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Another depth charge

Bryant struggles, but Lakers get a lift from the second unit and turn a scare into their biggest win over Nets.

November 26, 2008|Mike Bresnahan | Bresnahan is a Times staff writer.

The Lakers sputtered and wheezed, Kobe Bryant foremost among them, before gaining control of the New Jersey Nets and continuing along the path of a blissful one-loss team.

This was supposed to be an end-of-the-month stroll against one of the league's mediocre teams, but the Lakers again made it interesting, allowing the Nets to play along for the better part of three quarters before pulling away with ease in a 120-93 victory Tuesday at Staples Center.

The second unit was again first rate, pushing the Lakers from languid to lively and preventing a home loss against the neither-here-nor-there Nets (6-7).

Along the way, the Lakers established their largest margin of victory in 32 years of playing the Nets, eclipsing a 109-84 decision over them in March 1997.

The Lakers' starters undeniably needed the boost against New Jersey. Other than Pau Gasol (26 points), none of them played a significant game, symbolized chiefly by Bryant's 12 points on a woeful five-for-17 shooting.

But Trevor Ariza, Jordan Farmar and Lamar Odom were energizing sources with steals, drives and dunks that brought the crowd to life and kept the team in the hunt for the best start in franchise history.

The Lakers are now 12-1, four victories behind the 2001-02 edition that set a team standard by winning 16 of its first 17 games.

Until then, they can reflect on a band of reserves who outscored their Nets counterparts, 56-19.

"It's a good sign," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "It's a healthy sign, but we want Kobe to shoot the ball well and have good games. That's the focal point of our offense, to get things through him."

The Lakers didn't show much in the first half, taking a flimsy 56-54 lead into the third quarter. There were even hints of their lethargic 118-108 victory Sunday against an undermanned Sacramento team.

The Lakers looked around woozily after Bobby Simmons burst through the lane for a dunk off a missed shot, an effort that cut the Lakers' lead to 72-68 with 4:15 left in the third quarter.

It was the Nets, however, who played the rest of the game in a haze. The Lakers went on a crushing 33-10 run on the way to a laughable 105-78 lead with 8:18 left to play.

One of many notable highlights was Farmar scooping up a loose ball, moving downcourt and hitting Ariza for an alley-oop dunk with a lob from behind the three-point line.

Farmar had 18 points and Odom had 13. Ariza finished with seven, though he left an impact on Jackson.

"Trevor's overall speed is a threat to teams -- his quickness, his steals and ability to get out on the wing or complete the basket on a long pass up the court," Jackson said. "Trevor has really done things without having to have play-calls for him or special attention. He just gets his points hustling, offensive rebounding, stealing the ball and running the lanes."

It was all needed after it became apparent Bryant was experiencing an off night. He missed eight of his first nine shots on the way to four first-half points.

But the mild tension in the building escaped during the Lakers' second-half burst.

The Lakers could even afford to laugh when Sasha Vujacic lost the ball out of bounds while trying to dribble behind his back as he moved downcourt.

(Or maybe not: Jackson stared grimly at the court for several seconds after the gaffe.)

At any rate, Vujacic had 10 points, the Lakers' second unit was again a source of strength, and the defense also recovered after dawdling in the first half.

The Nets made only nine of 42 shots (21.4%) and scored 39 points in the second half.

"We got our defense in order," Jackson said.

Or, as Lamar Odom said, "It's defense, defense, defense, defense. We've got enough offensive players. We've got to come out every night with that effort and energy."

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

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