SAN ANTONIO (AP) Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all scored at least 20 points to help the San Antonio Spurs beat the Los Angeles Lakers 121-97 on Friday night and spoil Kobe Bryant‘s return.
Bryant had missed the previous seven games with a bruised left shin, and the Lakers went 5-2 without the NBA’s scoring leader. But with only two games left in the regular season for Los Angeles (40-24), Bryant returned as he aims to get into a rhythm before the playoffs begin.
Bryant wore a black sock over his lower left leg, with what appeared to be a shin guard protecting the injured area. He scored 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting.
The Spurs (46-16) stayed atop the Western Conference with their sixth straight victory while the Lakers missed a chance to clinch home court in the first round of the playoffs.
These teams could meet in the opening round, and judging by their latest meeting, it would be a mismatch.
San Antonio has given Los Angeles its two worst losses of the season the worst Friday night and 112-91 on Tuesday. Duncan had 21 points and eight rebounds, Parker had 20 points and 10 assists, and Ginobili added 20 points and seven assists.
San Antonio hit 47 of 77 shots from the field and broke the game open in the third quarter, when Bryant played his best. The Lakers’ star hit 5 of 6 shots in the quarter, directing his teammates on offense and yelling at them to “D-up” on defense.
It hardly mattered, though, as he was repeatedly on his heels on defense as the Spurs pushed the ball. San Antonio scored 18 points in the paint in the quarter to only two for Los Angeles.
While Bryant was sidelined, several Lakers increased their scoring, none more than Metta World Peace. World Peace more than doubled his scoring average with Bryant out of the lineup, but he had only 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting against the Spurs.
“We counted on all our guys (when Bryant was out),” Lakers coach Mike Brown said before the game. “I thought Metta stepped up . all our guys stepped up. Hopefully they just stay aggressive. I think we’ll be fine, but we’ll see how we blend or gel.”
“I think Kobe knew that if he came back too early from this injury, it would set him back,” Brown said. “We didn’t want to have any setbacks this time of year. He’s been great the whole time.”
He certainly got off to a strong start, going down low on Kawhi Leonard for a short jumper and a foul on the Lakers’ first possession. Bryant hit the ensuing free throw, but he didn’t score again until he hit a 15-foot jumper with 34 seconds left in the quarter.
Notes: Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong sat courtside for the game. . The Spurs hit 10 of 15 3-pointers for a season-high 66.7 percent. . Lakers G Devin Ebanks, who started with Bryant out, played only 8 minutes and didn’t score. . Spurs C Tiago Splitter started and DeJuan Blair came off the bench against the tall Lakers’ frontline. Splitter is 6-foot-11, and Blair is 6-7. . With Magic C Dwight Howard possibly out for the Summer Olympics after electing to have back surgery, Bynum looks like a possible replacement. “It’s the same thing for any coach who has a player playing,” Brown said. “`Rest, rest, rest.’ You worry about the injuries, but at the end of the day, it’s a significant honor.”