Lakers roll in showdown
LOS ANGELES — In the showdown between the top two teams in the Western Conference, one thing was missing.
The Los Angeles Lakers ripped through the San Antonio Spurs, one of many prominent events in a 99-85 victory Sunday at Staples Center.
Andrew Bynum more than held his own against Tim Duncan, Jordan Farmar returned to action after a five-week absence, and the Lakers (35-8) demonstrated the size of the gap from them to their next competitor in the Western Conference standings.
In fact, their six-game lead over the Spurs (29-14) might even be understated at this point.
The Lakers led by as much as 21 points, held the Spurs to 37.5 percent shooting, and easily avenged a 112-111 loss two weeks ago in San Antonio.
Bynum continued to be a factor down low, following up two strong games against undersized teams with 15 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots against the Spurs. Duncan had 15 points, eight rebounds and did not block any shots in three more minutes of playing time than Bynum.
The trickle-down effect was obvious.
"Oh, extremely," said Kobe Bryant, who had 22 points. "You know we have three legitimate guys that they have to double team, and that stretches the defense."
The third guy would be Pau Gasol, who had 16 points, but the Lakers' other big man was the story, yet again.
Bynum averaged 32.5 points and 14.5 rebounds in two recent games against the Los Angeles Clippers and Washington Wizards, but having the Spurs in town meant a one-on-one matchup with Duncan, who was just selected to his 11th All-Star Game.
Bynum answered his latest challenge at both ends of the floor.
He was particularly effective in the third quarter, collecting nine points, five rebounds and two blocked shots as the Lakers extended a six-point halftime edge into a 79-66 lead after three quarters.
"I'm pleased," Bynum said. "I am running the court a lot better right now. I am around the rim a lot more than I was before."
Bynum seemed mildly irritated that some people opted for a wait-and-see attitude after his outburst against the Clippers and Wizards.
"It's a mind-set that you have to go out there with," he said. "People were saying, 'Aw, it's the Clippers,' and 'Aw, it's Washington,' but it's still an effort."
The Lakers lost in San Antonio earlier this month after a pair of late-game gaffes — Derek Fisher fouled Roger Mason for a three-point play with 10.5 seconds left, and then Trevor Ariza was called for traveling.
There were no such blunders in the rematch.
The game titled heavily in the Lakers' direction by the time the fourth quarter began. The final 12 minutes became a rest period for Duncan and Tony Parker (19 points), neither of whom played after the third quarter.
"It's a long season, and we weren't going to win the game at that point," Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, knowing an opportunity when he sees it, followed suit by resting Bynum and Bryant the entire fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, Farmar had 14 points and two assists in his first game since sustaining torn cartilage in his left knee Dec. 19.
"We missed that tempo change in our ball game," Jackson said. "I think the effect is to open games up and to put pressure on the defense, particularly while we have 'Fish' and Kobe on the bench."
Including last season's playoffs, the Lakers have won six of their last eight games against San Antonio.
"It's a hell of a team, and it's going to be a hell of a team for a long time," Popovich said. "They're young, athletic, long, deep, inside game, outside game. It's a hell of a squad."