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Bryant leads Lakers to victory over Suns

The SportsXchange

LOS ANGELES -- It wasn't quite "Seven seconds or less," but the Los Angeles Lakers sure scored in a blur in their final tuneup before Mike D'Antoni takes the reins.

Kobe Bryant had 31 points to lead five Lakers in double-figures in a 114-102 win over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night at Staples Center in what is expected to be the team's last game under interim head coach Bernie Bickerstaff.

D'Antoni, the former Suns and Knicks head coach who was formally introduced as the Lakers' 24th head coach on Thursday, takes over for Mike Brown, who was fired on Nov. 9.

In his place, Bickerstaff led Los Angeles to a 3-1 record, including Friday, as the Lakers sprinted away from the Suns early in the fourth quarter. The Lakers' 114 points were a season high, including the preseason, after they practiced for the first time with D'Antoni and new assistant Dan D'Antoni, Mike's brother, on Thursday.

"It was not so much the system, but just some certain actions, playing off of each other, moving the ball around," forward Pau Gasol said. "We played simple basketball today, found each other. Played with a quickness and it showed on the scoreboard."

Hours after Los Angeles (4-5) dedicated a new statue to former legendary center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Lakers' Twin Towers of Dwight Howard and Gasol dominated the Suns' overmatched front line, as they each had 18 points and combined for 22 rebounds.

Goran Dragic had 22 points and seven assists to lead the Suns, who shot just 7-of-15 from the free-throw line. Luis Scola added 18 points and eight rebounds for Phoenix (4-6), and Michael Beasley had 14 points, but just one in the second half.

The Suns committed 15 turnovers, which the Lakers took advantage of.

"You can't give up 26 points on 15 turnovers," Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said. "That means they are live turnovers and easy transition baskets most of the time. We have to do a better job in that area right there."

The Lakers led 62-57 at the half despite squandering a 10-point lead midway through the quarter and actually trailing by five after the Suns reeled off a 15-0 run. Los Angeles responded with a 10-0 run of its own as Bryant scored six and Metta World Peace had four of his season-high 22 points in a two-plus-minute stretch late in the second quarter.

"We want to continue to try to move forward, continue to work hard," World Peace said. "We had a great practice yesterday. It was a quick practice. That's how we want to play. We want to have fun out there, and that's what we did tonight."

World Peace had 15 points at the half to lead all scorers and Bryant added 14 for the Lakers. Gasol had 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting and had five rebounds at the break.

Beasley led Phoenix with 13 first-half points and added five assists, while Dragic added 11 points and four assists.

Both teams shot well in the first half, the Lakers at 54.3 percent (25-46) and the Suns just behind at 54.2 percent (26-48), but Los Angeles added 6-for-6 free-throw shooting while Phoenix went just 2-for-6.

"I think we play hard. I think we've got to get much better in our execution," Gentry said. "I think the effort is there. We were still trying to find each other. Still trying to find our rotation. As long as the effort is there, I think at some stage, we'll also get the execution down."

NOTES: Kobe Bryant came into the contest averaging 42 points over his previous three home games against the Suns. Bryant led all scorers with 28 points in the Lakers' 84-82 loss to San Antonio on Wednesday. ... Los Angeles' first three wins of the season came against opponents with a combined record of 7-18, and all three came at home. ... The Lakers won the season series with the Suns last season, 2-1. ... Darius Morris got his second straight start at point guard for Los Angeles, which is without the services of Steve Nash and backup Steve Blake.
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