With Bryant cheerleading and supporting his teammates, Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins each scored 20 points and the Lakers beat the Bobcats 101-90 Sunday night to snap their first three-game losing streak of the season.
“Having Kobe over there was definitely a plus,” forward Lamar Odom said. “We needed to win, by any means. It was our longest losing streak of the year, so of course it felt good. Chris Mihm played really well tonight, and we needed a game like that from him. He was all over the boards, blocking shots—he was everywhere.”
Mihm had 16 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots.
Tomjanovich was home with a stomach virus and assistant coach Frank Hamblen, the only holdover from former coach Phil Jackson’s staff, guided the team. Hamblen’s other experience as a head coach came in 1991-92 when he went 23-42 with Milwaukee when Del Harris was sidelined by stomach problems.
“I’m used to seeing Rudy jumping around and being vocal out there, so it was it was strange not seeing him,” Mihm said. “But Frank did a great job. He commanded a presence. He kept guys under control, made subs when he needed to and made sure we didn’t panic out there.”
The Lakers are 4-4 since Bryant sprained his right ankle Jan. 13 in a victory over Cleveland. Bryant sat with his teammates for the first time since his injury because it was the first time he didn’t need continuous therapy on the ankle.
Primoz Brezec had 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Bobcats, who lost for the 17th time in 19 games and are 1-19 on the road. Rookie Emeka Okafor hurt his left ankle with 2:34 left and ended the game on the bench after scoring seven points and shooting 2-for-10.
“He got some open shots that didn’t go down for him tonight, but I think it was a collective effort in terms of not making plays in certain situations,” coach Bernie Bickerstaff said.
Kareem Rush, whose 21 points Saturday night against Toronto helped the Bobcats end a season-worst 10-game losing streak, scored 13 against the Lakers. It was his first game against his former team since being traded to Charlotte on Dec. 6.
I have nothing but great things to say about that organization,” Rush said. “I made a lot of friends here who I still talk to. I have only been gone two months, but it was fun.”
Rush, who received a warm reception from the crowd of 18,532 when he was introduced with the rest of Charlotte’s starters, scored 10 points in the first quarter—but didn’t get another basket until his 3-pointer that trimmed the Lakers’ lead to 63-56 with 4:38 left in the third.
“Kareem’s a talented player. I know he’s happy about being out there and getting a chance to show what he can do,” Mihm said. “I know he got some more playing time under Phil than Rudy, but that’s kind of the way it goes in this league. Things happen, like injuries, then other guys step up and start playing well, and you can have your minutes taken away pretty quickly.”
Brevin Knight came off the bench for the first time in 30 games with the Bobcats and had eight points and five assists in 23 minutes, after missing the previous five games because of a sprained left ankle.
“He looked like a guy would look when he’s been out for five games,” Bickerstaff said.
The Bobcats, whose only previous visit to Staples Center resulted in a double-overtime loss to the Clippers, trailed the Lakers by as many as 18 early in the third quarter before closing to 65-58 with a 15-4 run capped by Knight’s 14-footer with 3:35 left in the period.
“This team never surrenders,” Bickerstaff said. “We’ve been in all of our games, and this team deserves more respect. They’ve played well all year. Our record’s not that good, but we’re not a bad basketball team when it comes to competing.”
The Lakers restored their biggest margin of the game with a three-point play by Tierre Brown and an 8-footer by Brian Cook that gave them an 84-66 cushion with 9:54 to play. Charlotte responded with a 17-5 burst that included a 3-pointer and two free throws by Steve Smith—his first points of the contest.
Okafor’s free throw capped the rally and narrowed the gap to 89-83 with 3:54 left, but Atkins answered with a 16-footer and a pair of free throws that restored their double-digit lead with 3:25 left, and Butler finished it off with four points in the final 2:14.
Bryant still has no idea when his ankle injury will allow him to play again. “It’s feeling pretty good, but we really don’t have a specific target date. We just want to get the ankle completely healthy and be ready to attack once I do get back,” he said. … The Lakers are 18-1 against first-year expansion teams that have entered the NBA since 1988. The only blemish was a 108-103 loss at Orlando on Dec. 10, 1989.