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Lakers' 105-96 win over Thunder features role, and roll, reversals

Kobe Bryant facilitates (14 assists), Steve Nash scores (17 points), and Lakers build momentum, beating NBA's best for second straight win after four-game skid.

January 28, 2013|By Mike Bresnahan, Los Angeles Times

It's come to this: One of the best point guards ever is now the Lakers' shooting guard and one of the best shooting guards ever is now their point guard.

Somehow it's working. Perfectly.

Kobe Bryant continued to ignore his score-first instinct, coming whisper-close to a triple-double for the second straight game as the Lakers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, 105-96, in front of a Staples Center crowd that was relieved, exuberant and drained at the same time Sunday.

Steve Nash was part of it too, putting together 17 points and five assists as the team's No. 2 ballhandler, strange as it was to say it like that.

In the latest proof that wins equal happiness, Dwight Howard and Bryant embraced near midcourt in the final seconds. A victory never seemed so important for a team that "improved" to 19-25. The Thunder came in with the NBA's best record (34-10).

"It feels good to finally beat a team that's worth a . . ." Bryant said later.

Where to begin? With Bryant, as usual.

He had 14 assists in a second consecutive game, continuing his approach that began two days earlier in a breezy victory over Utah. He also had 21 points, nine rebounds and only three turnovers, none in the second half.

"Frankly, Kobe reminds me a little bit of Magic Johnson the way he's playing right now," Nash said. "He's controlling the game."

Bryant had this many assists over two games only one other time: December 2002, when he posted back-to-back 14s against Utah and Golden State.

The context here couldn't be greater. Bryant is stealing the role from the player who won two league most-valuable-player awards under Coach Mike D'Antoni's system in Phoenix.

And the gamble couldn't be bigger. The Lakers, desperate for momentum, are still four games out of a playoff spot despite the victory.

Numerous Lakers players have complained about not getting enough touches, minutes, whatever, this season. Nash won't whine about not getting enough assists.

"I welcome this," he said. "We're so much better this way regardless of how many opportunities I get to make plays. At this stage of my career, I'm all-in as far as trying to figure this out, how we can all be better together.

"It is a big difference for me and a big change, and it's something that I have to continue to adjust to. Very rarely did I get the ball to catch and shoot in my career . . . but I'm getting a good rhythm and I think I'm feeling more comfortable doing it."

It just might work.

Nash is by far the Lakers' best distance shooter, making 42% of his attempts from three-point range this season. He made two of four beyond the arc Sunday and was six for 11 overall.

Pau Gasol looked solid again in the post, scoring 16 points on seven-for-10 shooting, and Metta World Peace had 15 points and 10 rebounds.

World Peace and Earl Clark helped hold Kevin Durant to 10-for-26 shooting, though he did score 35 points for Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook had 17 points on six-for-22 shooting, a main reason the Thunder shot 44.4% in the final game of a six-game trip.

The Lakers' defense made a difference? It can be traced to Bryant. Happy campers on offense become involved, invested defenders too.

"I think guys have really felt [like] a team," Nash said. "Guys feel really enthusiastic about what's happening out there. Credit Kobe with being a playmaker and making plays for his teammates."

Bryant said he would "absolutely" keep passing first, shooting later. He was doing it to take "a lot of pressure off of Steve to have to play-make all the time," he said.

Durant's three-pointer gave the Thunder an 87-86 lead with 6:38 to play. But Bryant found Clark for a dunk, hit a jump shot, set up Nash for an easy finger roll and found Nash again for an 18-foot runner.

Bryant then made a layup after posting up Thabo Sefolosha, fed Gasol for a layup after drawing in the defense on a drive, and beat Sefolosha again with a 19-footer while moving to his left.

Bryant at point guard, Nash at shooting guard. In a wild season that nobody would have predicted, two words stood out.

Why not?

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