With Gary Payton leading the fast break and Karl Malone providing plenty of everything, the Lakers put aside their squabbles and defeated Dallas at home for the 26th consecutive time—109-93 Tuesday night.
“Well, they’re awesome,” Dallas coach Don Nelson said. “Even without Kobe they have enough firepower to dominate the league.”
Payton had 21 points and nine assists, and Malone added 15 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists to barely miss the fourth triple-double of his career. Both received standing ovations when they left in the fourth quarter, with Bryant among those lavishing the two newcomers with applause.
“Unbelievable. All that firepower. We’ve got cannons, rockets, missiles, you name it,” Lakers forward Bryon Russell said.
Bryant, engaged in a public feud with O’Neal, sat out because of soreness in his surgically repaired knee and did not join his teammates on the bench until the end of the third quarter. At that point, the Lakers were already receiving a standing ovation, and the crowd cheered even louder as Bryant was shown on the main scoreboard.
Wearing a red T-shirt that clashed with the Lakers’ gold jerseys, Bryant sat alongside O’Neal for the start of the fourth quarter and stayed on the bench for the rest of the game. He said he and O’Neal had patched things up.
“We’re cool. We talked this morning. He said what he said, I said what I said. We put it behind us,” Bryant said. “Shaq and I are going to move on, be teammates and help this team to a fourth title.”
It was Bryant’s first public appearance at the Staples Center since the Lakers were eliminated during the second round of the playoffs. Bryant stayed in the locker room during the Lakers’ two home exhibition games.
Perhaps what made Bryant emerge was watching the way his teammates meshed during the third quarter, their best sequence ending with an over-the-head backdoor pass from Malone to Payton for a reverse layup. Malone had seven points, five rebounds and five assists in the quarter, which ended with the Lakers ahead 86-67.
“When Kobe comes back they’re going to be very dangerous, but they’re going to have to jell as well,” Walker said. “I think tonight they played off adrenaline and emotion. This was a big game for them with the controversy they had, so we’ll see if they can keep it up through the season.”
Bryant said he expects to play Saturday night at Phoenix in the Lakers’ first road game.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson addressed the crowd prior to tipoff.
“I kind of miss the ring ceremony we’ve had the last couple of years, and we hope to provide you with a team that will get us another one,” Jackson said.
The Lakers certainly looked championship-caliber in the opening minutes, racing out to a 17-4 lead as Dallas missed its first six shots. An alley-oop dunk by O’Neal off a pass from Payton made it 23-8, and Dallas could only close the gap to 55-45 by halftime.
Los Angeles opened the second half with a 12-3 run that ended with Fisher coming up with a steal and then assisting on a fast-break layup by Malone. That made it 67-48 before the Mavericks answered with a 10-0 run.
They never got any closer, however, in losing to the Lakers for the 45th time in their last 50 meetings overall. Dallas hasn’t won in Los Angeles since Dec. 12, 1990.
“That was exciting to see. Hopefully the fans loved it,” Malone said. “We’re going to get better and better as we get things down and our executiongets better. We’re going to make a run at this thing.”
Nowitzki got a major haircut, ditching his long blond locks in favor of a buzz cut. … Lakers rookie Luke Walton picked up three fouls in his first 2:05 of playing time. … Malone’s last triple-double was in 1999 against theClippers.