasol said. "He's got great ability and he can shoot it from pretty much anywhere in the floor and he can do a lot of damage. He was ready to have some fun tonight."
Gasol and Navarro also were teammates with the Memphis Grizzlies last season before Gasol was traded to the Lakers on Feb. 1 in a multiplayer deal that sent Kwame Brown to Memphis. Navarro is one of four players on this FC Barcelona squad with NBA experience, along with Andre Barrett, Daniel Santiago and Ersan Ilyasova.
"I think he was trying to prove a point tonight -- that he can play in this league," Gasol added. "I think he felt he was not valued as a basketball player at the end of the season, but he can play with any team he wants to. He fits well anywhere if he gets the minutes. But no team stepped up to the plate and gave him a good contract so that he could continue here."
The U.S. Olympic team beat Spain 118-107 in the gold medal game despite 21 points from Gasol and 18 from Navarro. Bryant was on the U.S. team that brought back America's first Olympic basketball championship since 2000.
The Lakers were the fourth NBA team FC Barcelona has played against, and the first on American soil. They lost to Denver by 34 points in the 1989 McDonald's Championship at Rome, lost to the Grizzlies by nine points in October 2003, and beat Philadelphia 104-99 in October 2006. They also played a team of NBA All-Stars to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their team, and lost.
The Lakers took the lead for good early in the first quarter, building their margin to 40-19 with an 11-0 run capped by Chris Mihm's two free throws with 7:56 left in the second quarter. Barcelona stormed back with a 23-3 burst, slicing the deficit to 43-42 on David Andersen's 21-footer with 1:47 left in the half.
The defending Western Conference champions converted 20 Barcelona turnovers into 35 points through the first three quarters, and the visitors couldn't recover. Bryant scored 12 points in the third, going to the bench with 1:38 left in the quarter and the Lakers ahead 79-67. The reigning NBA MVP was 10-for-14 from the field in 27 minutes.
Jordan Farmar, Trevor Ariza and DJ Mbenga helped keep Barcelona at bay despite a 17-point fourth quarter by Navarro, whose 3-pointer cut the margin to 101-94 with 1:16 to play. The visitors got as close as four after Navarro made one of two free throws with 46 seconds left. But Mihm responded with a clutch three-point play to help secure the win.
As per the custom at games between teams from different countries, the Lakers and the Barcelona players exchanged gifts moments before the player introductions.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
MORE NBA HEADLINES
- Melo (back) expected to miss game vs. Mavs
- New math: NBA fixes stats from Hawks-Wiz
- Rose (hammy) lasts 10 minutes vs. Nuggets
- FIBA clears Aussies of tanking at World Cup