NBA: Lakers pull away, top Nets as best beats worst
By BRIAN MAHONEY
AP Basketball Writer
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Kobe Bryant had 29 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to a 103-84 victory over the New Jersey Nets on Saturday night in a matchup of the NBA’s best and worst teams.
The Nets dropped their seventh straight, but the game was competitive into the third quarter, when Bryant started taking over about the time the league’s lowest-scoring team was enduring one of its usual droughts.
Pau Gasol had 14 points and 14 rebounds for the Lakers, who improved to 21-4 after winning their third straight on a five-game road trip that ends Sunday in Detroit — provided they can fight their way through a winter storm to get there on time.
Lamar Odom added 14 points and 12 boards.
Chris Douglas-Roberts scored 20 for the Nets (2-26) before limping off with an injured right ankle after stepping on Odom’s foot while driving to the basket with 4:47 left. Every loss during their latest skid has been by double digits, and only one has been by fewer than 16.
Devin Harris led New Jersey with 21, but he was mostly silent after scoring 17 in the second quarter. Brook Lopez had 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Bryant came in averaging only 21.4 points in 20 career games against the Nets, his lowest against any opponent. He easily passed that by scoring 18 after halftime, when the Lakers outscored New Jersey 57-36.
Despite the weather, the announced crowd of 17,190 was well above average for a Nets game, with many fans seemingly here to see the Lakers. There were gold shirts scattered throughout the arena, and the “MVP! MVP!” chants for Bryant started minutes into the game.
Despite the mismatch in records, the Nets took a 48-46 lead into halftime before Bryant scored 13 in the third quarter, when the Lakers gradually pulled away to a 74-64 edge heading to the fourth.
Odom then scored twice on offensive rebounds, Bryant converted a three-point play and Shannon Brown nailed a 3-pointer as the Lakers opened an 88-69 lead and cruised from there.
Still, it was much more competitive than the teams’ first meeting, when the Lakers led by as many as 34 and routed the Nets 106-87 on Nov. 29, hours after New Jersey fired coach Lawrence Frank.
The Lakers shot 52 percent in the first quarter, opened a double-digit lead late in the period and led 29-21 heading to the second. But they couldn’t keep up with Harris, who repeatedly pushed the ball up the floor and scored 17 points in the second quarter.
NOTES: Gasol and Bryant are both reportedly closing in on contract extensions, but Phil Jackson won’t decide it he’ll stick around past this season anytime soon. Jackson reiterated that he won’t decide on his future with the club until June or July, citing the team’s performance, his health, and perhaps salary considerations as factors. “People are cutting costs all around the league, that’s a big part of it,” Jackson said. “Coaches’ salaries are going to take a cut too, so they may not even want to hire me.”