LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers gave their fans a taste of the ‘Showtime’ basketball promised by their new coach Mike D‘Antoni with a rousing 114-102 home win over the Phoenix Suns on Friday.
Though D‘Antoni was not courtside to take charge of his first game as he recovers from knee replacement surgery earlier this month, his players thrived with the up-tempo approach as they posted their highest score of the season.
Five-time NBA champion Bryant scored a game-high 31 points, center Dwight Howard contributed 18 points and 12 rebounds and Spanish forward Pau Gasol also recorded a double-double, with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Metta World Peace poured in five-of-10 three pointers to finish with 22 points and Jordan Hill, off the bench, also reached double figures with 10.
Guard Goran Dragic led the way for the Suns with 22 points and forward Luis Scola weighed in with 18 but the visitors paid the price after being out-rebounded 48-38.
“We’re just getting started, but it will make a lot of things easier,” Bryant told reporters of the strategy already instilled in the team by D‘Antoni after his first practice session with them the previous day.
“The whole offense has to find their position. He (D‘Antoni) knows how to direct his offense and he’s been directing it for a long time. The main thing is it’s very simple.”
The Lakers dominated free throws, making 22-of-28 compared to just seven-of 15-by the Suns.
“We made shots tonight,” six-time All-Star Howard said. “Metta was on fire, Kobe hit some tough shots and we got to the free-throw line a lot. When we do that, we win.”
D‘Antoni, appointed as Lakers coach on Monday after his predecessor Mike Brown was fired three days earlier, watched Friday’s action approvingly from the team locker room.
Los Angeles are next in action on Sunday when they host the Houston Rockets and D‘Antoni, who has already urged his players to score 110-plus points per game, is expected to take charge for the first time courtside.
In front of a sellout crowd at the Staples Center, the Lakers made an encouraging start and a World Peace three-pointer on the buzzer gave them a 35-30 lead after a high-energy opening quarter.
The Lakers briefly moved 10 points clear midway through the second quarter after Antawn Jamison poured in a three-pointer but the Suns surged back to tie it at 50-50 before Los Angeles again pulled away to lead 62-57 at half-time.
Both teams continued to score freely and the Suns again drew level at 82-82 after a Dragic three-pointer, but Bryant ended the third quarter with six unanswered points to put the Lakers ahead 92-84.
There was no way back for the Suns after that as Los Angeles maintained control to complete their third win in their last four games and improve their record this season to 4-5.
“The second half, down the stretch in the fourth quarter, our defense was really, really good,” interim Lakers coach Bernie Bickerstaff said after likely completing his short stint in charge with a 3-1 record.
“Our ball movement was good and we started to control the boards.”
The Suns, who struggled defensively at home while losing 112-106 in overtime to the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday, slipped to 4-6.
”We play hard but we’ve got to be much better in our execution,“ Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. ”The effort is there but we are still trying to find each other, still trying to figure our rotations.
“You can’t give up 26 points on 15 turnovers. That means they are live turnovers and are easy transition buckets most of the time. We put ourselves in a position and then we just kind of let it slip away.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by John O'Brien