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Lakers own the Celtics on emotional night

They hammer their longtime rivals, 113-99, in their first game since the death of owner Jerry Buss on Monday. Kobe Bryant addresses the Staples Center crowd before the game.

February 20, 2013|By Mike Bresnahan

The audio clip came clearly through the Staples Center sound system, the voice of Jerry Buss comforting Lakers fans one final time.

"The real purpose of what I do is to try to have this city totally involved…" Buss was saying in a radio interview. "I wanted that when you think L.A., [it was], 'Oh, wait, that's where the Lakers play. Lakers, Lakers.' That's what I wanted."

What more could Lakers fans do? They offered a long ovation after a moment of silence and started a "Jer-ry, Jer-ry" chant.

The team didn't let them down over the next 21/2 hours Wednesday, beating the team the NBA schedule handed them via quirk of fate.

The Lakers knocked around the Boston Celtics, 113-99, the ultimate nemesis of Buss for almost 34 years of owning the franchise.

Dwight Howard played inspired basketball and Kobe Bryant started the night by grabbing a microphone and offering memorable words about Buss, calling him "what we all know to be the greatest owner in sports … ever."

"We are all, all, spoiled by his vision and by his drive to win year after year after year," Bryant said. "Through our years being here at Staples Center, the one thing that we could always count on was the great Dr. Jerry Buss overlooking this franchise from his box."

Buss died Monday of cancer at age 80.

So the Lakers (26-29) honored him Wednesday the best way they could.

Howard had 24 points on pristine 10-for-13 shooting and took 12 rebounds. Bryant had 16 points and seven assists. Earl Clark was a combo of verve and vigor, going for 14 points and a career-high 16 rebounds.

Steve Nash had 14 points and seven assists, passing Magic Johnson and moving into fourth place in all-time assists with an easy pass to Antawn Jamison in the third quarter. Nash has 10,144 career assists.

Paul Pierce had 26 points for the Celtics (28-26), who were playing their second road game in as many nights after losing to Denver on Tuesday.

But all eyes were on Howard.

He had been reluctant to work in pick-and-roll situations but did a nearly perfect one with Nash in the second quarter. Howard appeared to be fouled after he scored … if only he didn't travel first.

It didn't matter in the big picture. Nash clapped several times, went over to Howard and nodded his approval at the attempt.

On another play, Howard banked a five-foot hook shoot hard off the backboard and, sure, smiled.

Why was Howard better Wednesday?

"I think it was Whole Foods," he said, smiling. "It's been tough because of injuries but I'm just going to try to bust it out, going to try to get in the best shape I can. The better shape I'm in, the more active I can be at both ends."

Wednesday was a world of difference from a tense All-Star weekend.

Howard and Bryant barely spoke on their three-hour charter flight to Houston after the Lakers were blasted by the Clippers last Thursday, 125-101.

They didn't talk much at the game itself or the events leading up to it. Nor did they have much to say to each other on the return flight.

"It was almost like Kobe was giving him the silent treatment," said a person familiar with the situation.

They communicated enough on the court Wednesday, Howard asking Bryant about a blown defensive assignment in the first quarter. And in the only form of court-speak Lakers fans would care about, Bryant found Howard with a bounce pass for a dunk.

One victory won't solve everything. Or maybe anything.

But on the night Buss was honored, the Lakers stood as one.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

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