Published March 15, 2011
| Associated Press
LOS ANGELES – By the time Kobe Bryant talked himself into a little confidence in his swollen ankle in the second half, Andrew Bynum and the Los Angeles Lakers' reserves had already taken care of Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic.
Pau Gasol scored 23 points, Bryant added 16 while playing on a sprained left ankle, and the Lakers roared away in the second half for their 10th win in 11 games, 97-84 Monday night.
Bynum had 10 points, a career high-tying 18 rebounds and four blocks while hounding Howard into nine turnovers — four more than the entire Lakers squad — in another eye-catching low-post game for the Lakers' young center.
It all added up to a rather easy night of work for Bryant, who decided to play despite seriously rolling his ankle during the third quarter of Saturday's win at Dallas.
"It was more mental," said Bryant, who went 7 for 19 and missed eight shots in the first half. "It affected my bounce a little bit just because of the trust factor, just trusting it in the first half. Then at halftime, I just gave it a little pep talk."
Bryant can afford to be cautious while his Lakers are on their most impressive streak of the season. Thanks to the Los Angeles reserves' decisive rally early in the fourth quarter, Bryant had to play just 30 minutes.
Lamar Odom scored 16 points as the two-time defending champions opened a seven-game homestand with another win over an elite team after an early season filled with flops against the NBA's best. The Lakers (48-20) also drew virtually even with the Dallas Mavericks (47-19) for second place in the Western Conference standings.
"We want to win every game on this home stretch here," Bynum said. "(Howard) is a great player who's going to get his numbers, but we started scoring, too."
Derek Fisher scored 15 points for the Lakers, who have the next three days off before lowly Minnesota visits on Friday. Los Angeles already had beaten San Antonio, Dallas, Atlanta (twice) and Oklahoma City since the break before this stirring second-half effort against the talented Magic, who appear entrenched in fourth place in the East.
Howard had 22 points and 15 rebounds for the Magic, who couldn't get rolling offensively in the second half of this 2009 NBA finals rematch. The Lakers all remembered last month's meeting in Orlando, when Howard dominated with 31 points and 13 rebounds while barely missing a shot.
"I just think they came out and played better in the second half, especially with their post defense," Howard said. "They squared everybody in the paint and they forced me to make plays out to my teammates. They made it tough for me to score. We've just got to learn how to play through it."
The Magic led throughout the first half, but the Lakers pushed ahead early in the third quarter. They didn't pull away until a lineup stacked with reserves made an 18-5 run spanning the final two quarters, running Orlando's starters off the court.
Los Angeles went ahead 85-69 on Odom's 3-pointer with 7:14 to play, and the Magic never got closer than 11 points after that.
"We had a good second half," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Got our offense running a little bit, got some steals and some easy baskets. (Bynum) did an adequate job on Howard, and he did a great job on the boards. ... I think Orlando faded a little bit. They were tired after that back-to-back."
Ryan Anderson and Jameer Nelson scored 13 points apiece for the Magic. Coach Stan Van Gundy left his starters in the blowout until the final buzzer of Orlando's fourth stop on a five-game road trip ending in Milwaukee.
"We didn't play with as much energy in the second half," Van Gundy said. "A good part of that is their defense. Give them credit, but we didn't move the ball the way that we should have. Bottom line is the game comes down to turnovers and rebounding."
Bynum's improved play has been a major reason for Los Angeles' surge after the All-Star break. The 23-year-old with creaky knees still isn't in perfect health after missing the start of the season, but he soundly outplayed Howard early.
Bynum got more cheers than Bryant when both left the game in the final minutes.
"He's consistently performing this way, so we expect it from him," Bryant said. "This is how he should play, and this is how he's going to play."
NOTES: Van Gundy said the Magic miss the energy and presence of Matt Barnes, who signed with the Lakers last summer after one season with Orlando. The journeyman forward had five points and three rebounds in 17 minutes against the Magic in his fifth game back from a 26-game absence for surgery on cartilage in his right knee. ... Orlando G J.J. Redick missed his third straight game with a lower abdominal strain. ... Fans near courtside included Robert Downey Jr., Tom Arnold and Vanessa Hudgens.