7:30 PM ET, February 19, 2008
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
Bryant and Gasol each scored 23 points before sitting out the fourth quarter, and the Lakers coasted to a 122-93 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night after building a 41-point lead late in the first half.
"It was great. It was a pretty big deal for me," Gasol said. "I'm excited and honored to be here with my teammates and these fans. The way we came out and played defense in the first half was pretty impressive.
"Obviously the crowd had a lot to do with it. They gave us a lot of energy. I had a chance to play my first home game as a Laker, and I wanted to give the fans a little taste of what it's going to be from now on with me and the team."
Bryant, who dislocated his right pinkie during the Lakers' 7-2 trip, was 8-for-16 from the field with five steals, five rebounds and three assists. He played free and easy and didn't seem at all inhibited by the ailing finger, making a pair of dunks and going 1-for-4 from 3-point range.
The 10-time All-Star and two-time defending NBA scoring champ has averaged 30.4 points over his last five games after scoring 11 on 4-for-16 shooting in a 98-95 loss in Atlanta on Feb. 6. Bryant risked having to sit out this one had he not played in an All-Star Game, so he suited up in New Orleans on Sunday and spent only 2 minutes, 52 seconds on the court to rest his sore finger.
"The X-rays and the diagnosis from the doctor were shocking to everybody, but it feels fine," said Bryant, who decided not to undergo surgery and play through it. "I hit it a couple of times and whacked it pretty good. It was a little sore for a couple of minutes and then it went away. I'm used to it now. It's nothing but a little pain and a little soreness. You've just got to deal with it."
Lamar Odom, coming off his 12th career triple-double, also sat out the final quarter after getting 17 points and 15 rebounds. The Lakers won their fifth straight, finishing at 51 percent from the field and improving to 18-1 when shooting at least 50 percent.
Mike Bibby played his first game with the Hawks following Saturday's trade from Sacramento, finishing with just five points and three assists in 16-plus minutes. He picked up his fourth foul with 9:33 left in the third quarter and going to the bench for good with Atlanta down by 35. He actually limped off with what the Atlanta Journal-Constitution characterized as a heel injury, taking off his right shoe and sitting out the rest of the game.
"It was the second day I was with the guys, you know. It will come," Bibby said afterward, not mentioning an injury. "They jumped on us pretty early. They were pressuring us, forcing turnovers and scoring easy baskets."
Joe Johnson had 18 points for the Hawks, who lost their season-worst fifth straight and sixth in a row on the road. Rookie center Al Horford, who had a career-high 20 rebounds against the Lakers the last time the teams met, picked up two fouls in his first 7 minutes on the floor and finished with five boards.
Atlanta's Josh Childress had 16 points in 30 minutes after missing one game with a hyperextended right knee. He hit a 3-point buzzer-beater from 27 feet to end the first half, but all that did was trim Los Angeles' lead to 73-37.
After making things miserable for Bibby in his first game with the Hawks, the Lakers will be Shaquille O'Neal's first opponent as a member of Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night when he faces the team he helped lead to three straight NBA titles. A win would tie the Lakers with Phoenix for first place in the Pacific Division.
"I do not care about that, for the last time," said Bryant, who was O'Neal's teammate for seven seasons and wasn't on the best of terms with him when he was traded to Miami in 2004. "Phoenix is at a level we're trying to get to. Even though they changed their team a little bit by trading Shawn [Marion], they're still one of the top teams in the league. So it's a big challenge for us, and I'm interested to see how we stack up."
Bibby also will face his ex-teammates on Wednesday when the Hawks travel to Sacramento. The 29-year-old point guard averaged 13.5 points and 5.0 assists in 15 games for the Kings after missing their first 36 games while recovering from surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb.
Bryant needs 16 points to tie David Robinson (20,790) for 27th on the career list. ... Atlanta F Josh Smith, the league's second-leading shot blocker, rejected an attempted slam dunk attempt by Vladimir Radmanovic with 8:08 left in the second quarter and the Hawks trailing by 21. ... Bibby was 0-for-4 from 3-point range and still needs 25 more for 1,000 in his career. ... Bryant, who set a franchise record by converting 62 consecutive free throws in January 2006, has made his last 49 in a row.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Team Stat Comparison
|FGM-FGA||34-81 (.420)||47-92 (.511)|
|3PM-3PA||5-13 (.385)||6-18 (.333)|
|FTM-FTA||20-27 (.741)||22-24 (.917)|
|Fast Break Points||7||12|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||24 (0/0)||21 (0/0)|