LOS ANGELES (AP)—Starting from his pregame introduction, Kobe Bryant received huge cheers in his home debut.
Bryant scored 21 points to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to an 87-72 win over the Golden State Warriors on Sunday night, making the team 3-0 since acquiring All-Stars Karl Malone and Gary Payton in the offseason.
Fans cheered wildly when Bryant made his first jumper on an assist by Shaquille O’Neal. They booed the referee on his behalf in the closing minute when Bryant was called for traveling.
“It doesn’t really help my game much, but playing at Staples Center makes me feel more comfortable,” said Bryant, who walked out of the arena holding hands with wife Vanessa.
Bryant played 35 minutes—two less than he did in his first game of the season Saturday night in Phoenix, where he scored 15 points and was greeted by a mix of cheers and boos. He is awaiting trial on sexual assault charges in Colorado.
“He looked pretty good,” Warriors guard Avery Johnson said. “Obviously, the explosion is not where it’s probably going to be at the end of the season, but he’s making his move really strong to the basket.”
Bryant showed no ill effects from the sore right knee that kept him out of the Lakers’ season-opening win against Dallas. The last time Bryant played back-to-back preseason games, he had a setback.
“My knee feels very good, it’s doing surprisingly well,” he said. “I knew it felt strong at the beginning of the game. Last night was kind of a test to see what type of moves I can make offensively and defensively, so tonight I went in and played with more confidence.”
“Kobe is finding a pretty good stride,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “His energy seems to be a lot better than it was a week ago.”
“Damp’s been absolutely unbelievable since day one of training camp,” Warriors coach Eric Musselman said. “He’s come into this season focused and he’s done a great job playing his minutes. We really didn’t go to him a lot offensively, but he did a great job on the backboards and did a solid job defensively as well.”
All five Lakers starters scored in double figures for the third consecutive game. O’Neal had 17 points and 14 rebounds, Malone had 16 points, Payton had 18 points and 11 assists and Devean George had 12 points.
“Everybody is getting involved. Karl Malone and Gary said it best, `On any given night, you better pick your poison,”’ O’Neal said. “Guys are moving the ball, they’re playing very, very unselfish. It’s actually fun to watch.”
Jackson compared the sluggish pace to playing in mud.
“We didn’t play as clean or as pretty basketball as we’d like to see,” he said. “We’re capable of playing down to a level. That’s always difficult because you want a team to play above their level. Some nights you play there and you get mired in a game where you can’t break free.”
The Warriors didn’t offer much of a challenge against a team they beat twice last season. But they no longer have leading scorers Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison, and the team is missing starters Nick Van Exel and Troy Murphy to injuries, and Jason Richardson to suspension.
Warriors general manager Garry St. Jean said he expects Van Exel to return Wednesday, the same day Richardson’s suspension ends.
“L.A.’s been scoring over 100 every game, and we held them to 87 and made them work for their points,” Musselman said. “They’re a good team and they cause mismatch problems, but I think our defensive matchups worked out pretty well.”
The Lakers led by 11 at halftime, and twice stretched their lead to 17 points in the third—once on a fast-break slam dunk by Bryant and the other on a jumper by O’Neal.
Cheaney got the Warriors within single digits at 55-46 on an 18-footer, but Malone, Bryant and Payton scored the Lakers’ next three baskets for a 61-46 lead with 3:19 to play. The trio also assisted on each other’s baskets in the spurt.
Golden State trailed by seven points early in the fourth, but couldn’t getclose enough to put a scare into the Lakers.
The Lakers have won eight of their last nine against Golden State at Staples Center. … Los Angeles leaves Monday for a four-game trip. … The Warriors play seven of their first eight games at home. … Serena and Venus Williams attended the game, along with tennis rivals Jennifer Capriati and Kim Clijsters of Belgium. Serena and Clijsters sat courtside separately, while Venus was stuck eight rows back. … Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy came to watchhis namesake son play for the Warriors. Mike Jr. finished with 10 points.