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Lakers put own brand on rivalry

Their All-Star, Kobe Bryant, plays like one with 32 points in 113-92 victory over Clippers, whose own All-Star, the injured Elton Brand, can only watch.

December 17, 2007|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

The Lakers found out firsthand what several other teams had already learned this season.

The Clippers just aren't that great without Elton Brand.

Kobe Bryant played and Brand obviously didn't, making it a game with only one All-Star and one distinct winner. The Lakers took the first game of the season series against the Clippers, 113-92, Sunday at Staples Center.

After years of dominance, the Lakers managed only to tie the series with the Clippers the last three seasons, although Clippers fans might have one resonant thought after Sunday: Come back soon, Elton.

The Lakers were deeper and better, bringing to mind their 31-5 run against the Clippers from 1995 to 2004. (As if to further the point, Lakers fans began streaming for the exits with 2:44 to play and the designated home team ahead, 109-88. Had to beat the traffic, after all.)

Bryant played despite a strained left groin muscle and had 32 points on 11-for-22 shooting in 36 minutes.

Andrew Bynum had another coming-of-age game, holding his own against ever-improving Clippers center Chris Kaman. Bynum had 14 points on seven-for-nine shooting and also had nine rebounds and six blocked shots, one short of tying his career-high. Kaman had 18 points on six-for-19 shooting, along with 16 rebounds and no blocked shots.

Luke Walton popped onto the radar with a season-high 15 points, and Sasha Vujacic scored all 14 of his points in the fourth quarter.

Bynum, who turned 20 in October, was more concerned with the backdrop of the league than the city in which he lives.

"Establishing dominance in the entire league I think is one thing that we would like to focus on," Bynum said. "Not just one team."

With the Lakers up by 20 in the fourth quarter, the vibe was such that Magic Johnson strode up behind the courtside seats and bearhugged Denzel Washington. The two then shared a laugh as Johnson took a seat next to him for a few minutes.

Lakers old and new were equally pleased with the effort.

"The Clippers have had a good team the last couple years, so it's not like it's all just the Lakers not being as good as they used to be," Walton said. "But we definitely feel this is still a Lakers city, and it's nice to get the first win on our side."

Corey Maggette had 27 points and also the Clippers' highlight of the night, a one-handed 48-foot heave that banked in at the buzzer to bring the Clippers to within 82-76 through three quarters.

But Vujacic pushed the Lakers forward with his shooting, and a 17-3 run to start the fourth quarter put the game out of reach.

Other than Kaman and Maggette, the Clippers (9-14) were hard-pressed for points, a reality for them with Brand out until at least February while recovering from a ruptured Achilles' tendon.

"We are undermanned, but we still need to keep fighting," Maggette said.

It was unclear whether the Lakers (14-9) would be without their All-Star after he hobbled around the court in the fourth quarter of Friday's loss at Golden State. Bryant was hurt while spinning along the baseline and did not practice Saturday.

That he was healthy was obvious 35 seconds into the game, when he blocked Quinton Ross' shot. A few minutes later, he hit a trademark 16-foot turnaround from the wing.

Bryant never stops surprising team officials with his healing ability.

"He was taking his jump shots when I got to work at 9 o'clock this morning," Jackson said. "We're surprised, pleasantly."

Said Bryant: "It was sore, but you play through it. We did a good job staying on top of it, making sure that it's good enough for me to go out there and play, and now it's time to do the same thing and get ready for this trip."

The Lakers now have a swing through the Eastern Conference against four under-.500 teams -- Chicago (8-13), Cleveland (10-14), Philadelphia (10-14) and New York (7-16).

The next few games won't be as easy for the Clippers, who play host to Toronto before going to Dallas and San Antonio, followed by a home-and-home series with Phoenix.

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

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