LOS ANGELES (AP) — Just in case the Los Angeles Lakers forgot why they’re off to a perfect start to the season, a strong challenge from the Toronto Raptors should force the champs to rekindle their interest in defense and rebounding.
Coach Phil Jackson plans to make certain of it in practice this weekend.
Pau Gasol scored 30 points, Kobe Bryant added 23 points and six assists, and the Lakers remained unbeaten with a 108-103 victory Friday night despite failing to shake the Raptors throughout an uncomfortable fourth quarter.
Steve Blake scored 14 points and Shannon Brown added 12 for the Lakers, who improved to 6-0 even after struggling mightily to put away Toronto, which frequently seemed to be a couple of baskets away from a stunning upset.
“It was a challenge,” Jackson said. “I kind of valued the fact that they gave us a game and took the lead. I thought it was good for our team to have to face a little adversity.”
After struggling to find faults in the Lakers’ first week of action, Jackson won’t lack for flaws to address in practice Saturday. Toronto outrebounded Los Angeles 49-31 and made a dismaying succession of uncontested drives to the hoop, yet still lost its third straight on a four-game road trip.
The Lakers improved to 6-0 for the fifth time in franchise history. Los Angeles went 7-0 twice in the past decade, and its 11-0 start in 1997 was the club’s best ever.
“We’re a talented team, but we still have a lot more room to grow,” said Matt Barnes, who managed just two points for Los Angeles. “This is a good reminder for us. We gave them too many layups. It was kind of a layup drill there for a little while, and we can’t have that.”
Los Angeles trailed late in the third before making a 15-3 run led by Gasol and four reserves. But the Lakers never managed to push their lead into double digits in the fourth quarter, and Andrea Bargnani’s free throw with 30 seconds left made it 104-100.
Bryant then hit two free throws and emphatically swatted away Linus Kleiza’s dunk attempt with 10 seconds left to seal it.
“They’re a very unorthodox team,” Bryant said. “You’ve got rebounders coming in from all over the place. You’ve got the floor spread, and very athletic guys that are crashing and jumping, so it’s just their style of play.”
Leandro Barbosa scored 15 of his 17 points in the second quarter for the Raptors, who have lost nine straight road games against the Lakers. DeMar DeRozan scored 15 points and Bargnani added 14 – and if they hadn’t made 21 turnovers, the Raptors might have pulled the upset.
“From start to finish, there was great intensity, and our guys competed,” Toronto coach Jay Triano said. “We’re a young team, and we’ve got to not turn the ball over.”
With starting center Andrew Bynum sidelined until at least Thanksgiving, the Lakers are leaning heavily on Gasol, who played nearly 44 minutes and usually was their primary offensive option. It didn’t help that Lamar Odom had the first poor game of his resurgent season, managing just seven points on 2 for 10 shooting by the NBA’s leader in field goal percentage.
Los Angeles made a 23-8 run to end the first quarter that included three 3-pointers by Blake, two on assists from Bryant. Kobe also made a highlight-reel, behind-the-head pass to the trailing Gasol for a fast-break dunk.
The Lakers led by 13 points before Toronto finished the first half with a 16-5 run led by Barbosa. The Brazilian scorer, always a problem for Los Angeles during his tenure in Phoenix, capped his 15-point quarter with a go-ahead 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds left, putting the Raptors up 58-55.
“We showed a lot of courage tonight, but a champion always finds a way to get a win, and that’s what they did,” said Toronto’s Reggie Evans, who had 14 rebounds. “So you never want to get too comfortable (thinking), ‘Oh, we’re playing hard against the champions.’ You’ve got to find ways to get the win, because that’s how you have to play in late April and May.”
Notes: Gasol and Bryant have scored 20 points apiece in all six of the Lakers’ games. They’re the first Los Angeles teammates to do that since Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain in 1970. … Two Raptors with Los Angeles ties fared particularly well. DeRozan went to USC, and former Westchester High School star Amir Johnson had 12 points and 15 rebounds. … Luke Walton made his season debut for the Lakers, getting one steal and missing his only shot. The oft-injured veteran forward has been out with a strained right hamstring. … Fans near courtside included Will Ferrell, Tobey Maguire, Nicky Hilton and David Arquette
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