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Christmas is a Lakers gift for a change in 100-94 win over Knicks

Kobe Bryant has 34 points to improve his Christmas Day record to 6-9 as Steve Nash-run Lakers streak by New York. Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol also turn in strong games.

December 25, 2012|By Mike Bresnahan
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Maybe it was the so-called submarine dunk. Or the lack of need for the "12 Miss" play.

Or maybe the Lakers are that much better with a healthy Steve Nash, an amped-up Metta World Peace and a perfectly efficient Kobe Bryant.

For a change, it was a Merry Christmas for the Lakers. They finally gave their fans something beyond two free tacos.

They had lost three in a row on Dec. 25 until holding off the New York Knicks, 100-94, Tuesday at Staples Center.

Bryant gave himself a slightly better 6-9 mark in Christmas games by scoring 34 points on 14-for-24 shooting.

If anybody needed a driving dunk to secure the victory, it was Pau Gasol, maligned for more than a year but finishing with 13 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

He took two dribbles off an inbounds pass from the side, beat Jason Kidd, Carmelo Anthony and Marcus Camby, and gave the Lakers a five-point lead with 12 seconds left.

He wasn't exactly a high-flier.

"The submarine dunk," Dwight Howard said, smiling.

Submarine dunk?

"He was very low to the ground," Howard said.

As if it mattered.

A thriving, versatile Gasol is vitally important for the Lakers this season, but does anything match the integration that Steve Nash's presence brings to the table?

Nash was sidelined for 24 games because of a fractured left leg, and the Lakers are 2-0 since his return, amassing 33 assists against Golden State and beating the team with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference.

Nash's 16 points and 11 assists created some wishful thinking.

"I think [Bryant] will play another five, six years because of him," Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni said jokingly.

Bryant's contract expires after next season and Nash's the year after that, but D'Antoni's point can't be lost among all the multimillion-dollar minutiae.

Everybody was splurging Tuesday and not just the NBA, which gave each player a high-end iPod wireless speaker before the game.

Bryant then gave each teammate a pair of pricey headphones, and his wife and daughters sat courtside instead of their usual seats a few rows behind the Lakers' bench. Bryant slipped in a few looks their direction, accompanied by a quick greeting on the way downcourt a couple of times.

He knows all about the Lakers' lack of productivity on Christmas, whether it's their blown six-point lead in the final minute last year against Chicago or their double-digit losses to Miami and Cleveland the years before that.

"I guess it's the night before and the morning of Christmas, opening gifts and all that stuff," Bryant said of typical Lakers' holiday lethargy.

Not this time. Not after they outscored the Knicks in the fourth quarter, 23-16, holding them to four field goals in their last 12 attempts.

"I'm feeling a lot better than I have on Christmases past. It's a much, much better Christmas afternoon," Bryant said.

Howard wasn't sure what to think of the alleged Christmas failures around here. But he did what was necessary and went to 1-0 with the Lakers in Dec. 25 games.

He had 14 points and 12 rebounds, and made six of nine free throws, another big step for him.

Just two weeks ago, the Lakers were running plays based off his predictable free-throw woes, including "12 Miss," in which Bryant ran from the top of the key to tip in a presumed miss by Howard from the line. It actually happened successfully against Washington.

Since that game, Howard has made 18 of 24 free throws (75%). He is now 51% this season.

"Dwight's making foul shots," D'Antoni told reporters, offering advice for their stories. "You've got to put that in there."

Add 20 points from World Peace, who received two standing ovations from Lakers fans for hustling, and the Lakers (14-14) were back at .500.

They haven't won six in a row since Phil Jackson was their coach. It could happen Wednesday in Denver.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

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