NEW YORK (AP) — Kobe Bryant would have liked to celebrate more, maybe gloat about that highlight-reel dunk, but there were bigger concerns.
Dwight Howard couldn’t start and Pau Gasol couldn’t finish. And in this difficult season for the Los Angeles Lakers, even the victories seem to come with losses.
“It feels good to pull out a win like this, but now reality kind of sets in,” Bryant said. “If Pau can’t go and Dwight can’t go, we have to figure some things out.”
Bryant had 21 points and eight rebounds, and the Lakers overcame the absences of Howard and Metta World Peace, and the loss of Gasol to beat the Brooklyn Nets 92-83 on Tuesday night.
Antawn Jamison, starting for the suspended World Peace, made the go-ahead basket during a closing 14-3 run for the Lakers, who have won three straight and six of their last seven games.
Howard missed his third consecutive game with a torn labrum in his right shoulder and Gasol, his replacement, said he felt a pop in his right foot when he went down with a little more than 4 minutes remaining. He was examined by Nets doctors and diagnosed with a strained plantar fascia, and will undergo an MRI exam Wednesday in Boston.
“I had fasciitis and I had been dealing with it for a couple of months now, but I didn’t feel anything like I did tonight,” Gasol said.
Brook Lopez capitalized on the Lakers’ center woes to finish with 30 points and 11 rebounds, but he was the Nets’ only offense down the stretch in their fourth loss in six games.
Steve Nash had 17 points and eight assists, and Earl Clark added 14 points and 12 rebounds for the Lakers, who beat the Nets for the 10th straight time. Gasol scored 15 points.
The Lakers improved to 3-0 on the road in February after going 0-7 in January, seizing control in the final minutes without many of the players who were expected to make them a top contender this season.
Bryant’s attacking drive and slam between Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries snapped an 80-all tie, the play that had Barclays Center buzzing in his first trip to an arena that was filed with plenty of Lakers’ gold and purple.
“I was pretty shocked that the lane was so wide open,” Bryant said. “I think everybody’s been drinking the Kobe pass Kool-Aid, so everybody kind of stayed on the perimeter on the shooters and it just parted like the Red Sea. So I felt a little like Moses.”
Battling recent elbow pain, Bryant said his arm hurt a bit after the play but he was forced to ignore it.
“After a play like that, you really can’t grab your arm, it messes up the swag of the moment,” he said. “So you’ve got to kind of suck it up for a while.”
Lopez answered quickly with a three-point play to give the Nets their last lead with 2:33 to play. Jamison scored on a pick-and-roll, Bryant drove for another basket and Clark hit a jumper to give the Lakers an 88-83 lead with 1:11 remaining. The Nets couldn’t score again, and Nash closed it out with four free throws.
Lopez blamed himself for poor decisions on offense and bad defense on the pick-and-roll down the stretch.
“To their credit they closed out the game well, but I just feel those 2 1/2 minutes are about as bad as I played on both ends of the floor all season,” Lopez said.
The NBA penalized World Peace for grabbing the Pistons’ Brandon Knight around the neck and striking him in the jaw with the knuckles of his mostly open hand on Sunday with 1:43 left in the first half of the Lakers’ 98-97 win. The former Ron Artest has been in trouble with the league throughout his career, and Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, while not disputing the suspension, said he assumed World Peace’s history played a role in the league’s decision.
The decision on Howard’s status belonged to the center, and it was revealed under unusual circumstances.
In what’s been a strange and stormy season for the Lakers, D’Antoni pronounced Howard doubtful at the morning shootaround, either unaware that Howard had already decided he wouldn’t play or unwilling to announce it. Howard spoke to reporters just minutes later, ruling himself out.
That freed things up a starting spot for Gasol, one of the top big men in the world but struggling to find his way in D’Antoni’s offense and Howard’s shadow. He hurt his right foot while defending Lopez with 4:21 remaining, falling to the court without noticeable contact. He stayed in the game after getting attended to by the trainer, but then had to ask out shortly after and returned to the locker room.
“Hopefully we’ll get Dwight back pretty soon and then hopefully Pau’s not too bad,” D’Antoni said. “If not, we’ll play.”
Deron Williams scored 11 of his 15 points in the first quarter, helping the Nets to a 24-18 lead. The Nets missed a chance to open things up early in the second against the Lakers’ depleted second unit, then Los Angeles surged ahead once its starters returned.
Bryant’s follow shot capped a run of eight straight points as the Lakers grabbed a 49-37 advantage with 10.4 seconds to play in the half. Mirza Teletovic followed with a 3-pointer to make it a nine-point game at the break.
“I thought we came out really well in that first quarter and then in the second quarter things kind of went south,” Williams said. “I don’t know why, I thought we were ready for this game, but proven wrong tonight.”
Much of the trade focus around Howard during his final season in Orlando centered on the Nets, one of the teams his agent was permitted to negotiate with and the one that was believed to be Howard’s preference. The Nets could never put together an attractive enough package and they’re happy now with Lopez, headed to his first All-Star game next week.
He scored 12 in the final period, but the Nets had only seven other points.
NOTES: D’Antoni coached his first game with the Lakers in a 95-90 victory over the Nets on Nov. 20. … Bryant, who’s had high assist totals lately, was asked earlier Tuesday if he would remain in distributing mode in the All-Star game, where he is the career scoring leader. “No, I’m seeing single coverage there. I’m shooting that (expletive),” Bryant said. … The Nets haven’t beaten the Lakers since Nov. 25, 2007.
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