LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kobe Bryant had 31 points, Metta World Peace hit five 3-pointers while scoring 22 points, and the Los Angeles Lakers played Mike D’Antoni’s style of up-tempo basketball in a 114-102 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night.
Dwight Howard had 18 points and 12 rebounds as the Lakers improved to 3-1 under interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff with a performance that must have impressed D’Antoni, who watched from the locker room inside Staples Center.
Although D’Antoni wasn’t quite ready for sideline duty while recovering from knee replacement surgery, the Lakers played with aggression and urgency after just one practice under their new coach on Thursday. The former Suns and Knicks coach replaced Mike Brown, who was fired one tumultuous week ago.
Goran Dragic scored 22 points for the Suns, who have lost three of four.
Luis Scola scored 18 points, while Michael Beasley added 14 points and a career-high nine assists. The game is Phoenix’s only road contest in a six-game stretch through Thanksgiving, but the Suns must rush home to face defending champion Miami on Saturday night.
D’Antoni got treatment on his new knee in the Lakers’ locker room while he watched his new franchise run past one of his former employers. And even though it happened against the defensively questionable Suns, the Lakers quickly lived up to D’Antoni’s bold Thursday prediction about their offensive capabilities: “If we’re not scoring 110, 115 points, we need to talk.”
The veteran coach is still on crutches after surgery earlier this month, but he’s expected to debut on the Lakers’ bench Sunday night against Houston. Bickerstaff pledged to run some of the new coach’s offensive sets against the Suns, who still follow many of D’Antoni’s tenets under coach Alvin Gentry.
Los Angeles took charge of an entertaining game with a 17-2 run spanning the final two quarters, including six consecutive points from Bryant and several big plays from backup big man Jordan Hill, who had 10 points and five rebounds. The Lakers surpassed 100 points with 9:26 to play on a three-point play by Howard, who is widely expected to thrive in a pick-and-roll offense.
World Peace also embraced his chances to be a 3-point shooter in D’Antoni’s offense, while Pau Gasol scored 12 points on a series of spot-up jumpers in the first quarter before finishing with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Steve Nash missed his seventh straight game for the Lakers with a small fracture in his left leg, keeping him out of his first potential matchup with the franchise with which he spent the past eight seasons, winning two NBA MVP awards and reaching two Western Conference finals with D’Antoni on the bench.
During the third quarter, the Lakers announced Nash will miss at least another week before getting re-examined next weekend. The Lakers are in the midst of a heavy slate of games, meaning the point guard is likely to miss 12 straight games before the Lakers’ next projection on his return.
The results of D’Antoni’s arrival seemed obvious from the opening quarter, when the Lakers scored 35 points and ran the court with an urgency they haven’t consistently shown in years. Both teams traded significant runs in the second quarter, with the Lakers taking a 62-57 lead at halftime after closing with a 12-2 surge.
NOTES: Before the game, Staples Center unveiled a nearly 16-foot-tall bronze statue of NBA career scoring leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar shooting his famed skyhook. A long list of NBA greats attended the dedication ceremony, including Julius Erving and Magic Johnson. Abdul-Jabbar got a lengthy standing ovation while waving to the Lakers crowd from center court at halftime. … The Suns have trailed by double digits in nine of their 10 games this season. … Eddie Murphy, Andy Garcia, Los Angeles Kings forward Jarret Stoll and “2 Broke Girls” stars Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs attended the game.
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