Luke Walton scored a career-high 25 points and Lamar Odom had 15
rebounds for the Pacific Division-leading Lakers, who muddled
through without their injured eight-time All-Star and beat the
Atlanta Hawks 106-95 on Friday night.
"It's just a credit to our team and how deep we are," said
Maurice Evans, who started at shooting guard in Bryant's place and
scored a career-high 22 points in 40 minutes. "We have a lot of
experienced players on our bench."
The Lakers decided about 20 minutes before tipoff that Bryant
wouldn't play because of a sprained right ankle, but did not make a
formal announcement. Evans made his 14th start in three-plus NBA
seasons and second with the Lakers -- his fourth team in four years.
"Luke and I talked about how important it was for us to win
this game in any way possible," said Evans, who also played one
season each with Minnesota, Sacramento and Detroit.
"In the first half, we were still trying to adapt without Kobe
because he's a dominant scorer and a huge part of our offense. So
everyone was trying to find out who was going to take shots and
make up for Kobe's absence."
Last season's scoring champion was hurt in Monday night's win
over Indiana, when he grabbed an offensive rebound and missed an
off-balance shot before landing on the right foot of Pacers center
Jeff Foster. Bryant played 37 minutes Wednesday, but couldn't go
"It'll be day-to-day," Bryant said after the game. "The key
is just making sure the pain is gone. The last game I tried to
compensate for it, but it just got worse to the point where I
couldn't run without limping.
"It felt a little better today. But the fear was that if I
played and it got worse again, that's something we didn't want to
risk -- especially since we've got San Antonio Sunday and then go on
the road. So we just decided to err on the side of caution."
It was the third game Bryant has missed. He sat out the season's
first two games against Phoenix and Golden State because of a sore
right knee that underwent arthroscopic surgery in mid-July, and the
Lakers won both.
"It's a huge step for us when guys step up and contribute,"
Bryant said. "Luke's been playing consistently all season long,
and Mo (Evans) had a big game tonight. He's kind of been figuring
his way through the offense. So for him to step up and have a game
like that was really big."
Joe Johnson scored 30 points for the Hawks, who welcomed Speedy
Claxton, Josh Childress and Marvin Williams back to the lineup from
injuries and got center Zaza Pachulia back from a one-game
suspension. Williams made his season debut after missing the first
17 games due to a broken bone in his left hand, had nine points in
"Kobe was out and we got relaxed. And you just can't do that,"
Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "It was somewhat of a carbon copy
of our game against Seattle when Ray Allen was out. I don't think
we were competitive in the second half. Nothing against Walton -- he
had a hell of a game. All of their bigs hurt us inside, and we had
no answers for them."
The Lakers shot 56 percent from the field, improving to 7-0 when
shooting at least 50 percent. They led 76-69 after three quarters
and opened the fourth with 3-pointers by Jordan Farmar and Evans.
Farmar, in his first NBA season after a couple of stellar years at
UCLA, finished with a career-high 15 points in 23 minutes off the
Atlanta got as close as 84-76 on a 17-footer by former Laker
Tyronn Lue with 8:22 to play. But Los Angeles opened a commanding
98-89 lead when Evans did his best Bryant impersonation and brought
the fans to their feet with a no-look reverse layup that kissed
high off the glass. He completed the three-point play off that fast
break, which took all the steam out of the Hawks.
"The first person I thought about was Kobe," Evans said. "He
always calls me "Lotto" because every time I make a shot like
that, he thinks I was lucky. So it was really funny when it went
in. I anticipated the contact, so I just tried to make sure that it
got up somehow."
Among the sellout crowd was 15-year-old C.J. Yektazarian,
who has cerebral palsy and was a guest of the Lakers through the
Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Los Angeles. His wish was to meet
Bryant, who scored 62 points at Staples Center on another occasion
last season when Make-A-Wish arranged a trip to a Lakers game for
an afflicted youngster. The Lakers donated $500 to the organization
for every 3-point basket they made (8-for-19). ... Johnson is the
eighth different player to score 30 or more points against the
Lakers this season. Allen did it twice for Seattle. ... Josh Smith
had 17 points and 11 rebounds for Atlanta.