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February 05, 2009|Mike Bresnahan

TORONTO — In between the Kobe Bryant show at Madison Square Garden and the showdown with the Boston Celtics, the Lakers almost got shown up by the limping, underachieving Toronto Raptors.

But Bryant wouldn't let it happen, and neither would the Lakers' clear-cut No. 2 option in a 115-107 victory Wednesday at Air Canada Centre.

Bryant had 36 points, nine rebounds and five assists, and Pau Gasol put up another solid double-double (31 points, 15 rebounds) as the Lakers overcame a less-than-remarkable three quarters to win the fourth, 30-20, and improve to 4-0 on their six-game trip.

It was enough to move the issues about their lackadaisical defense to the back burner for at least one more game, seeing how it could become a front-and-center item tonight in Boston.

Then again, the Lakers seem resolute about their first visit to TD Banknorth Garden since their 131-92 loss in Game 6 of the Finals, the second-most lopsided game in Finals history.

"You go into Boston, you play well and get a 'W,' that's a big win for us," Bryant said. "We believe we can win. We believe we should win. We're going in there [today] and we're going to have some fun."

Such a comment would have seemed funny had the Lakers (39-9) actually lost to Toronto (19-32), which played without starting point guard Jose Calderon (sore hamstring) and lost Chris Bosh in the fourth quarter because of a sprained right knee.

In fact, there were some game stats the Lakers don't figure to be pinning up in the locker room tonight.

The Raptors were last in the league in points in the paint, scoring a little more than 31 a game, but they had 28 in the first half and finished with 44. The Lakers had 48.

At the other end, center-forward Jermaine O'Neal had nine blocked shots. He also had 22 points and nine rebounds.

Think the Lakers miss their 21-year-old seven-footer?

Luckily for them, they have another seven-footer.

Gasol's 31-point, 14-rebound performance Monday in New York was overshadowed by Bryant's 61 points, but he was a bigger part of the program against Toronto.

He made 12 of 17 shots and joined Bryant as the only two starters to score in the fourth quarter. For the night, they combined to score 58% of the Lakers' points.

"That's kind of what we expect, to have those two guys lead us in scoring right now," Coach Phil Jackson said.

Bryant led the way in the final minutes, making a 21-footer as he drifted to his right for a 106-100 lead with 2:17 to play.

After Joey Graham's layup cut the Lakers' edge to 107-105, Bryant again drifted right, this time near the top of the key, and drilled a 16-footer over Graham for a 109-105 lead with 23.8 seconds left.

Anthony Parker missed a 20-foot floater from the right side, Bryant made two free throws, and the Lakers could officially turn their attention toward the Celtics (41-9), almost eight months after their 39-point loss at the Garden.

It wasn't the fondest moment in Lakers history.

"To be not only beaten, but humiliated, in a game like that to end the series, and have them celebrating and throwing [stuff] all over the court, disrupting the game with 2 1/2 minutes left to go, it was in-your-face and everybody remembers that," Jackson said. "There's a certain element of, you know, we have some serious work to do."

The Lakers left Toronto quietly and quickly after Wednesday's game, their team bus slicing through the bitter cold on the way to their charter flight.

Serious work, indeed.




Analyzing the Lakers' trip

For more news, go to Andrew and Brian Kamenetzky's Lakers blog


Lakers tonight


Time: 5 PST.

On the air: TV: TNT; Radio: 570, 1330.

Where: TD Banknorth Garden.

Records: Lakers 39-9, Celtics 41-9.

Record vs. Celtics: 1-0.

Update: The Lakers ended the Celtics' 19-game winning streak this season, and now Boston is on a 12-game streak after losing seven of nine.

-- Mike Bresnahan

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