The Los Angeles Lakers scored 70 points in the first half and rolled past the Nash-less Suns 132-106 Thursday night for their sixth consecutive victory.
Kobe Bryant had 22 points and eight rebounds for the Lakers, while O’Neal had 12 points while taking just seven shots, and grabbed seven rebounds for the Suns in the former teammates’ first meeting since sharing MVP honors at the All-Star game.
“Tonight’s game felt like kind of a trap game because we are at home and Steve’s not playing,” Bryant said. “It is kind of one of those things where we kind of take the night off. I wanted to make sure from the jump that we didn’t.”
Los Angeles’ points tied a season high and the team made a season-best 54 of 94 field goals, bettering the 48 the Lakers hit against Minnesota on Jan. 30.
“Pretty good team, huh?” said Suns interim coach Alvin Gentry, who fell to 4-2. “It’s tough against this team because they play a great zone defense and don’t allow Shaq to get touches a lot of the time. It’s tough getting guys touches when we don’t have Steve out there. He creates a lot of easy stuff for everyone, easy shots for guys on the perimeter.”
The good feelings shared by Bryant and O’Neal during All-Star weekend in Phoenix continued in their seventh career head-to-head meeting. Bryant put his left arm around O’Neal and thumped him on the chest with his right fist before tip-off after teammate Luke Walton hugged O’Neal.
O’Neal was warmly received by the crowd at Staples Center, where the Lakers improved to 27-4 and have won four in a row.
“I was surprised,” he said about his reception. “I haven’t really played here in a while. I respect them and they will always be a part of my NBA life.”
The Suns had won four of their previous five games since the All-Star break, but they played without All-Stars Nash and Amare Stoudemire, putting them at a decided disadvantage before the game even started.
Nash is day to day with a sprained right ankle suffered Tuesday night against Charlotte, while Stoudemire could be away up to eight weeks after having eye surgery last Friday.
The Suns fell to 2-4 this season without Nash in the lineup, and 6-17 in games without him since the 2004-05 season.
“This was going to be a good test for us, but obviously we failed the test tremendously,” O’Neal said. “This is a good team and you have to do everything right against a team like that. Tonight, way too many turnovers (19).”
The Lakers took advantage early, scoring 70 points in the first half—two off their season high—while shooting 62 percent from the floor. The Suns hadn’t given up close to that many points in a half this season.
Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson paired Odom with four reserves for much of the second quarter, and the Lakers didn’t miss a beat in building a 19-point lead. He wanted to rest the starters as much as possible ahead of Friday night’s game in Denver, where the Lakers could close February with a 12-1 record.
“We had to get going early to take care of the game and get a nice lead and allow the bench guys to come out and play minutes,” Gasol said.
Los Angeles went up by 25 points in the third quarter, when the Suns got no closer than 11 early on. They closed within 19 in the game’s final 5 1/2 minutes.
Gasol’s turn to lead the second unit came in the fourth quarter, when he played the first few minutes before joining Bryant, Odom, Walton and Derek Fisher on the bench as the reserves cruised to a 28-point lead.
Sasha Vujacic led the Lakers’ bench with 14 points, helping them outscore
Los Angeles scored 72 points in the first half against Washington on Jan. 22. … The Lakers lead the season series 3-0. … Odom had nine rebounds, giving him 129 over his last nine games in the best rebounding stretch of his career. … When Nash returns, he needs three points to reach 13,000 in his career.