OAKLAND — Leaning to his right, wincing occasionally, nodding to the beat of all that shook The Arena in Oakland on Wednesday night, Kobe Bryant scored 39 points.
And then the Lakers lost.
Without Shaquille O'Neal, there occasionally is glory in a hard victory. More often, perhaps, there is a wide open lane, and too few bodies with which to defend it.
So Bryant scored and the Golden State Warriors, last in the Pacific Division, rebounded and glided to the front of the rim and beat the Lakers, 101-90.
And the Lakers are reminded how the other 28 teams live.
"Some nights are going to be like that," Laker Coach Phil Jackson said. "The energy that you put out this time of year, playing the back-to-back, some of those things have to be accounted for. But, you can't take anything away from Golden State. They came and played the game."
O'Neal was in Los Angeles, serving game two of at least five games on the injured list because of his aching feet. On Tuesday night, it meant more freedom to run, more balanced scoring, and a comeback victory against Philadelphia from a 13-point, fourth-quarter deficit.
Twenty-four hours later, the Lakers were outrebounded, 57-36, and were outscored near the basket, 54-28, and at the free-throw line, 27-11.
"They were reduced to a regular basketball team," Golden State forward Danny Fortson said, bringing to mind O'Neal's quote about Sacramento's "return to expansionism" in the event they lost Chris Webber to free agency.
Fortson had 20 rebounds. Antawn Jamison scored 28 points and rookie Jason Richardson scored 20.
And, even with all the numbers in their favor, it was all the Warriors could do to hold back Bryant, whose strained ribs still allowed him enough mobility for 26 points in the second half, and 16 of the Lakers' 24 in the fourth quarter.
From 12 points down in the final quarter, Bryant brought the Lakers to within four points on his second three-point shot in 25 seconds, with barely two minutes left. The Warriors scored the next six points, however, and finished the Lakers from the free-throw line.
"I feel surprisingly a lot better than I did [Tuesday]," Bryant said. "So, I started pushing it a little more.
"We had a chance to get back in the game. But, we just made some bad plays. We didn't play aggressively up until we had to. [Tuesday's] game we were able to get away with it."
The Lakers, after a 16-1 start, find themselves in a 4-4 stretch, with the difficult months of January and February ahead. In six days, they have lost to two last-place teams (Memphis and Golden State). There is no promise that O'Neal will return after five games, or that his feet will allow him to play freely when he does come back.
In the meantime, they'll probably have to support Bryant better. He was 17 for 28 from the floor. Everyone else was 20 for 62.
"I think we rode him too long tonight," Laker guard Lindsey Hunter said.
After riding his perimeter game and gaining on the Warriors, Bryant in the final quarter went to the post, drew double-teams, and passed out for open jumpers that would not fall.
In any case, the Lakers had a better night than the officials did.
In an odd few minutes, Jackson was ejected with 4:50 left in the game and the Lakers behind by 10 points, then unejected with 4:57 left in the game and the Lakers down by seven.
Referees Eddie Rush, Tony Brothers and Rodney Mott conspired to add seven seconds and subtract three points--a Larry Hughes three-pointer. And then, apparently, they decided Jackson had reason to gripe. After Devean George was given his sixth foul, followed by a technical foul ejection ("A bonehead call," Bryant said of the referees), the Lakers were not given the full 30 seconds for a substitution, and Hughes made his three-pointer with only four Lakers on the floor.
As he did the night before against Philadelphia, Bryant stayed out of the danger areas, limiting his rebounds to the long variety, taking long runs around screens and choosing his moments to slash to the basket.
He posted and backed up Richardson a handful of times.
"You can't stop him," Richardson said of Bryant. "He's like Michael Jordan, that's how Kobe is. In the third quarter, he pretty much killed me."