LOS ANGELES (AP)—With the All-Star break history and two months remaining in the regular season, the Los Angeles Lakers are entering what coach Phil Jackson refers to as “countdown time.”
Having owned the Western Conference’s top spot through the first half, the Lakers got started on maintaining their status with a 96-83 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night.
“Playing through a lot of road games, being consistent, not thinking this is a done deal yet,” Jackson said, ticking off the Lakers’ goals the rest of the way. “Getting off to a good start coming out of this break is also important to us.”
Pau Gasol had 12 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists for his third career triple- double, and Lamar Odom had 15 points and 20 rebounds, Derek Fisher scored 14 points, and Trevor Ariza and Jordan Farmar added 10 points each for the Lakers.
With his teammates carrying the load, Kobe Bryant scored a season-low 10 points.
“That’s the way we wanted to start it, with a ‘W,”’ said Odom, whose rebounds were two off his career high.
Bryant had been in Odom’s ear about reaching the 20-rebound mark.
“That’s what I do, challenge guys,” Bryant said. “I just want to get the best out of him.”
Bryant’s egging on made Odom set a goal after he averaged 19 rebounds in the previous four games in the best stretch of his career.
“It’s a good way to score the ball,” Odom said. “It keeps me involved in the game. Rebounding is a skill just like passing and shooting. It takes timing.”
The Hawks couldn’t have picked a worse way to start the rest of their season.
All-Star Joe Johnson scored 14 points and Josh Smith added 13 for the Hawks, who had their three-game road winning streak end on the first night of their five-game West Coast trip. Atlanta, fourth in the Eastern Conference standings, had won four of five heading into the break.
“We played a quarter and a half and then they hit us in the mouth and they shut us down,” Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. “Coming out in the third quarter, we were just flat, so flat, to the point where, when they hit us we didn’t respond.”
Coming off a weekend in which he shared the All-Star MVP trophy with former teammate Shaquille O’Neal, Bryant shot 4-of-12 and never got to the free throw line in his lowest offensive performance since he had 11 against Washington on Jan. 22.
Not that the Lakers needed their resident superstar.
They improved to 25-4 at Staples Center by blowing out the Hawks in the third quarter after Atlanta led by nine in the opening period.
Sparked by Ariza and Farmar, the Lakers’ reserves outscored Atlanta’s bench 37-31.
“I thought that was the difference early, but it was their starting unit that got us in the third,” Woodson said. “I thought when Farmar and those guys came in during that spell in the second quarter, I thought that’s what gave them the cushion going into halftime.”
Bryant hit two 3-pointers in the third quarter, but his teammates did everything else as Los Angeles outscored the Hawks 40-24. Atlanta’s Mike Bibby virtually disappeared after the first quarter, when he had nine, and never scored again.
“The guys that came in off the bench helped them, that brought them back into the game,” he said. “We knew how their bench is, that’s just the way the game goes sometime. We just weren’t able to bounce back from it.”
That gave the Lakers an 85-60 lead going into the fourth, when the starters watched from the bench.
“Odom was just active and we didn’t put a body on him,” Smith said. “Both he and Gasol, we weren’t able to find a body on either and they were both able to keep second chance points in and get extra possessions.”
The Hawks outscored the Lakers 23-11 in the final 12 minutes, a stretch Jackson described as “a stinker.”
The Lakers recovered from a slow start to outscore Atlanta 22-12 in the second quarter. They did it with just one basket from Bryant, which was all he had in the first period.
Ariza picked up where Farmar left off, scoring six points, while Fisher hit a 3-pointer to send the Lakers into halftime ahead 45-36.
Helped by five steals, the Hawks opened the game on a 24-15 run for their largest lead. Bryant was 0-for-4 before his bank shot went in for his only basket of the first quarter.
Farmar came in with 2:53 left and ran off six straight points, including a fastbreak finger roll and a driving reverse layup, that sent the Lakers into the second quarter trailing 24-23.
Gasol’s triple-double was the first by a Laker since Bryant had 18 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists on Jan. 21 against the Clippers. … Adam Morrison, traded from Charlotte, made his Lakers debut with 7 minutes left in the game and scored 1 point. … Lakers C Andrew Bynum, out since Jan. 31 with a torn MCL, has done some shooting while rehabbing his right knee. “He’s doing pretty well,” Jackson said, declining to speculate on a return date for Bynum. … The Hawks fell to 12-16 on the road. … A University of Southern California student who hit a half-court shot in between periods to win $165,000 had the Lakers clapping for him and the Hawks staring in awe at the replay. “It’s about time somebody made that shot,” said Bryant, who led the cheers.