Friday night was somewhat of a homecoming for two members of the New Jersey Nets.
Former Lakers, Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic returned to Los Angeles to take on the Lakers for the first time since becoming members of the Nets.
The Nets (10-29), came into Staples Center looking to break a three-game losing streak and get out of a rut, which has seen them lose eight of their last 10 games.
The Lakers (30-11) on the other hand, entered the game having won six consecutive games after experience a bout of struggles late in 2010.
A long deuce by Artest, followed by a triple from Derek Fisher helped the Lakers take a 5-2 lead to open the game. New Jersey was called for a defensive three second violation, allowing Kobe Bryant to extend the Lakers’ lead to four with a technical foul shot.
Despite five straight points from Bryant, the Nets played the Lakers even, and took a four-point lead, 14-10, with 5:39 remaining in the period.
Brook Lopez, who took advantage of Bynum’s two early fouls and paced the Nets’ offense with 13 first quarter points. Although Bryant finished the quarter with 13 points of his own, New Jersey held a 24-22 lead after the opening 12 minutes of play.
Shannon Brown turned the opening moments of the second period into a personal highlight film, as he scored all the Lakers’ first six points on a variety of different attempts. However, the Lakers could not regain the lead and returned their starters to the floor near the midway point of the period.
With the score knotted at 30, Bryant found a wide-open Artest, who converted a 3-pointer, giving the Lakers their first lead since 7:16 in the first quarter.
Lopez split a pair of free throws to cut into the Lakers’ three-point lead, but Bryant nailed a close-range jumper to put the Lakers back up by four with 3:50 remaining in the half.
New Jersey’s Devin Harris knocked down a three-pointer to cut the Lakers’ lead to one, which was quickly extended to nine points after the Lakers scored eight unanswered points.
The Nets responded with a run of their own, outscoring the Lakers 6-2 in the final 1:08, and the two teams headed into their locker rooms with the scoreboard reading, 45-40 in the Lakers’ favor.
Andrew Bynum was limited to zero points and only four rebounds in the first half, as he was limited to 11 first-half minutes due to early foul trouble.
Bynum and Pau Gasol established their presence down low to begin the second half, scoring 10 of the Lakers’ first 13 points. Unfortunately for the Lakers, Bynum continued to suffer foul trouble, as he picked up his fourth foul of the game just four minutes into the period.
With Bynum on the bench, Gasol took control of the paint, en route to 10 third-quarter points. Bryant came up strong for the Lakers as well in the period, racking up nine points.
While he faced tough opposition down low, Lopez continued to find holes in the Lakers’ post defense, and he fared well – scoring 12 of the Nets’ 23 points.
The Nets’ pair of former Lakers came out gunning to start the fourth period, as Vujacic and Farmar accounted for 11 of New Jersey’s first 13 points of the period.
The Lakers’ reserves kept the Nets in check; with Brown, Luke Walton and Lamar Odom combining for 13 points in just over six minutes of play, helping the Lakers build their lead up to eight – forcing Nets’ Head Coach Avery Johnson to call a timeout.
The break-in-the-action did nothing considerable to help the Nets cut into their deficit, as the Lakers’ starters (plus Odom) returned to the court looking to put the game away for good.
Bryant came in and asserted himself immediately, driving to the basket and finishing the score while drawing the foul, allowing him to complete the three-point-play.
Lopez responded with an “and-one” of his own, but on the next play down, Odom nailed a triple from the corner to put the Lakers up 90-79.
Vujacic and Lopez hit back-to-back unanswered buckets for the Nets, but Odom pulled down his 10th rebound of the game and found a cutting Artest to return the Lakers’ advantage to nine, 92-83.
Despite a late technical from Odom, the Lakers held on to their lead as they closed out the Nets, 100-88
Bryant finished with 27 points for the Lakers, who became the fourth team to win 30 games this season.
In the loss, Lopez finished with 35 points as the Nets lost their 19th road game of the season.
The Lakers will return to the court on Sunday for a “road” matchup with their locker room rival Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers, who are generating a good deal of buzz around the NBA- thanks to the electrifying play of rookie sensation Blake Griffin – have won eight of their last 11 since starting the season 5-21.