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Lakers hit the switch against Pacers, 122-99

After more than a half of sluggish play, they blow it open in the third quarter.

March 02, 2010|By Mike Bresnahan

For better or worse, the Lakers continued their habit of joining games in progress but winning them as well.

It's not a technique recommended against, say, Cleveland, though it worked against Indiana two days after it happened against Denver, the Lakers this time pulling away from a meager one-point third-quarter lead to dismantle the Pacers, 122-99, Tuesday at Staples Center.

Kobe Bryant started slowly — extremely slowly — but finished with 24 points on five-for-14 shooting, which actually felt acceptable after he missed five of his first six shots.

Ron Artest again supplied a game's worth of notable defense, holding Danny Granger to nine points on two-for-nine shooting and collecting five steals.

If these are the dog days of the season, with 21 games still to go in the regular season, the Lakers looked plenty languid in the first half before stealing the blueprint from the Denver game with a pointed second half.

They barely led the bedraggled Pacers, 62-61, before going on a startling 36-10 burst over the final 8:56 of the third quarter.

Artest had nine points during the run, Bryant had eight and Shannon Brown had two three-pointers near the end of the quarter.

The fourth quarter was a time for the crowd to cheer DJ Mbenga, Adam Morrison and the chance at free tacos, which happened when the Lakers kept the Pacers under 100.

Fans left happy. The Lakers weren't as thrilled.

"I haven't been impressed with our last week or so," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "I just haven't felt like we have gotten off to good starts and really connected when we go out and play."

The Lakers (46-15) pulled within a game of Cleveland, but now comes the hard part: 11 of their 14 games this month will be on the road, starting with a three-game trip that takes them to Miami, Charlotte and, of great interest, Orlando.

They'll want Bryant to get off to a better start than he did Tuesday, where only a 21-foot fadeaway at the halftime buzzer prevented him from finishing the first half one for six from the floor.

He bent over after the shot, looking like he was in pain, but was instead showing disbelief at his off-kilter half..

The free-throw line was Bryant's ally throughout the game: he made 14 of 15 from the line. He sharpened up in the third quarter, scoring 10 points on three-for-five shooting.

Bryant has played with a broken right index finger since December, but has had trouble rekindling his outside touch since returning from a five-game absence because of an ankle injury.

"I think the combination of his finger [and] coming back after being out and finding a release point is just one of those things that shooters do go through," Jackson said.

"But I've never seen him go through this before."

Bryant didn't seem concerned.

"I don't really sweat it too much," he said. "Tonight it felt good. Some of them just didn't go in. But I got to the free-throw line 15 times. The last time that happened, I don't even know."

Bryant wasn't the only star to struggle.

Granger, an All-Star last season for the Pacers (20-40), came into the night averaging 23 points, but Indiana Coach Jim O'Brien had a premonition about him before the game even began.

"The combination of Bryant and Artest at the wings….Danny Granger got eight shots when we played in Indiana," O'Brien said. "It's because it was like a tag team. They had one guy or the other on him and they got under his chin."

Like Bryant, Granger started slowly, missing six of his first seven attempts.

Unlike Bryant, he never found a rhythm.

Jordan Farmar had 19 points for the Lakers and Pau Gasol had 14 points and 16 rebounds.

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